Subtly flared wheel arches give the A6 4.2 an aggressive stance emphasised by the massive wheels and tyres, while at the rear twin tailpipes are concealed behind the bumper, where they hint at the 4.2's performance potential. It's an elaborate solution to what seems like a touch of short sightedness on Audi's part at the A6's conception: why was the car not designed in the first place with enough underbonnet space to take a V8 as surely it's the inevitable result of organic range expansion? Just look at BMW and the 540i.
It becomes even more baffling considering the numbers Audi expects to shift - just 5,900 cars will be sold worldwide in the 4.2's first full year on sale - 2000 - with just a few hundred of those destined for the UK.
Nevertheless, the 4.2 is seen by Audi as a core member of the UK line-up, and will bridge the gap between the A6 and A8 ranges when it goes on sale here in April. It brings the total number of engine choices in the A6 range to six, not including the 2.7T or the S8, both of which are scheduled for UK launch later this year. Another A6 variant, powered by the 3.7-litre V8 currently available in the A8 3.7, will go on sale on the Continent at the same time as the 4.2 but there are no plans to bring it to Britain. David Ingram, Audi UK's acting head of marketing, explains: 'The 4.2 quattro provides a luxury flagship for the A6 range and offers an alternative to the BMW 540i and Mercedes E430. 75-80% of A6 sales are taken by the corporate sector, and we need to have as complete a range as possible.'
Billed very much as a luxury car - the more sporting V8-powered S6 arrives in Britain this autumn as the pinnacle A6 - the 4.2 quattro costs £43,399 as a saloon and £44,567 in Avant form. Those prices overlap with the A8 range, with the A8 2.8 V6 costing £36,595 and the V8-powered A8 3.7 £43,995. But the A6 4.2 quattro costs substantially less than the £51,926 A8 4.2 quattro and comes with considerable standard equipment: leather, five-speed automatic with Tiptronic, lowered suspension, power-operated front seats and four-wheel-drive with traction control, electronic brake force distribution and electronic stability programme (ESP).
UK-spec cars also come with equipment that's optional on the Continent: this includes 17in eight-spoke alloys with massive 255/40 ZR 17 tyres, Audi's 'Concert' audio, front sports seats and individual rears. The Avant gets air suspension at the rear, together with roof rails, rear wash-wipe and a third three-point belt for the bench rear seat.
With 300bhp, the 4.2 quattro is predictably quick: top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, while 0-62mph is covered in just 6.9secs, making this easily the fastest A6 to date. Combined consumption is a suitably thirsty 21.7mpg. The more powerful S6 should, however, be even quicker, though no power or performance figures have yet been quoted.
Our brief test drive in Munich coincided with some of the worst weather the region has seen for some time, but even in virtual blizzard conditions, the quattro's stability was impressive. Equipped with the latest Michelin snow tyres, traction, braking and cornering were all surefooted and super-secure, pointing to the inherent advantages of a well-sorted 4x4 system and sophisticated electronics.
There's more feel to the steering than in other A6s, eliminating the vagueness that afflicts, especially, the 2.8 quattro, while the stiffened and lowered suspension is a revelation compared with its sibling's. You'd expect the 4.2's performance to be utterly effortless, and it is, accompanied by the unmatched refinement and aural delight of that flexible V8. There's seldom any need to use Tiptronic such is the transmission's ability: kickdown is instantaneous, while upward shifts are achieved imperceptibly, even under full throttle - effectively little more than a change in engine note.
Despite the 4.2's price, satellite navigation (which includes a 5in screen and TV) is a £3,231 option, a six-CD autochanger is £403 more, while even metallic paint is £559 extra, meaning a £50,000 Audi A6 is a very real possibility. In the final analysis, the fact that the 4.2 quattro is only marginally different to look at than lesser models in the range, big wheels notwithstanding, and costs almost £15,000 more than the 2.8 quattro, is a bitter pill to swallow. Numbers will doubtless enhance residual values, but even so the front-end price means depreciation will be considerable, especially compared with the A8. Good though it is, whether any A6 is worth that sort of money will doubtless be decided by the number of customers such a car will attract.
A twin-turbocharged 230bhp 2.7-litre V6-powered A6 will join the A6 range in late spring, adding a seventh engine variant to the line up.
The A6 2.7T uses a detuned version of the V6-cylinder twin-turbo engine fitted in the smaller S4. Though pricing has yet to be finalised, the 2.7T will cost in the region of £33,000-£34,000 when it goes on sale in early summer.
This is not the forthcoming flagship S6, which will be powered by a V8 engine, not a turbocharged 'six'. It adds up to a range that, though comprehensive in engine and power output terms, is confusing for the customer - particularly from a badging point of view. The logic of having either a 2.7 or a 2.8 V6 needs clearer explanation, while the S6 - whose badging suggests a V6 power unit - is fitted with a V8. Ultimately, an identifiable 'hierarchy' in the A6 range will become increasingly difficult to identify as the new models join the line-up.