(QQ, Winter 2002) — Scene is a Psychiatrists office in Encino California.
Therapist: So tell me about your fascination with Station Wagons?
Patient: When I was about 9, I had a girlfriend named Sandy, and her mother had a Coppertone color Pontiac Tempest wagon.
Therapist: What was so special about that?
Patient: One weekend, her Mother invited me to go camping with them up to Sequoia National Park. We packed all of our sleeping bags, and camping supplies and there was still enough room for us to lay down in the back. When we stopped on the way to get some more supplies, her Mom left us in the car, and that is when I got my first kiss from Sandy.
Therapist: So you equate love with station wagons?
Patient: I guess. Maybe it was my neighbors 56 Chevy Nomad Wagon, that car was the lust of the neighborhood.
Therapist: Lust for a car? Tell me more.
Patient: Well, maybe it was our 57 Mercury Wagon, it would haul all of my friends and all of our guitars and amps to the Jr. High School Dance we played at.
Thereapist: Hmm…..Tell me more.
Patient: Well, my friend Nicki in Jr. High school had a Dad that was a bit eccentric, loved Opera, smoked a pipe, subscribed to Playboy, had the most amazing McIntosh Hi-fi system with British Quad Electrostatic speakers, and he drove a Citroen ID 19 Wagon. It was the weirdest and coolest car, and taking long drives in that one was a real pleasure. And then there was Arlette .
Patient: Yeah, a just really cool girl I knew in High School. She had a 1953 Chevy Wagon she used to haul hay and feed and tack for her horses as well haul as many kids as she could fit in for a Saturday night cruise in Pasadena. I can see it now, her pony tail blowin' out the window. Yeah, Arlette...Hmm…
Therapist: I see. But what of normal teenage desires for fast cars and hot rods?
Patient: Well, that was a bug that bit me as well, but it wasn't American cars I liked, it was Jags, and Porsches, and Ferrari's, and Mercedes 300 Gull Wings that fascinated me.
Therapist: Ah, I see. You like exciting foreign things.
Patient: I do remember a great movie called Harold and Maude. A love story that had a Jag XKE Hearse in it. What a love affair!
Therapist: Hearse? A bit morbid isn't it?
Patient: Not really, it was so cool, just think a XKE Wagon! (Patient gets a dreamy look on his face).
Therapist: You seem to connect love and wagons.
Patient: I once worked with this gorgeous Danish lady who owned a Volvo 1800 ES Wagon. Turquoise blue I think, with tan leather seats. She looked so foxy in it. Blonde hair, blue eyes, elegant clothes and oh the "perfuma de mujer…Ah, Ingrid...yes,
Ingrid...(patient now gets a serious look on his face)
No really Doc, Aston.
Patient: Aston Martin, like Bond, James Bond?
Therapist: James Bond liked station wagons? Fantasies of being a lover-spy, heh?
Patient: No, Aston Martin Shooting Break!
Therapist: Break? Sounds like a pause in war story, shooting break?
Patient: Aston Martin Station Wagon!
Therapist: You certainly have quite a fetish for wagons. Tell me, as a small child, did you own a little red wagon? So how do you connect it all?
Patient: I own an Audi quattro Wagon.
Therapist: Audi? quattro?
Patient: Yes, 4 wheel drive, lots of horsepower, comfortable, gorgeous lines, sexy leather interior, real hard wood trim, room for all my gear, and room to lay down as well. Handles well, and can smoke many a so-called sports car. Drive with impunity in any weather. Cruise safely at speeds that would make a German cop proud. Tow SUVs out of ditches they get stuck in. Cover large swathes of America in one single bound.
Therapist: Hmm..Sounds very interesting.
The above dream sequence explains why I like wagons so much!
Every generation has some kind of memories of the vehicles used to haul them around as kids. When I was young, it was station wagons. In my son's generation, it was wagons and minivans. In the latest generation, it is SUVs.
So here we are in 2002, with world events affecting our daily lives in ways we never imagined. It has awakened us to realize that being practical and still fulfilling our desires for cool stuff that will give us enduring pleasure is a good aim. Pragmatic sensualist. Left brain practicality with right brain enjoyment.
Station wagons, or in Audi parlance "Avants", are the most practical and fun Audis made. With all of the attributes of the sedans coupled with a capacious cargo area creates a vehicle that is still a blast to drive and can be utilized for even more life enhancing activities. If any vehicle ever deserved the acronym "Sport-Utility-Vehicle, it is a Audi Quattro Avant! Not a 5800 Lb., 8 MPG, behemoth. Wagons are not just an American invention. With our history of wood paneled wagons from the 40's and 50's, we definitely can lay claim to inventing the genre.
However, many European and Asian car makers have had wagons in their model lineup for years. Audi with it's DKW history, have been making wagons for well over 40 years. Mercedes came into making wagons (aside from a few hearses and ambulances in the 60's) in the late '70s. BMW waited to the late '80s for theirs. Citroen, Fiat, Nissan, Toyota, Daihatsu, Suzuki, Subaru, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Opal/Vauxhall, Saab, Volvo, and a host of British makers supplied wagons for the world long before that. In Australia, Ford and Holden have made excellent wagons for their market for many years.
In the late 80's, America changed it's preference from wagons into Minivans from Chrysler, Ford and Chevy. Into the 90's SUV popularity took off from there. Most of the American makers dropped out of making wagons. In survey after survey, SUV owners have the lowest rate of buyer loyalty for repurchase, confirming that after owning one for three or more years, they are tired of the bad gas mileage, and of driving a huge truck-like vehicle all day long. These same buyers say they are now considering owning a vehicle like a station wagon. Oh what wagons we now have available!
Audi, like many other European Car makers have marketed special models in other countries that they did not see fit to import into the USA. Within the past ten years, Audi had produced C4 chassis based V8 powered sedans and wagons, like the S6+ with a 6 speed transmission and 326 Hp, perfect for the USA, but not available here. Just look at the RS4 Avant. This car would have sold like hot cakes (personal opinion), but it was never intended for us.
Now things have changed at Audi USA marketing, fortunately for us. They have chosen to market models here that were previously thought of as forbidden fruit for us.
Last issue of the quarterly, I had the privilege of driving an S4 Avant and reporting on it. This issue I have the honor of driving the new and absolutely brilliant S6 Avant. Based on a revised C5 chassis, this luscious silver beauty has been thoroughly updated with so many new engineering features besides being endowed with the drivetrain of the A8.
Jerry Nitkin, General Manager of Rusnak Pasadena, was so kind to call me when this puppy arrived. He generously offered to allow me to put it through its paces. I took him up on it!
Recently Rusnak had lent me an Allroad for a week, allowing me enough time and miles to sort it all out. The S6 Avant is essentially the same package of a 3.0 C5 Avant and the Allroad as well. Cargo space and such dimensions as headroom and leg room are identical. However, it is the dynamics of the chassis and drivetrain that set these two wagons apart. It is also about $12-15,000 apart in price from the Allroad. Just what does that money buy you?
First off, can you name any other V8 powered station wagons? Not SUVs like the X5 or ML430, but wagons. Nothing from the USA manufacturers. From Europe, BMW 540i is one, and the Mercedes E430TE (not sold in the states) is the other. You might consider the E320TE-4matic, but this car is more comparable to the box stock A6-3.0 quattro wagon.
With the S6 wagon having 73 cubic feet of cargo room, the Mercedes E320TE 4-Matic wagon is larger by comparison, but costing almost as much and delivering much less excitement with it's 217 HP V6. From Japan? Nothing. Since the BMW 540i is neither all wheel drive, nor in the same power class-290 HP VS 340 HP in the Audi, is it really a contender? Yes and no. Yes because it is a good car with many good features, similar size, and it is within 5K dollars of the S6 Avant base price. No because the Audi outclasses it in power, handling, all wheel drive security, and exclusivity. Only 1200 S6 Avants will be imported, resulting in great resale--Audi Avants like the previous S6, and the 1991 200 20V Avant do phenomenally well retaining their value. For fit and finish, just sit in the S6 and take in the quality of the interior, it is way ahead of the BMW and even the new Mercedes models. If the M5 Wagon was imported, it would sell for over 25K dollars more than the S6 Avant, and yes it is 60 HP more, but again, not all wheel drive.
It was only a few years ago that even Ferrari or Porsche cars could not make 0-60 MPH in 6.5 seconds. I recently read a test of the new 400 HP Bentley Arnage Red Label, with almost identical performance to the S6. It only costs about $200K more!
Audi V8 motors have an excellent track record. Since it's first appearance in the USA in the technically innovative and excellent DOHC 3.6 Liter 1990 V8 quattro (I owned one for almost 200K Miles) they have endeared themselves to their owners. Smooth, easy to rev, great sounding, reasonable fuel consumption, and in 4.2L trim (300 HP) full of torque and guts. Early V8s featured 4 valve heads, and later on in A8 guise, wore five valve heads. With the ignition and fuel injection totally changed, as well as the engine management system, the drivability increased substantially as well as reducing necessary maintenance. Even the crankcase was reduced in size from 10 to 8 quarts. The only real item that is of any significant expense in long term ownership of any Audi V8 is the 60K timing belt service. Most folks that lease these cars for 50K miles, will never see this expense. The poor V8 owners that ignore this maintenance requirement will eventually end up with a massive repair bill.
The current 4.2 liter motor is several generations evolved from it's brilliant beginnings. In the current S6 tune, this is basically the same motor as Audi's S8 Flagship. Although there is a published 20 HP deficit in the S6 vs. the S8, attributed to exhaust system differences, this may be in my opinion a marketing ploy to keep the S8 on the flagship pole. Rumor has it that they will dyno almost identically. For a detailed technical description of this motor, see the last issue of the quarterly, which featured a great story on the new S8 and it's drivetrain.
Like the S8, it also features the massively rugged 5 speed ZF-made automatic transmission coupled with the Porsche-Licensed Tiptronic control. The core of this ZF unit is also used with engines like the BMW 750-12 Cyl. as it can handle the large torque output from such motors. With proper maintenance like regular synthetic ATF fluid changes, these well engineered transmissions can last up to 300K miles before a major service is required. Kind of reminds me of the legendary and bulletproof GM Turbo 400, except more refined and of course, five speeds. The Allroad utilizes a smaller and lighter transmission unit, like the recent A4 based S4 and the A6 2.7T. In the S6 unlike the A6 4.2 and A8, Tiptronic controls are also mounted on the sport steering wheel. The Tiptronic shifter also has a "Sport" mode setting below "D" on the shift gate. With this setting, the motor will redline every gear if you wish as well as downshift quite sportily. Quite a nice feature.
As a side note, Audi has been on the forefront of transmission development. Witness the new Audi CVT Multitronic! As Audi/VW powertrain development is also involved with Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini, transmissions capable of handling high torque/power have received lots of attention lately. In Europe, Audi's new 420-600 HP W12 Motor (depending on the installation), the new RS6 with 450 HP, Bentley W16 with 550 HP, Bugatti Twin-Turbo W16 with 1001 HP, and most of all the new Turbo-Diesel V10 with 313 HP and over 700 NM. of torque have pressed transmission makers like ZF and Getrag to the limits! The W12 is in production and A8s are available in Europe with this motor. The V10 Turbo-Diesel will be in production shortly and may be imported first into the US in the new joint VW-Porsche developed SUV. With the worldwide recession looming, the Bugatti may not see production as originally planned. By the way, one chap I met in Stuttgart that works with Getrag, tells me that the torque on the new V10 was set by the capacity of the transmissions available, not the engine limits.
In Europe, the S6 is available with a 6 Speed manual transmission, and in the sedan body style as well. The manual equipped version does 0-60 in less than 5.5 seconds. For the USA market, we will receive the automatic version only-at least for the moment, and only the Avant. Hey, I am not complaining! As only 1200 examples are being imported, I can understand Audi only making the expensive and time consuming certification for one version. If Audi really sees this model do well, I think they will be encouraged to import more exciting models in the future. So far the terrific market response to the S8 has been quite encouraging. I can only imagine the 2002 S6 Avant will do as well. Of course I have selfish motives , I want Audi to import the new 450 HP RS6!
The brake system has been carried over from the A6 4.2, utilizing the Lucas 2 Piston-4 pad caliper coupled to substantial ventilated front discs and ventilated rear discs with single piston calipers. Unlike the front brakes on the S8, which were upgraded to the enormous Brembo-made 4 Piston Calipers, similar to what is standard on Porsche 993TT models, Audi found the stock A6 4.2 system to be adequate. After driving the car, I would have to agree that for most folks and the life this wagon will live, the stock system will be fine. If you found yourself driving the car hard and often, you could always upgrade to the 4 Pot Porsche-Brembo system from Mov'it (http://www.movit.de).
Sport suspension tuning for the S6 has tamed the front heavy chassis giving excellent road feel, great stability, and an agile-like feeling to the 4050 Lb car. The quick steering ratio allows the car to be easily pointed in any direction with a minimum flick of the excellent 3 spoke leather wrapped wheel. Speaking of wheels, the 17 x 8" forged Avus alloy rims really do well to match the styling of this car. They are among my favorites. Standard tires are Continental 235-45-ZR 17 Sport Contacts, just like the new AMG C32 Mercedes. C5 chassis cars have been blessed with continuous improvements
S6's are basically a loaded car. Not many options. Solar sunroof-with the warm weather package, rear parktronic, rear heated seats, comfort seats at no charge, side air bags, navigation system, telephone, and of course paint options like the timeless Pearl White round off the short list.
I am in love with the new in-dash six CD changer integrated into the standard 200 watt-8 speaker Bose system. I just wish I could upgrade my older cars to this new system. No more reaching into the cargo compartment to load CDs. It is right there in front of you. It also has put a damper on car radio theft, as this unit will only fit and work in a recent Audi. I think my '81 Jetta was broken into at least four times to rip off the Din-sized stereo.
Interior appointments are top flight, and the Alcantara-micro fiber head liner has to be touched to be believed. First seen on the S8, this suede like fabric is so cool. My first experience with this material as a headliner was in a Maserati I once drove in the UK some ten years ago. Absolutely first class. This particular car was fitted with all Nappa leather comfort seating in a lovely Ebony color, with the same ebony color used for the Alcantara head liner. Personally I prefer the stock leather sport seats with Alcantara inserts, but I can understand many folks opting for the excellent comfort seats as well. Instrumentation is identical to other models except for the chrome rimmed gauges, tach and speedometer. Also, marking the speedometer in S car fashion is the requisite S6 moniker. Dark gray polished birch wood trim is very appealing, and suits this cars luxury much better than say Carbon-Graphite or aluminum trim. Leather and wood, a staple of any fine Car's interior.
Exterior styling appointments for the S6 are really limited to badging, except for the sexy wide flared wheel arches exclusive to this model. Allroads have them cloaked in plastic cladding, where the S6 Avant has them painted with the body color, just like the A6 4.2. Front end bodywork is also extended to accommodate the V8, again like the A6 4.2. When you open the doors, you will notice the bottom doorway alloy edge moldings are marked with S6, reminding you of the exclusivity of this car. Light silver metallic is one of the most timeless colors besides Pearl White. Most cars just look so good in it. This S6 is no exception.
Now to the heart of the matter. What is this car like to drive? Sunshine, 75°F, and a beautiful blue sky set the vibe for the drive. Pulling out of Rusnak Pasadena's rear showroom exit door (yes, they handed me the car right off the showroom floor), I headed towards the Rosebowl for some photography. Jerry Nitkin asked me not to put too many miles on the car, as customers were in line to buy this puppy. The first thing I noticed was the eagerness to accelerate. Docile if you want it, aggressive and throaty if you want it as well. There is no substitute for a V8. I miss that growl so much. It is a Awhhh sound when you get on it, with a low frequency rumple attached as well. At idle this baby has the sweetest burble. Wolf in sheep's clothing.
LJK Setright told me in Tokyo 2 years ago at the side of the Bugatti press conference that V8s hold his attention (he is a Bristol fan-Chrysler big block V8). I most wholeheartedly agree. As the peak horsepower of this motor occurs at around redline, it encourages you to rev every single gear. And man does this motor breathe well. Steering feel is weighted so nicely. It is not over-servoed, and gives such a great road feel. Even with the stiffer sports suspension and low profile tires, driving the car over some very uneven and poorly maintained road surfaces did nothing to disturb the driving pleasure. Like all C5 chassis cars, the interior and body is screwed together so well. No shake, rattle, or roll. Taking some of the windy side roads near Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I was able to really assess the transient response, body roll, dive and squat, and the brakes of course in short order. More praise. To reiterate, Audi chassis tuners have tamed the front heavy bias and have made a great handling car. I lost all consciousness of this being 4000 lbs and in a station wagon at that.
Merging onto a freeway leg on the way back, I was able to accelerate to sub-sonic speeds with the chassis and motor asking for more. I just wish we had some roads around here to (legally) take advantage of the incredible distance eating capability of this car. Have to find a way to drive one for an extended period in Europe. I have driven the previous C4 Chassis based S6-V8 in Europe, and this car is really a long way ahead, like almost two generations ahead of it's predecessor.
Parking the car in the bright sun for a while gave me an appreciation for the solar-sunroof powered ventilation system. I came back to the car and it was not overheated inside. Listening to KCRW, my all-time favorite NPR radio station with a new UK group-Starsailor on the waves, I grooved to this great soundsystem while flicking the Tiptronic controls on the steering wheel as I wound through one of the local canyons. Price as tested was $62.5K, and did it seem worth it.
Like all C5 Chassis cars, leg and headroom is not an issue. There are many big Germans, thankfully, and Audi sizes its interior accordingly. With my 6'2" frame, I am so comfortable in this car, like wearing a fine leather glove. The standard roof rack has many accessories available, allowing mounting of ski's, bicycles, boats, and unwanted In-law's.
Life enhancing device, Audi calls it an S6 Avant. Is it worth the extra $12-15K over the Allroad? It is a subjective answer. I can justify it given all the qualities this car endows. Exclusive? Yes. Satisfying? Yes. Able to leap tall buildings and thousands of miles of interstates in a single bound? Yes. Reliable? I think it will be bulletproof. Fuel Economy? Probably 18-20 average, depending on the angle of your foot to the go-pedal. Worth buying vs. leasing? If your tax man agrees, this is a car worth buying.
I liken this car to a modern German Chevy Nomad, with a modern 396 Rat Motor. All the right reasons to fall in love with it. Work nights if you have to. It's worth it.
Many thanks to Jerry Nitkin at Rusnak Pasadena for giving me the opportunity of running this gorgeous 2 tons of fun through it's paces!