Poise under pressure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am

Recession tends to dampen bosses' appetites for new executive rides, but many Hong Kong dealers have been cautious in their pricing and several new premium mid-sized cars are expected on Gloucester Road.

The showrooms are a-twitter at the arrival later this year of several highly equipped Mercedes-Benz E-Class variants, and the sublime new Jaguar XFs are tipped to arrive with more powerful and efficient V8 engines. But the mid-generation update of the Audi A6 has beaten them to market.

The A6 was launched in 2005 with an extra-large front grille to match those of the marque's other models, and over the years Audi has managed to keep its fans entertained with gradual updates.

The latest A6 is distinguished from its predecessor by new LED headlights and rear lights, but the change might just prove sufficiently subtle to untrained eyes to save you from the scrutiny of jealous neighbours as you share the lift from your block's car park.

You might have a hard time explaining the A6's improvements in a couple of minutes between floors, however. The Bavarian marque is proud of the subtlety of the Audi valve-lift system. First seen last summer, the technology is put to use with two direct-injection V6s: the 2.8- and 3.2-litre FSI engines.

The AVS equipped 2.8-litre V6 gets a mild output lift of 10 brake horsepower above the original engine to a peak of 220bhp at 5,750rpm, and a respectable 280Nm of torque from 3,000rpm to 4,500rpm ensures this A6 reaches 100km/h in 7.7 seconds.

The 1,680kg test car can be taxed by a full load at times, and other rides seem faster overtaking, but the block's low-rev response has a quiet, effortless urge and a sporty vroom when you put your foot down from a mildly disappointing mid range. The steering seems sufficiently refined for the demands of Hong Kong Island's twisties, where the test car's suspension proves supple.

The 2.8-litre car is also fitted with Audi's Quattro four-wheel drive, which promises more traction and confidence in the wet, even with electronic stability control in reserve.

The A6 is well-finished inside. The leather used for the seats feels as if it's been given a massage, and the metallic finish to wood-trim surrounds and plastic switches convey a similar sense of class. The HK$541,000 A6 is not an excessively equipped mid-sized luxury car. I'm tempted to think there may be more German firms chaired by folk named Wolfgang in Hong Kong than there are feature entries on the test car's equipment list, but new owners could take a while to get used to the marque's multimedia interface.

And you might enjoy telling the neighbours how you've pitched your new A6's parking sensors to your hearing with a worryingly wide range of tones.

Audi has also improved the graphics and the organisation of information on the new A6's central screen, to round off a fine, well-engineered drive. The 2.8-litre Quattro version might be slower in sprints than a two-wheel-drive model with an engine of similar size, but it seems a more sure-footed purchase in these slippery times.

AT A GLANCE: Audi A6 2.8 Quattro

What drives it? A 2.8-litre, V6 capable of producing 220bhp with a six-speed automatic gearbox driving all four wheels.

How fast is it? It makes 100km/h in 7.7 seconds and tops at 240km/h, the marque says.

How thirsty is it? It's said to average nine litres per 100km (31.3mpg).

How clean is it? The A6 spews 215 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

How safe is it? It's fitted with ABS, an electronic stability program, six airbags and more.

Available: HK$541,000 from Premium Motors (tel: 2528 1862).