For Audi it was a triple launch. Not only because the company launched three models - the 2.4, 3.0 TDI and the 4.2 V8 - it was a triple because I give the new Audi triple A's for looks, comfort and especially handling.
It all started at the Winelands Wellness Centre near Stellenbosch outside Cape Town.
After dinner, anxious to see the new cars, I sneaked around the back and came across a line of the new cars, gleaming in the almost full moon - a very impressive first meeting.
And these were "spy" pictures with a difference, because the next day I was going to drive the cars!
For my money, Audi has set a new benchmark, and the company hopes the latest-generation A6 will capture a larger portion of the sports saloon car market through its dynamic performance, high technology levels, superior comfort and wide range of equipment.
The lines of the car show the architecture typical of Audi, with the low-slung windows and a coupé-like roofline.
The contours of the upward-curved shoulder lines and the dynamic line above the side sills give the body a forward-moving, dynamic appearance. The distinctly curved dome in the bonnet oozes power and performance, while the advanced headlight technology is visible behind the clear-glass headlight covers.
Where some cars look like sharks, my impression of the A6 is that it looks like a killer whale, not in size, but in the way the trapezoidal design of the single-frame radiator grille looks like a wide open mouth that will suck in and swallow all in its way.
The high and wide centre console, with controls and switches within perfect reach, emphasise the sporty interior architecture.
A joint cover flows up from the left-hand-side of the console and up to connect with the instrument panel to make it form one common unit. The instrument binnacle is turned slightly towards the driver.
The round coolant temperature and fuel gauges are located in the corners of the newly designed teardrop-shaped surrounds, next to the two large rev counter and speedometer dials.
The standard safety equipment is impressive. Active safety, for example, benefits from the latest generation of ESP including brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).
Eight airbags are standard. There are front and side airbags as well as the side guard head airbag system, in turn interacting with the seat belt.
The two full-size front airbags are activated in two stages depending on accident severity. Active head restraints at the front help to protect the occupant in a collision from behind.
The dynamic suspension, with the refined four-link front suspension and the self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension, are a combination featured on both the front-wheel-drive and quattro models.
It also offers speed-dependent servotronic power steering.
The A6 is a gorgeous car, and great to look at from the outside. But it's when you climb behind the wheel of the 4.2-litre quattro, turn the key, select drive and depress the accelerator, that you get the measure of the car.
Firstly, DO NOT depress the accelerator too hard, else you will take-off like on a controlled launch.
And you don't need any fancy driving styles to get the best out of the car - simply turn into a bend, and follow the road.
This was especially typified as we drove over Franschoek pass, in the mountains above that historic little town.
The pass is very tight and twisty, with sheer rock faces in places, and wide open corners the higher you climb.
The best way to see how a car handles here is to judge your speed by the feel of the car, not the speedometer, when entering a long sweeping bend.
You will find that your seat belt tightens slightly, the side of your face seems to distort, and your passenger complains that her knuckles on the door handle are turning white as she is battles to stay upright.
But as far as the car itself is concerned, all is composure. No tyre squeal, no body roll, no unsafe feeling.
When you look at the speedometer you get quite a shock - you're travelling a lot faster than you thought.
On the next sweeping bend I thought I'd try something different. So in the middle of the bend I accelerated, expecting the front of the car to push on into understeer. But the distance from the white line to the front wheel stayed the same.
On the next bend I took my foot off, anticipating a transformation to oversteer. But no, it's the same thing - the car feels like it is on rails.
On a straight road I took my hands off the wheel and floored the accelerator, the car jumped forward but stayed straight. Then I braked hard, and the car stayed straight. All in utter comfort, total silence and a feeling of safety.
Dimensions: Length 4.92 metres, width 1.86 metres, height 1.46 metres, wheelbase 2.84 metres (up by 83 mm)
Both petrol engines and the new 3-litre turbo-diesel are new. In addition there will be another new motor, a 3.2-litre V6, from early 2005.
The 4.2 V8 produces 246 kW at 6 600 r/min, with 420 Nm of torque at 3 500 r/min. Audi claims 0 - 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, with the car's top speed limited electronically to 250 km/h. Composite fuel consumption in the EU combined cycle is just 11.6 litres/100 km.
An additional advantage is that, weighing a mere 195 kg, the entire V8 power unit is extremely light. On the road, this means significant benefits in terms of both balance and driving dynamics.
The 2.4 V6 is based on the 3.2-litre power unit but reduced in capacity and featuring intake manifold fuel injection.
Overall engine displacement is 2 393 cm3, with maximum output of 130 kW at 6 000 r/min and maximum torque of 230 Nm between 3 000 and 5 000 r/min.
Acceleration for the manual model from rest to 100 km/h comes in 8.9 seconds at sea level while top speed is 231 km/h. The combined fuel consumption, in turn, is 9.7 litres/100 km.
The front-wheel-drive Audi A6 2.4 enters the market with six-speed manual transmission and will also be available with Audi's continuously variable multitronic transmission with seven-step manual gearchange control.
The multitronic transmission now has numerous reinforcements and adjustments, as well as optimised cooling, and it is now able to convey torque of up to 330 Nm.
A brand-new multitronic® function in the Audi A6 is the start-off assistant: simply pressing down the brake pedal, the driver is able to activate the brake system automatically, preventing the car from rolling back on a gradient and then opening up again as soon as the driver opens the throttle when setting off.
Audi's new three-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel offers impressive power and torque.
Maximum output is 165 kW at 4 000 r/min with maximum torque of 450 Nm bwteen 1 400 r/min and 3 250 r/min.
Even with the torque-converter automatic transmission, this means performance on the road that many a sports car will find hard to match: standing start acceleration to 100 km/h in just 7.3 seconds, and a top speed of 243 km/h.
Featuring turbo-charger technology and map-controlled, cooled exhaust gas recirculation, this V6 four-valve power unit is the first six-cylinder TDI in Audi's new family of V-configuration engines. Both the camshafts and the oil pump, incidentally, are driven by chains.
On top of all that a new 3.2-litre six-cylinder is making its premiere and will be available in South Africa early in 2005.
This engine boasts FSI direct petrol injection with on-demand fuel supply, four-valve technology, a variable intake manifold, as well as infinite camshaft adjustment on both the intake and exhaust sides.
The 3.2 FSI will be available with seven-speed multitronic continuously variable transmission.
Maximum output is 188 kW at 6 500 r/min, and maximum torque 330 Nm at 3 250 r/min. More than 90% of the engine's maximum torque is available throughout a wide speed range from 2 400 - 5 500 r/min.
Average fuel consumption for the multitronic is 9.7 litres/100 km in the combined cycle.
The quattro all-wheel drive model will come with a six-speed tiptronic gearbox as standard.
Standard: Light and rain sensor, fog lights, speed-related servotronic steering, high-performance brake system with electronic brake assist, electro-mechanical parking brake, Multi Media Interface with 16 cm colour display, (monochrome on 2.4), new generation leather covered steering wheel, automatic air-conditioning system with enhanced output and optimised air distribution control, integrated radio with CD player, DSP sound processor and 10 loudspeakers.
Optional: Tyre pressure monitoring system, adaptive light cornering lights with xenon plus plus daytime driving light and LED brake lights, radar-assisted distance control, adaptive cruise control (from 2005), adaptive air suspension (from 2005), advanced key access and driving authorisation
With advanced key access the driver leaves the key in his pocket, an electronic pulse emitter transmitting a signal registered and verified by a proximity sensor in the door.
As soon as the sensor confirms that the key being used is the right one, the doors will be unlocked automatically once the door handle is actuated.
Central locking may be activated and deactivated on any of the car's doors. All the driver has to do is carry the key on him at a distance of approximately 1.50 metres from the car and actuate any door handle, passengers may also open their doors first.
Via MMI, the driver can also choose whether central locking should unlock only the doors actually opened manually or whether all doors should be unlocked.
In addition, the key informs the driver whether or not he or she has remembered to lock the vehicle via a light emitting diode on the key.
Good and bad
All cars have some good and some bad. Here are some things I noticed.
The spare wheel is inverted so there is storage space inside the rim. In all my cars I have done this, but this is the first time I have seen this done by the manufacturer. You can even buy a round picnic box shaped to fit inside the rim - nice touch.
My partner could not find out how to open the cubby-hole, and of course we could not even get the handbook out to check. We found out afterwards that you push a button on the dash, not very logical, a bit like moving the door handles to the centre console and really confusing a lot of people.
The key is to the left of the steering wheel. Right-handed people have to press the button to unlock, then change hands to insert key and start. I suggest you get the advanced key option.
When you use the navigation system, be aware that if you change interior fan speed you lose the navigation display, a bit irritating.
What I would have liked is being able to open the sun roof remotely with the key after the car has been in the sun - and I prefer having the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel.
I have driven many cars in my years of photographing them for Wheels24. I liked the Mercs, Volvos and Jags, but my personal cars have been from another manufacturer (no prizes for guessing) for the past 20 years.
During that time, for the past six years I have driven V8s.
So when I say that I can honestly state that no other car has impressed me as much as the new A6 4.2, you can understand where I'm coming from.
Thank you Audi - I now have a choice of margues for my next car.
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