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1997 Audi A6

  • Driver

The Best New Luxury Sedan category boiled down to a Europe vs. North America battle.

As well, there was a domestic side skirmish pitting a big, traditional, body on frame, real wheel driver against a couple of modern interpretations of the opulent four-door auto.

The 1998 nominees and their astested prices: Audi A6 ($56,275), Buick Regal GS ($33,970), Lincoln Continental

($53,325), Lincoln Town Car ($53,482), Volvo S70 ($46,288).

All cars had automatic transmissions.

AJAC, you'll notice, doesn't split categories by price points best under $35,000, best over $50,000, etc.

The idea is to keep things as simple as possible and ensure a decent number of candidates per category.

The downside is lopsided jousts like the Regal taking on rivals costing $20,000 or so more. (Price differences are factored in later by the accounting firm that tabulates auto writers' votes.)

What's the automotive essence we're looking for in this highzoot class?

The Gage Canadian Dictionary's definition of luxury pretty much sums it up: "an abundance of the comforts and beauties of life beyond what is really necessary."

Luxury comes from luxus, excess, but that's definitely no sin with these cars.

Here's how I rated the nominees, starting with my personal pick for class winner, and moving down: Audi A6. This continental smoothie packed a double wallop striking, Italianate styling and a dynamite interior that coddles the bod and delights the senses.

The pearl coloured example evaluated generated plenty of positive buzz among the 10 journalists doing the judging.

It sported a 200-horse, 30-valve, 2.8 litre V6 mated to a seamless five-speed automatic with the Tiptronic feature for clutchless manual shifting.

I gave no extra points for the Tiptronic, but some for the peppy engine's ability to burn regular gas.

The $56,275 also gets you Audi's optional quattro

all-wheel drive system a sensible investment in our climate.

The sleek A6, which uses an enlarged A4 platform, is a star.

It was my choice for overall Car of the Year, edging Chrysler's dazzling new generation Intrepid.

Spend some time with this Audi ace and its attributes could become very necessary for your well being. Lincoln Continental.

The '98 version of Ford's well balanced, front-wheel drive cruiser has been rounded and reproportioned.

Overall length remains the same, but the front is five centimetres shorter and the rear is five centimetres longer, yielding a bigger trunk.

The look is low key and pleasing, but marred by an overwrought grille.

Its maker claims more than 400 engineering improvements for the new Conti, and the refinement showed on the 26 kilometre course west of Napanee that we used to check out nominees.

Noise, vibration and harshness were never an issue.

The car's muscular 4.6 litre InTech V8, with double overhead camshafts running 32 valves, cranks out 260 horsepower. It drinks premium fuel.

Status conscious luxury buyers are big on amenities that separate their vehicles from lesser breeds. The Continental doesn't disappoint, offering a full box of toys, including ride and steering that drivers can customize to their liking. Volvo

S70. This is Euroluxury with a decidedly athletic twist.

In on track performance tests at Shannonville Motorsport Park, the S70 virtually tied the Regal for best 0 to100 km/h time

7.66 seconds to 7.6.

And the Swede pulled away to score class honours in the 80 to 120 km/h acceleration run 5.15 seconds to 5.45 for the

Buick.

In styling, the boxy S70 T5 SE to use the tester's full handle "squares off" against the prevailing aero orthodoxy successfully, to my eye. Our sample was an eye catcher in gleaming black.

The handsome, all-new dashboard (the car incorporates 1,800 improvements for '98, Volvo says) is a model of clarity.

The ride is firm, perhaps a little too firm for the average North American luxury buyer.

A transversely mounted, 2.3 litre, five-cylinder turbo engine briskly propels the S70's front wheels. Its good for 236 horsepower on 91 octane gas. Lincoln Town Car. This full-size flagship will epitomize luxury for devotees of the traditional, rear-wheel drive king car.

Certainly, the ride is excellent, a major consideration in this segment. Our blue Signature Series (the mid-level trim, between Executive and Cartier) sailed over the washboard road section of the route with hushed aplomb.

Room and conveniences are everything you'd expect. The recirculating ball steering is short on feel. Build quality in this copy felt short in a few places.

The big Linc has powerful, ABS massaged disc brakes.

They hauled the car's two tonnes to a stop from 100 km/h in 44.44 metres only 2.37 metres more than the class leading

Volvo needed.

Unfortunately, the Town Car nicks the wall in the styling department.

Ford speaks of "timeless elegance," but the confluence of lines and contours particularly around the Cpillar is not a happy one in my book.

And are three "Lincoln Star" emblems on the rear really necessary?

Under the hood is an unobtrusive, 4.6 litre, single over headcam V8, good for 200 horsepower on regular gas. Buick Regal

GS. General Motors parked the new Regal in this AJAC category mainly because there was no place else to put it.

It's tad pricey for the bread and butter family sedan niche (the Chev Malibu's turf), and the Oldsmobile Intrigue is carrying the General's banner in Best New Sports Sedan.

Ironically, the front-wheel drive Regal can strike a sporty pose when pressed.

For one thing, it packs the 240-horse, supercharged version of GM's proven, 3.8 litre, pushrod V6. (High-octane fuel, please.)

The Intrigue makes do with that motor in normally aspirated form.

It gets a 3.5 litre DOHC V6 interpretation of the high-tech Northstar V8 next year.

Regal can play the luxury game in performance, ride and handling.

But a hint of flimsiness here and there, compared to rivals plus an uninspiring dash leave it lagging in this demanding class.

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