Too clever to be a smart choice

Audi has tried hard to push the new A6. But Sean O'Grady is not yet convinced
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The new Audi A6 is a very clever car indeed. It has sensors that will turn the wipers on for you when it starts to rain. You can switch the headlamps to automatic so that whenever it's dark outside or you go into a tunnel it will select the appropriate level of lighting. It has a "proximity sensor" so that you don't have to unlock the car if you're standing next to it with the keys. It knows you're there, so all you have to do is pull the handle and you're welcomed aboard. It has a computer, satellite navigation and television, all built into the centre console.

The new Audi A6 is a very clever car indeed. It has sensors that will turn the wipers on for you when it starts to rain. You can switch the headlamps to automatic so that whenever it's dark outside or you go into a tunnel it will select the appropriate level of lighting. It has a "proximity sensor" so that you don't have to unlock the car if you're standing next to it with the keys. It knows you're there, so all you have to do is pull the handle and you're welcomed aboard. It has a computer, satellite navigation and television, all built into the centre console.

Indeed, so clever is this Audi that it needs a two-volume owners manual. Volume One covers the main features and runs to 388 pages. The second instalment deals with the "Multi Media Interface" and is 324 pages long. When you've run through those, then there's the instructions for the "infotainment system", a further 42 pages. The total verbiage is not far short of Bill Clinton's epic memoirs, but rather more readable and, I hope, truthful.

In fact, much of the gimmicry is standard luxury car fare these days, the sort of thing you have a right to expect for £49,950 (the price of the loaded A6 4.2 V8 quattro I was treated to). Audi is more ambitious, though. It wants to "redefine the executive class."

It's tried. Audi says the new A6 is "deliberately the largest saloon in the executive class". So, while the old A6 was narrower and shorter than the Jaguar S-type, the BMW 5 series and the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the new A6 is wider and longer than them. Trouble is, it doesn't seem all that impressive in the metal.

This is because the new A6 looks too much like the old, bland, A6 from almost every angle. True, the grille is now big and bold but, interrupted by a number plate across its midriff, it loses some of its impact.

Audi's extremely conservative design policy makes one see what stylist Chris Bangle is up to at arch-rivals BMW in a fresh light. For those Bangle flares and random lines are distinctive as well as controversial. Audi's middle executive model, rather like its VW sibling, the new Golf, finds itself at a bit of an evolutionary dead end.

But I also had a problem with this Audi's gadgetry. The "Multi Media Interface" means a big button next to the gear stick linked to a screen on the centre console that controls the sat nav, radio, CD player, phone, TV and trip computer. The trouble, for me, was that the MMI was too tricksy to cope with on the move.

Can a car be too clever for its own good? Sadly, I think the answer is yes.

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