Audi A6 Avant 3.2 V-6

Audi A6 Avant 3.2 V-6 Audi A6 Avant 3.2 V-6
Mini Test Road Test

You can count on one hand the station wagons in this world that are sexy and powerful, and their names are distinctly German, if you don't count those two eccentric-looking Swedes. So here's a contender to sit atop that list: the '06 Audi A6 Avant. Its bravura good looks come from its high-shoulder profile, coupe-like slit windows, and rakish, low stance (it has a reported 0.31 drag coefficient compared with the sedan's 0.28). There are a couple of new creases running along the flanks of the sheetmetal and a V-shaped hood that adds to the high style. Some, however, are going to be put off by the grille, which looks as if it were designed by Orville over at the Bassmasters outlet, but we're not going to make a federal case out of it. The Mickey Big Mouth look, called a "single-frame grille," is being installed across the entire Audi line, so get used to it.

This first full makeover of the A6 Avant since 1999 should go on sale in U.S. showrooms this August. Audi will offer just one engine: a capable 252-hp, 3.1-liter FSI V-6 that comes with Quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission. With FSI, the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chambers rather than into the intake runners, providing better combustion and efficiency. The base price will be about $46,000.

This Avant has grown in length (to 194.2 inches from 192.0) and wheelbase (to 111.9 inches from 108.6), and this pays dividends in interior space. Audi says rear headroom and front and rear shoulder space have increased noticeably, and there are 34 cubic feet of cargo room, up from 33. Audi has noodled feverishly to find ways to make hauling stuff more efficient: divider nets, a two-rail system with tie-down rings, a telescoping arm and attachment belt, and a retractable floor with a big cargo tray stowed below it for filthy things like your hiking boots and that stinky box of fishing lures. You can even program how high you want the rear hatch to extend when opened.

We weren't offered a ballot, but we'd vote against the continuing humbug of the electronics joy button-in this case, Multi Media Interface, which is Audi's equivalent of BMW's iDrive. We think these do-everything devices work fine with nav systems but overcomplicate a lot of other previously simple tasks, but automakers have fallen for this tech gadgetry in a big, big way.

Also new are LED taillights, whose dozens of individual beams suggest little design Milky Ways, and the big dual exhaust pipes are now visible.

In Europe, the A6 Avant is better appreciated than the sedan (61 percent to 39), where Audi offers six engine choices, from a whooshing 4.2 V-8 making 330 horses down to a functional 2.0-liter diesel. The V-6 destined for our market is No. 2 in power ranking, cranking out 32 more horses than the last A6 Avant. This wagon handles beautifully, with light steering, wonderful driver ergonomics, and a most fetching interior. The ride is firm but without the harshness associated with sporting models, and the A6 Avant is great fun to drive, maybe the most fun you can have in a station wagon. (Okay, you guys in the turbocharged 2.5-liter Subaru Legacy wagon, get lost!)