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Motor Max: Audi gets a grilling.

Byline: DAVID WHINYATES

LOVE it or loathe it, Audi's new trademark big grille is here to stay.

The bold and brash radiator grille, which cuts deep into the front apron, is the new face of the German premium brand - and it makes its first appearance on an entire model range with the unveiling of the latest generation of the Audi A6.

The new, in-your-face front-end styling looks set to divide Audi enthusiasts, many of whom have remained loyal to the brand because of its tradition of conservative, classic styling and understated elegance.

But with competitors like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class putting more emphasis on unique styling features, Audi clearly felt it needed to do something to make its latest medium executive machine stand out from the crowd.

Even so, the company clearly realised that its new look would court controversy and has been dropping clear hints of its design intentions over the last year or so.

The big grille, with its chrome-finish rim and familiar four-ring Audi badge, has been seen on concept cars like the Nuvolari coupe and Pike's Peak SUV.

And, in an obvious attempt to get potential A6 buyers used to the new look, it was put into production for the first time on the recently launched new flagship W12 version of the A8 luxury saloon.

The new A6 is larger in all dimensions than the current car and at 4,916mm long it's now the biggest car in its class with impressive interior and luggage space.

It will initially come with a choice of four engines, including 2.0 and 3.0-litre turbodiesels, plus 3.2-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8 petrol units.

Audi's renowned quattro four-wheel-drive system will be standard on the most powerful versions and an option on the rest.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with six-speed automatics and continuously-variable Multitronic gearboxes to be joined by the Dual Shift system later.

The new car was unveiled simultaneously last week in six European cities - London, Berlin, Milan, Madrid, Paris and Stockholm. It will be shown to the public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show with a UK showroom debut in around June.

Expected to cost from about pounds 21,500, the latest incarnation of the A6 has a revamped interior and fascia and the multi-function control system that is also used on the A8.

It's similar to BMW's iDrive system, with a rotary control between the front seats that is used to operate various functions including climate control, audio and satellite navigation, but is far less complicated.

Avant estate variants of the A6 and a new Coupe version are also expected to be revealed before the end of the year, with precise prices of all models yet to be announced.

CAPTION(S):

NEW FACE: the Audi A6's restyled grille is bold and brash REAR VIEW: how following drivers will see the new-look A6
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 22, 2004
Words:485
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