The 2002 Audi A6 3.0 sedan is an attractive, midsize vehicle with lots of lovely luxury features and plenty of comfort/convenience amenities.
Got that? Great, let’s move on to the transmission. I could go on all day about it.
My test A6 was equipped with one of the niftiest new pieces of engineering on the market — a continuously variable transmission. It’s called CVT for short, and its origins actually can be traced to the early 20th century. But now, unlike then, a CVT holds up under the forces engines dish out.
The CVT technology on the test A6 is unique to Audi, which means the automaker gets to call it an “Audi multitronic automatic continuously variable transmission.”
If you haven’t guessed, Audi loves to put its stamp on all manner of its automotive engineering. But that’s beside the point — just think CVT for now.
Unlike a conventional transmission — with all those hard, toothy gears whacking around — the Audi CVT has a pair of conical “variators” wrapped up in a super-strong, link-plate drive chain.
Having trouble picturing that? Think two, split pulleys wrapped in a belt.
The pulleys can move closer to each other or farther apart. When they are close together, the belt rides on a larger diameter toward the outer rim. When they move apart, the belt rides on a smaller diameter, closer to the axis.
What it all means is that the pulleys and the flexible, vanadium-plated steel chain work in tandem between the extreme gear ranges — 12.7:1 to 2.1:1. How many gear ratios are in between the extremes?
Something like an infinite number.
That’s right, the transmission expands and contracts so seamlessly that literally scores of gear ratios are experienced — say, in a typical acceleration from an on-ramp into the freeway traffic.
What you don’t hear or feel when you’re accelerating are gear changes. The first couple of times, it’s unnerving. Whether you are devoted to a manual or an automatic gearbox, all of us are accustomed to hearing the familiar “buzz-whump” sound of gear changes. Hit the gas in the Audi A6 3.0 with CVT and what you get is a long, steady, uninterrupted “waaaaaaaaaa…”
You darn near lose touch with reality waiting for that gear shift sound/feeling to kick in. Rest assured, it doesn’t happen. The CVT simply dishes up the power in one long wave right up to the top end of the gear range.
But does it perform?
Heck, yes, it performs. The CVT in the Audi A6 3.0 is matched up with a 3-liter V-6 with five valves per cylinder, and the CVT is built to handle 230 foot-pounds of torque.
What about fuel economy? The ratings are 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, admirable for a robust V-6 with 220 horses. And if you want to know about the hydraulic torque converter, forget it. The CVT doesn’t need that because of the flexibility of the drive belt.
Right about now, you’re asking yourself how a CVT can possibly be th at smooth because it has to react to a variety of driving conditions while negotiating a seemingly endless band of gear ratios.
The answer is simple: The multitronic CVT includes electronics that sense how much pressure the driver is applying to the gas pedal. Engine torque and clutch engagement adjust accordingly. Take your foot off the gas, and the CVT will even simulate the no-throttle forward creep of a typical automatic gearbox-equipped vehicle.
What if you can’t go on in life without shifting gears? No sweat. The multitronic CVT offers the option of clutchless manual shifting, with six fixed transmission stages in the system.
How does the CVT stack up against other automatic gearboxes? Superbly.
Once you stop waiting for the sound of gear changes, you’ve got it made. The CVT requires no special adjustment in driving behavior and performs more smoothly than a conventional automatic.
Not only that, electronic systems in the multitronic CVT sense uphill and downhill grades, automatically adjusting engine-braking torque to help out the driver.
Is CVT the wave of the future?
Not being shy, Audi calls its multitronic “arguably the most technologically advanced transmission in automotive history.” But in truth, the long-term story of CVT probably will be told up the road as Audi drivers put extended miles on the new system and reliability numbers start coming in.
Based solely on performance in my test vehicle, I’d say Audi is on to something good. And other automakers are incorporating CVTs into select autos. If the ball keeps rolling, makers and repairers of transmissions may be shifting gears to a whole new technology in a few years.
Audi A6 at a glance
Make/model: 2002 Audi A6 3.0 CVT.
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, front-drive, midsize, mid-luxury sedan.
Base price: $35,400 (as tested, $40,325).
Engine: 3-liter V-6 with 220 horsepower at 6,300 revolutions per minute and 221 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city; 25 mpg highway.
Transmission: Automatic continuously variable transmission with special features.
Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensitive and handling-enhancement features.
Brakes: Power four-wheel discs with anti-lock and special control features.
Suspension type: Four-link with stabilizer bar on front; double A-arm independent with trailing arms and coil springs on rear.
Interior volume: 95.9 cubic feet.
Trunk volume: 17.2 cubic feet.
Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons.
Curb weight: 3,516 pounds.
Front track: 60.6 inches.
Rear track: 61.8 inches.
Height: 57.2 inches.
Length: 192 inches.
Wheelbase: 108.7 inches.
Width: 71.3 inches.
Tires: P205/55R16 all-season.
Final assembly point: Neckarsulm, Germany.