CHANGE IS inevitable, and sometimes inevitably traumatic. You canface it or run away from it, or you can drive and do both. I drove, andat the end of my journey in the 1995 Audi S6, I concluded that there wasno need to run.

I've been blessed with two good parents -- proud, industriouspeople who reared six black children in the segregated South. They putevery one us through college and saw one of us die an untimely death.They were consistent in their love and insistence on excellence.

Now one of them is critically ill -- our father, the rock. Wechildren took the news hard. Our mother was wiser. She knew my father'svulnerabilities. By mutual agreement between him and us, the siblings,we didn't. He was willing to play the role of Protector Provider. We lethim.

As a child, when faced with frightening imponderables, Iretreated to my room, where I took refuge in books and model airplanes.Today, the car is my chapel and place of epiphany, one of which came inthe working of the S6's gears.

The car's five-speed manual transmission shifted smoothly,precisely. My father would've said that the people who designed thatgearbox had to want to pursue that bit of excellence -- and to sacrificesome irretrievable part of their lives to get it right. That is themeaning of life well-lived; that is the value of things well-done. Suchexcellence, albeit temporal, deserves celebration.

Background: There was a time when I ignored Audi, when I thoughtit was a cipher in the automotive world. But then came the unhappyevents of the mid-1980s, when the company was unfairly and ruinouslyaccused of producing cars that suddenly and uncontrollably accelerated.

Subsequent investigations by the U.S. and other governmentsproved that the Audi cars were not the least bit guilty as charged. ButAudi suffered mightily. The company's U.S. sales never recovered.

Other auto makers would've gone to court seeking vengeance. Audi,instead, turned to engineering. That caught my attention. I discoveredthat the company produces excellent cars.

The all-wheel-drive S6 -- the "S" meaning "sport" and "6" beingAudi's in-house designation for mid-size automobiles -- is an example.Sold last year as the S4 ("sport, four-wheel-drive"), the S6 has only afew cosmetic changes for 1995. But that's okay. The S6 still runs at thetop of its class.

Standard equipment includes a turbocharged, five-cylinder,20-valve engine rated 227 horsepower at 5,900 rpm. Maximum torque is 256pound-feet at 1,950 rpm, which means the S6's five-banger packs moreoomph than some V-6 and V-8 models.

The S6's all-wheel-drive system is superb, and unmatched bydrivelines on comparable mid-size luxury cars. This one handles thetrauma of changing winter weather with aplomb.

Other standard equipment includes dual front air bags; anti-lockbrakes; five-speed manual transmission; speed-sensitive, rack-and-pinionpower steering; four-wheel-independent suspension syst em;double-side-galvanized sheet metal in all body panels; and lots ofluxury touches, such as leather seat upholstery and burled walnut inlaysin the instrument, center console and door panels.

Complaints: The unfortunate location of the headlamp leverright next to the turn-signal lever. Though the headlamp lever isshorter, test-car drivers repeatedly touched it -- inadvertentlyswitching the lights on or off -- while trying to signal a turn.

Praise: Overall engineering, especially the primo five-speedgearbox and the all-wheel-drive system. Comfortable seating capacity forfive passengers. Very good mid-size car cargo space, 16.8 cubic feet.

Head-turning quotient: Yet another rich car from theMercedes-Benz School of Design. Blink, and it looks like a Lexus LS 400,which looks like an Infiniti Q-45, which looks like an Acura Legend --all of which look like ... Mercedes-Benz.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The ride is substantiallyharder than what many people expect to find in a luxury sedan. Butacceleration and handling are way beyond what many people expect to findin any sedan. Braking was excellent.

Mileage: Not great. Four-wheel drive consumes more fuel thantwo-wheel drive. About 21 miles per gallon (21.1-gallon tank, estimated420-mile range on usable volume of required premium unleaded), runningmostly highway and driver only.

Sound system: Eight-speaker AM/FM stereo and cassette withtrunk-mounted, 10-disc CD changer. Installed by Audi. Not the best, butvery good.

Price: Excellence ain't cheap. Base price is $45,270. Dealer'sinvoice is $39,630. Price as tested is $46,942, including an estimated$1,227 in the generally stupid federal "luxury" tax and a $445destination charge.

Purse-string notes: Note 1 -- Compare with Mercedes-Benz E 320,Lexus LS 400, Infiniti Q-45, BMW 540i, Oldsmobile Aurora and the 1995Lincoln Continental.

Note 2 -- To House Speaker Newt Gingrich: Is any tax dumber or moreunfair than the federal levy on luxury cars? Prove that you're for real,Mr. Speaker. Dump it.