2012 Audi A6 Review
Lighter and sportier than its predecessor, the all-new A6 stakes its claim as top dog in the midsize luxury segment.
- Remarkable fit and finish
- Very quiet at speed
- Safe and agile handling
- Steering too numb
- Complex system controls
- Dual-clutch gearbox not offered
Audi has long played the innovator. In the early 1980s, in the wake of a second oil crisis, the Audi 100 sedan was the first commercially available vehicle to flaunt aerodynamic efficiency. Soon after, Audi's first quattro system planted the seeds of all-wheel-drive's rise to prominence. And for years now, Audi has been recognized as the industry's peerless master of interior design and quality.
Enter the seventh-generation A6 midsize luxury sedan. At a distance, it might look like the outgoing model. But get up close and personal, and you realize that this is a different beast. It is slightly wider and notably lighter than its predecessor, with more balanced and athletic proportions, fresh exterior styling, and a cabin that raises the bar for this class once again.
But is all that enough to compete with rivals that invariably rate as some of the very best cars in the world? We think so.
With the sharp-edged crease that runs high on its flanks and the razor-cut headlights that frame a new hexagonal grille, the new Audi A6 looks slimmer and trimmer than the vehicle it replaces. It is a whisker shorter and lower, but almost an inch wider, with a front-wheel track that has also grown by a half-inch or so. But the most significant change is a 2.7-inch longer wheelbase that helps trim front-body overhang, the result of moving the front axle forward. This simultaneously improves the A6's weight distribution, balance and handling.
By using liberal quantities of aluminum, Audi has also reduced the overall weight of the A6 by almost 80 pounds. With one-fifth of its components made of aluminum, the body shell itself weighs about 15 percent less than its steel equivalent.
Two models are available for 2012. The new 2.0T, powered by Audi's lively, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, is the new entry-level version, replacing the naturally aspirated V6-powered 3.2-liter. Up a solid notch in performance is the A6 3.0T. Contrary to what the "T" in this badge implies, the up-level A6's engine is supercharged, not turbocharged.
Three levels of trim and equipment will be offered. Premium models will come with leather power seats (heated on 3.0T versions) linked to a memory function; a split-folding rear seat with pass-through; 3-zone climate control; a sunroof; wood trim inside and chrome trim outside, including tailpipes; keyless start; automatic headlights and wipers; 17-inch wheels; and an audio system with Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and Audi's upgraded Multi Media Interface, with a 6.5-inch screen.
Premium Plus adds xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights; a touch pad for MMI control; a navigation system; HD radio with a 60-gigabyte hard drive; a changer for multiple CDs and a single DVD player; park assist that combines a rear-view camera with front and rear sensors; a crisp-looking, multicolor driver information display; a 6-month subscription to the Audi connect network; and 18-inch wheels.
On top of these, the top-of-the-line A6 Prestige most visibly gets the S-line exterior treatment that combines bolder bumpers, additional grilles for the air intakes and a diffuser. The full Prestige package includes keyless entry, a power-adjustable steering wheel, 4-zone climate control, a sound system tuned by Bose, heated and cooled front seats, adaptive headlamps with cornering lights, and 18-inch wheels with a different design.
Under the Hood
The core engine for the new A6 line is a double-overhead-cam, supercharged 3.0-liter V6 with twin intercoolers. This updated version of the current engine produces 310 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission offered in the United States is an 8-speed automatic. Fuel economy ratings are 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Audi says the European A6 sprints to 60 mph in less than 5.5 seconds; the American model should be very close to those figures. The 3.0T's powertrain is coupled exclusively to Audi's latest quattro all-wheel system, with crown-gear center differential and torque-vectoring.
New to the A6 family in the U.S. is a turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaces the previous generation's 3.2-liter V6 as the entry-level engine. The direct-injected 2.0-liter powerplant, shared with several Audi models, develops 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is funneled to the front wheels only through Audi's Multitronic continuously variable transmission, a combination unique to the U.S. The quattro all-wheel-drive system will be available later. The 2.0T's fuel-economy ratings are 25/33/28 mpg.
Interiors are Audi's hallmark, and the new A6 certainly does not disappoint in this respect. It shares several of its features with the larger A8 prestige sedan that has set new standards in terms of design and refinement. The quality of materials used is beyond reproach, and some finishes are truly unique, especially the pinstriped, light brown veneer wood trim in some of the cars tested at the launch.
But most striking is the amazing clarity of all instruments and displays. Audi has worked hard at making its MMI system more intuitive and user friendly. The graphics on the standard 6.5-inch or the optional 8-inch screen are exceptional. Especially impressive is the optional feature that combines Google Earth images and information with instructions from the navigation system, thanks to a 3-D graphics processor developed with Nvidia. This will be made possible by a Bluetooth Internet connection that can also turn the A6 into a Wi-Fi hotspot for on-board mobile devices.
However, for most operations in normal driving, the MMI system, with its big selection knob and myriad peripheral buttons, remains complex and distracting. The buttons for the engine-start and audio volume are also placed to the right of the shift lever, and the electronic parking brake toggle to the left, which only makes ergonomic sense with right-hand drive. On the plus side, the optional multicolor head-up display system is the best in the business.
On the Road
On a twisty road, the new A6 invariably feels smaller than it really is. Its longer, wider footprint and reduced weight truly pay off in terms of both agility and stability. The ride was utterly soft, but handling response felt too vague on the first 3.0T we tested, even on the firmest settings. But these impressions are rather irrelevant since our test car's air-spring suspension won't be offered in the U.S.
A second driving loop aboard an A6 equipped with the optional sport version of the regular metal-spring suspension and 20-inch wheels with squat 255/35R20 tires was much more convincing. This car's overall feel and poise were remarkably superior, at the price of some ride comfort. It was equipped with the optional sport differential that transfers torque to the outside wheels while cornering, which all but eliminates understeer.
U.S. models with the regular steel suspension and smaller standard wheels should strike a good compromise. On both test cars, though, the A6's new electro-mechanical steering felt too light and overassisted in "comfort" mode and just decent in the sportiest "dynamic" mode.
Right for You?
This new A6 is replete with just about every standard or optional system and technology you could wish for in a luxury sedan, and then some. It is a class leader in quality, and its newfound lightness keeps it fully competitive in performance and efficiency against direct rivals. The A6's new proportions make it agile, but Audi needs to tweak its new electric steering gear or front-end geometry to enhance driving feel. No pricing has yet been announced, but this new midsize Audi luxury entry will be a player from day one.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Audi provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.