Pros: Superb supercharged V6, athletic handling, beautiful interior, top-notch technology.
Cons: Subpar base powertrain (2.0T and CVT), back seat comfort could be better, no wagon offered.
Audi has been hot on BMW's heels for a few years now, but the 2012 Audi A6 might prove to be the tipping point. After all, the BMW 5 Series, once unrivaled as the driver's choice among midsize luxury sedans, has gone soft lately; meanwhile, Audi has come out with arguably its best-driving sedan ever in the new A6. Although the A6 continues to utilize a front-wheel-drive platform, its weight distribution has never been more balanced, and the supercharged 3.0T model's Quattro all-wheel-drive system can send up to 60% of the engine's power to the rear wheels for improved driver control. From where we sit, the new A6 3.0T is the best-driving German sedan in its class.
But the Audi folks rarely mention the entry-level A6 2.0T model, and for good reason. The base A6 gets just 211 horsepower from its turbocharged inline-4-easily the lowest output in this segment-and it only comes with front-wheel drive. What's more, the 2.0T is stuck with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that prioritizes fuel economy over performance. It's still a pleasant car, no doubt, and it's unusually affordable, but its powertrain is not competitive.
If you can afford the 3.0T's starting price of roughly $50,000, though, Audi's high-tech new midsizer should be at the top of your shopping list. Among midsize luxury sedans, it's the A6 that turns out to be the ultimate driving machine.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Audi A6 is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. The first two are available with either the turbo four or the supercharged V6, while the Prestige comes only with the V6.
The Premium starts with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights, a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, Audi's Drive Select system (featuring electronic adjustments for steering, throttle, and transmission calibrations), leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control (including separate rear controls), power front seats (heated in the 3.0T model) with driver lumbar adjustment, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth, a ten-speaker audio system, and MMI Radio Plus-a basic version of Audi's Multi-Media Interface that includes a 6.5-inch power-retracting TFT display screen, full iPod integration, a console-mounted control knob, and twin SD-card slots.
The Premium Plus adds 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED running lights, parking sensors, an upgraded driver information display for the gauge cluster, a navigation system with Google Earth compatibility and voice recognition software, available in-car wireless internet, and the "MMI touch" handwriting recognition pad.
The V6-only Prestige tops things off with Audi's S line exterior treatment, adaptive xenon headlamps, ventilated front seats, a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, quad-zone automatic climate control (including two sets of controls for rear passengers), and a Bose audio system.
Many of the higher trims' features are available on lower trims as options. Also offered is a Bang & Olufsen audio system (Prestige only), adaptive cruise control, and a Sport package that brings a lowered suspension, a three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles, and wheel sizes ranging from 18 inches to 20.
The A6's cabin is a thing of beauty. The materials used are exceptionally nice, and practically every button, lever, and knob oozes class. We're surprised that there's only one front-seat style, though, as the rather plain standard seats don't provide much lateral support. Audi's Sport packages typically contribute more enthusiastic seats, but the A6's doesn't-not for 2012, at least.
Ergonomically, the A6 is pretty sound for such a high-tech car. As in other Audis, little things like adjusting the fan speed can be needlessly complex, but most major controls are straightforward. Moreover, MMI has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with simplified menu structures and extra physical buttons that give you a fighting chance of accomplishing tasks while driving.
We're a bit disappointed in the A6's back seat. There's adequate legroom, but the bottom cushion is rather low for a conventionally styled sedan, so passengers with longer legs will notice a lack of under-thigh support. If satisfying those in back is a top priority, check out the Infiniti M. One thing we do appreciate about the A6's rear quarters is the standard separate climate controls, which even gain dual-zone functionality in the 3.0T Prestige.
The A6 is a technophile's dream. Mostly. If you like to keep your mp3s on a flash drive, you'll have to adapt, as the A6 rolls with SD-card slots instead of a USB port. But that's just a footnote to the A6's smashing technological goodness. First of all, look at all the standard kit you get, from iPod/Bluetooth integration to a ten-speaker stereo with those SD slots and a nifty MMI display screen that retracts into the dash. And then there's the Premium Plus trim level's upgrades, including a beautiful color driver information display between the gauges, a navigation system that can display Google Earth street views, and even a crazy little touch-pad that can decipher the inputs you scribble onto it. It's hard to pick a clear technology champ in this segment, but the A6 is a strong contender.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The A6 2.0T features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) is the only drivetrain configuration. We like Audi's 2.0T engine in the abstract, but it feels overmatched in a fancy luxury sedan, and the CVT is an imprecise tool.
The more expensive but immensely more satisfying A6 3.0T boasts a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is Quattro all-wheel drive with a 40/60 front/rear torque split. The supercharged V6 is exceptionally refined, and it delivers authoritative acceleration well into criminal territory. We'd only asked for smoother shifts from the sometimes abrupt eight-speed automatic; the manual-mode downshifts are in particular need of attention.
The EPA rates the 2.0T at 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway, while the 3.0T checks in at 19/28 mpg. We're more impressed by the latter rating-that's remarkable efficiency for a 310-horsepower motor in a 4,000-pound luxury sedan.
The 2012 Audi A6 comes with standard stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The 3.0T models get ventilated rear disc brakes, while the 2.0T has solid rear discs. Eight airbags are standard (front, front side, front knee, full-length side-curtain), and rear side airbags are optional.
The A6 had not been crash-tested by the government as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the A6 its top rating of "Good" in every category.
The A6 may weigh two tons in 3.0T guise, but it feels light and nimble from behind the wheel-virtually the opposite of the imposing new 5 Series. Handling is quite athletic even in the base 2.0T, which enjoys the same basic wheel and tire fitments as the 3.0T, while the Sport package turns the A6 into a genuinely engaging car on back roads. The ride isn't as buttery-smooth as in some other fancy luxury sedans, however. With that in mind, we suggest staying away from the optional 20-inch wheels, beautiful as they are.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 5 Series: The four-cylinder 528i easily outpaces the A6 2.0T, albeit at a higher price, while the V8-powered 550i eclipses even the 3.0T. We'd rather be driving the Audi, though.
Infiniti M: Infiniti's midsize luxury sedan has an exquisite interior, including a wonderfully supportive back seat, and it also packs a serious punch under the hood in any form.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class: The E-Class's driving dynamics are conservative relative to the A6's, but we love the way the E barrels down the highway, and the E550's new twin-turbocharged V8 is intoxicating.
If you enjoy driving like we do, the A6 3.0T is the only choice here. As for trim levels, we'd go for the Premium Plus-having Google Earth along for the ride is too cool to pass up.