If you want to know what it's like to become a rock star in the automotive industry, ask an Audi executive. Not so many years ago, Audi was a side player in the high-end car game, considered by serious luxury shoppers as more of a premium car and outdone consistently by the likes of Mercedes and BMW.
Now, with a string of high-profile successes under its belt – more recently the flagship A8 and soon-to-come A7 – the brand has become major threat. So, no great surprise that in another relentless move for position, the executive class 2012 Audi A6 is reborn, bringing with it the features and strengths of its attention-getting siblings.
But with all these letters and numbers flying around, Audi wants to make the point that the A6 is quite a different animal from the new A7. Think of the A7 like you would the Mercedes-Benz CLS – a head-turning, design dream "coupe" with four doors. The A6 is also different from the A5 – which could really be considered the coupe version of the A4. In short, the A6 is the "executive class" of Audi – squarely facing off with the Benz E-Class and BMW 5-series.
Right out of the gate at its Detroit auto show debut in January, the new A6 won the highest industry design award from EyesOn Design. Not surprising, since designers know an iconic creation when they see it. The athletic, elegant A6 is wider than last year's model by three inches and lower, with a longer overhang to make the classic one-frame Audi grille stand out even more than usual. And aluminum has been used throughout the car to reduce weight and improve speed and handling.
Inside, the A6, Audi's reputation for building the best interiors lives on. As usual, that signature Audi leather smell sends you into euphoria. Then, the wrap-around, wood laden, crafted cockpit reflects a simplicity that belies the depth of technology just beyond the driver's fingertips – and many systems that your fingers will know nothing about. For starters, Audi has partnered with none other than Google for its Google Earth navigation with live traffic layered on top. With this system, you can also ask to display a retail name. Ask it to show you all the Home Depots and they appear on the map. Audi tells us that there are many other Google features coming as upgrades later, and this is only the beginning of a long relationship with the internet giant.
Of course, the entire car is a WiFi hot spot that can connect up to eight devices at one time, so iPads are welcome. And if that's not futuristic enough, there are a series of cameras placed around the car that "reads" speed limit signs and alerts you to the new speed on its head-up display.
A6's available Adaptive cruise control not only analyzes the car in front of you, but also the ones in both lanes next to you. Then as it detects you are getting too near crossing the line, it actually steers you back on course. Then there's Audi night-vision pedestrian detection and park assist that gives you both vertical and horizontal moves to put you in tiny spots.
And with the same MMI infotainment system found in the grand A8 sedan, Audi lets your fingers do the writing when you're looking up a phone address or you can just ask the car where the nearest Starbucks is – and it magically appears on the screen.
Under the hood, Audi's offers two engines – both of which have brought fuel consumption down by 19 percent. The supercharged 3.0-liter TFSI V6 engine makes an efficient 310 horsepower and 325 lb.-feet of torque. It's up 10 in horsepower from the previous A6 model. This engine's 8-speed automatic transmission and quattro permanent all-wheel drive will make up the lion's share of engines sold in the U.S. The remainder will be a 2.0 TFSI (turbocharged) 211 horsepower 4-cylinder with front-wheel drive and a CVT transmission. The EPA estimates fuel economy is improved for the 3.0 quattro at 19 city/28 highway mpg and 22 combined, while the 2.0 4-cylinder comes in at 25 city/33 highway with 28 combined mpg.
Driving the V6 3.0 turbocharged version, there's a noticeable lightness compared to what used to be a heavier, but road-gripping car. The electronic steering was tuned for comfort, not precision, and with two modes: Comfort and Dynamic. Comfort is the better driving experience. The 8-speed transmission flowed smoothly, with no shift feel or pauses as we accelerated, but enthusiasts will gripe that the US will not get the more spirited performance of the 7-speed dual clutch transmission that will be available in Europe.
Audi will create a total of five engines globally, and Audi executives promise a hybrid version will be added. As for diesel, the company has confirmed that the A6 TDI will be sold in the US, but it may take a year or two. As the September, 2011 launch nears, we will know more about the available engines and pricing, but that's how it is with rock stars – sometimes information is withheld just to keep things interesting.