New Car Review

2012 Audi A6: First Drive

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Dan Carney August 2011

Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler hypothesized a century ago that parents and society overlook middle children, dooming them to lives of quiet desperation. As with the theories of Adler's contemporaries Freud and Jung, the so-called middle child syndrome is largely discredited today, but it retains a strong hold on popular mythology.

Certainly Audi's A6 looks like an example, stamped in steel and aluminum. The baby of the Audi's sedan family, the A4 is far and away the company's bestseller, while the all-aluminum A8 draws plaudits for its strength of trail-blazing personality and technology.

With the 2012 A6, Audi aims to fortify its oft-overlooked middle child, blending in some of the aluminum know-how used on the A8 with the A4's popular appeal in a bid to boost the portion of sales contributed by its mid-range model.

On merit, the new A6 should begin to stand out in a competitive field that includes the ever-popular Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the sporty BMW 5-Series, thanks to the arrival of new technologies seen on the A8 such as a Google Earth-powered GPS navigation system that plots your course on a real satellite image, a handwriting recognition pad for entering information, an above-average voice recognition system, an optional 1,300-watt Bang and Olufsen sound system and an all-new, not-yet-on-the-A8 Audi Connect mobile WiFi hot spot system that lets occupants in the vehicle connect up to five mobile devices to the Internet through the on-board router.

Interior Opulence, Plus Plastic

Inside, the A6 features the supple leather and warm wood that Audi has made the hallmarks of its 21st century rise to prominence in the U.S. The aforementioned gadgets bolster the A6 against any would-be challenger to the company's claim of technological leadership. The carpet and headliner are soft, and the floor mats are so perfectly fitted that they seem to part of the floor.

The navigation system sets the new industry standard with its inclusion of Google Earth images with its map. Neighborhood swimming pools prove to be incredibly easy to spot from space when frantically searching for the correct cul-de-sac within a maze-like neighborhood in time for the early morning swim meet.

And yet, despite perennial leadership in the quality of cabin materials and leading-edge adoption of new features, the A6's interior disappoints in the area of the abundant plastic, which seems a little too expansive and insufficiently expensive for a car of this category. The molded-in speaker grilles seem like the exclamation point on this insult, though one that can be avoided with the specification of the $5,900 Bang and Olufsen stereo with its aluminum speaker grilles.

And perhaps someday someone from any of the German companies can explain to us why twisting the nav system's control knob in a clockwise direction causes the image to zoom out, rather than in, as anyone who has ever tightened a bolt would expect.

Wheels-To-The-Corners Stance

Thanks to a new transaxle first seen in the sporty A5, Audi has been able to shift the A6's engine rearward, dramatically reducing the front overhang that is the bane of front-drive-based architectures. This permitted designers to stretch the wheelbase to 114 inches and push the wheels to the corners, giving the A6 the same sporty stance as its competitors from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both of which are built on rear-drive platforms, though all three cars are available in all-wheel-drive form).

Combine this new stance with Audi's aggressive use of LED lighting (the A6 has available LED headlights) and the A6 is simultaneously handsome and distinctive. Some competitors have wrestled with that balance.

Demanding European pedestrian protection requirements have adversely affected the styling of pretty much everything from the Continent in recent years. Audi's integration of the mandatory tall and blunt front profile is more deftly executed that its competitors'. Of particular note is the way the hood closes snugly against the grille, in contrast to the yawning gap seen in that spot in all recent Mercedes products.

Graceful Performance with Genuine Comfort

Audi is launching the 2012 A6 with a supercharged, direct-injected 310 hp 3.0-liter V6 engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission. In recognition that markets may move toward less thirsty alternatives, Audi is readying a turbocharged, direct-injected, 211-hp 2.0-liter I4 matched to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or an available manual transmission.

Either engine moves the car with authority, as the four-cylinder model weighs only 3,682 lbs. and the V6 weighs 4,045. An aluminum content of more than 20 percent helps the V6 model weigh in at 78 lbs. less than its predecessor.

This focus on weight saving, along with Audi's traditional emphasis on sporty, responsive driving characteristics, means that even with the often-botched electric power steering the A6 provides the anticipated steering feel and feedback through its leather-wrapped steering wheel.

With 60 percent of engine power directed to the rear wheels in quattro models, the A6 has the lively feel of a rear-drive model rather than the understeer-prone, torque steer-plagued feel of a front driver, making the A6 a legitimate player in the sport sedan segment.

Even with the 19-inch sport package wheels and sport suspension, the A6 delivers a compliant ride to compliment the capable handling. Matched with the many-way adjustable seats, this luxury car comfort is somewhat unexpected in a sport sedan.

Full Membership

Since 60 Minutes' fabricated unintended acceleration scare of 1986, Audi's image has been a work in progress. Five or ten years ago, Audi was viewed on par with some of the Japan-come-lately luxury upstarts, particularly Acura and Infiniti, along with maybe some of the Swedish brands. Today the company is once again a fully credentialed purveyor of German Panzerwagens, along with stalwarts Mercedes and BMW.

So now, when Audi buyers are asked which other two brands they shopped, their German rivals are the top two names mentioned, and when Mercedes and BMW buyers are asked, Audi is one of the top two alternatives on their shopping lists, reports Anthony Faulk, product manager for A6, A7 and A8.

The A6 underscores Audi's rightful position in this hierarchy, with its rich cabin appointments, powerful engine and telepathic handling. And also, its bottom line. At $63,555 as tested, the 2012 A6 3.0 TFSI quattro Auto Tiptronic carried many of the available options such as the Prestige package and the LED headlights, but not all of them, so Audi isn't some bargain brand trying to buy its way into the market.

With a base price of $50,000 for the V6 and an expected starting price in the low-40s for the four-cylinder, it is possible to get into an A6 for a not unreasonable price. At that price you still get the great styling, presence and comfort delivered by all A6s, along with a dose of prestige if that's your goal. But it also provides the opportunity to spend a pile of dough optioning up the car from mid-range to true high-end luxury levels, as a full-boat A6 is going to run into the mid-60s.

An appealing aspect of the A6's personality is that while the car carries as much country club portico prestige as its rivals, its cabin comforts give it a personal feel that somehow lets the Audi escape the impression that it is too precious to be parked on the street, like some automotive wash-n-wear Armani.

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Used 2012 Audi A6 3.0T Premium Plus quattro
Used 2012 Audi A6
$15,795
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Audi A6: First Drive - Autotrader