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The 2010 Audi A6 shows how brutal competition can be in the luxury-sedan world. In its twilight years, the A6 finds itself competing against brand-new sedans from BMW, Mercedes, and Infiniti, each with invigorating new styling and major dynamic improvements. It’s still attractive, and attractively priced, but the Audi A6 is less spacious and less distinctive than these newbies. Priced from about $42,000 for the A6 sedan to well over $77,000 for the S6, the Audi A6 meets its match in sedans like the latest Infiniti M37 and M56, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the BMW 5-Series and 5-Series GT.
As a four-door sedan or five-door Avant wagon, the Audi A6 still has a svelte shape with relatively little fuss—from the side and rear, that is. At the nose, the A6 sports Audi’s latest grille theme, a gaping maw that’s easily the car’s biggest styling misstep. It’s a major distraction from the otherwise clean lines of both body styles. We think the Avant wagon’s easily the most handsome family vehicle you can find in showrooms today; the sleek wagon back flows like few others we’ve seen. Inside, the A6 mixes up the old Audi recipe of plain shapes, simple controls, and lots of wood. There’s more going on here, and there’s less wood trim than there used to be, but the A6’s interior still is a functional and cleanly designed place to work. The performance S6 edition carries on the sedan’s classic roofline arc and “tornado” line that trails along the lower sills, but it sits lower and has side skirts and air dams that amp up the graceful shape. The S6 also adds shiny carbon-fiber trim to the cabin, and it’s not as rich-looking as you might hope—but as with the A6, the S6’s cabin is flawlessly assembled.
Last year Audi split the difference between its V-6 and V-8 engines with a new supercharged V-6 powerplant—and now, there’s almost no reason to choose the other engines, since the 300-hp “super” six has the performance of the V-8 and nearly the economy of the less-powerful six. The base engine’s a smooth but unremarkable 3.2-liter V-6 with 265 horsepower, coupled to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with seven pre-programmed “gears” to give it a more conventional shift feel. Audi promises a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds and fuel economy of 18/28 mpg. The 3.0T gets the new supercharged V-6 and quattro all-wheel drive tuned for rear power bias of 40:60; it’s teamed to a responsive six-speed automatic available with paddle shifters. This is the only powertrain offered on the Avant wagon; in both body styles, it’s rated at 18/26 mpg, with a 0-60 mph time of about 6 seconds. The 350-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 also sports the six-speed automatic with paddle controls and all-wheel drive. Audi rates its 0-60 mph times at 5.8 seconds, and fuel economy at 16/23 mpg. With any of the engines, the A6 lineup has a distinctly light touch to its controls, and it steers as deftly as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class and better than the electric-steering BMW 5-Series lineup. It’s responsive from its wheel to its brake pedal and feels lighter on its feet than most cars in this class. A Sport package adds 18-inch all-season or 19-inch performance treads and paddles for the automatic shifter to V-6 cars, but its settings give the A6 a harsher ride.
The supercharged V-6 A6 is competitive, even with the $77,000 Audi S6. That supersedan spits out 435 horsepower from a 5.2-liter V-10 derived from Lamborghini’s engines, and it channels the high-revving engine’s power through a six-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. A "sport" driving mode holds gears at redline, so you savor the throaty, muffled roar of the V-10—but you’ll extract a 0-60 time of only about 5.1 seconds, less than a second faster than the 3.0T. The EPA rates the S6 at 14/19 mpg. The dollar-to-speed equation may not make sense, but the S6’s steering is perfectly weighted and responsive, the brakes powerful and sure, the ride motions beautifully damped as the big tires grip, the suspension takes a set, and your thumbs call up exactly the right gear to power through each corner, whether slow, fast, or ruggedly rough.
Interior space is a mixed bag for the 2010 A6 lineup. The sedans don’t have much more space than the lesser A4 Audi wagon and sedan; they’re less roomy by a wide margin than the Infiniti M, the latest BMW 5-Series, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The A6’s front seats are supportive enough, but rather flat and firm compared to the grippy seats in the sporty S6. Rear-seat riders won’t have as much room in the A6 or S6 as they will in the class leaders, and the rear bench is sculpted for two butts; hump riders won’t get far in comfort. Trunk space in sedans is ample, though, at 15.9 cubic feet, and the rear seats fold down for better storage space. The A6 Avant wagon can transport 20 cubic feet of cargo with the seats in place and 58.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. A power-operated tailgate is standard on wagons, along with roof rails.
Safety ratings have changed in the A6 lineup since it was revamped for the 2009 model year. Formerly a Top Safety Pick as rated by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the 2010 A6 still scores “good” ratings for front and side impact safety. The organization has changed its ratings system to account for roof-crush safety and hasn’t tested the A6 against the new standards. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has not tested the latest A6 lineup. Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, active headrests, and tire-pressure monitors. A blind-spot alert system is optional, along with active cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. Visibility is mostly good.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery; power front seats; a multifunction steering wheel; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; Bluetooth connectivity; an AM/FM/six-CD changer; iPod integration; tilt/telescoping steering; a sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; 17-inch wheels; and a trip computer. Supercharged 3.0T wagons add roof rails and a power tailgate. The V-8 edition gets shift paddles; a power-adjustable steering column; keyless entry and push-button start; Bose audio; and a navigation system. The S6 adds sport seats, new instruments, a new sport steering wheel, and heated rear seats. Some of the features found in the Audi A6 will frustrate casual drivers and technophobes—yep, we’re looking at you, Multi-Media Interface (MMI). It’s easier to use than systems like BMW’s iDrive and has beautiful 3D mapping and iPod integration, but MMI looks and feels outdated compared to touch-driven systems from Jaguar and, especially, Ford, with its new MyFord and MyLincoln touchscreen systems, which adopt Apple’s finger-swipe gestures.
- Still good-looking in its last year
- S6 has the V-10 heart of a Lamborghini
- Sharp, light feel of major controls
- All-wheel drive optional
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Love-it-or-leave-it grille
- less luxurious interior
- Less than spacious rear seat
- Breathtaking price tag on S6