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The Audi A6 battles it out for mid-size luxury buyers, but at times, the toughest fight comes from inside its own house. Of course, it's competition for the brilliant new Cadillac CTS, along with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class--but it's also the slightly more dowdy alternative to the sexy Audi A7 hatchback, or even the smaller and more affordable Audi A4.The A6 and the hot spin-off S6 are handsome, sporty sedans, with sleekly contoured sheetmetal and tightly drawn details. For years, we've put Audi design on a pedestal, particularly the A6, only to have it knocked off two years ago by the mechanically similar, much less predictable A7 hatchback. That car is one of the few to earn a perfect 10 from our editors for styling; the A6's more conventional lines earn it a more conventional score. The A6's details still win, but truth be told, we're not the biggest fans of Audi's biggest grilles ever. The better news is that the cockpit of the A6 and S6 are clones of those in the A7 and S7, and that's a relief: the rich materials are arranged perfectly in coordination with each other, and the plethora of cutlines never seems to get in the way of a good time.
The A6's base drivetrain pairs a 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter four with either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive, or an eight-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel drive. The four isn't slow, either; expect 0 to 60 mph times at about 7.5 seconds, up to a top speed of 130 mph. The CVT here does its best to pretend that it's a conventional automatic--and even offers a sport mode, paddle-shifters, and simulated ratios--but we'd take the eight-speed automatic and quattro with the 2.0T any day. And for pure efficiency, we'd choose the excellent A6 TDI, with a 240-hp turbodiesel six and an eight-speed automatic, a 0-60 mph time of about 5.5 seconds, and an EPA rating of 24/38 mpg, or 29 mpg combined.
Higher up on the performance scale are the supercharged six and turbocharged eights. The 310-horsepower supercharged V-6 that's offered in the A6 is paired with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission for a 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds. It's a flexible, fairly muted powerplant--but it's easily outstripped by the 420-horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine found in the S6. The S6's seven-speed S tronic gearbox and performance upgrades ensure excitement is just a tap-shift away--and that 60 mph is just 4.5 seconds away.
No matter which version you choose, the A6 has good handling, in either front- or all-wheel drive; even though its all-wheel drive system is biased to the rear it still prefers nose-heavy understeer. Models with Audi's Drive Select have better range and adaptability in their electric steering, throttle, transmission and even air-damper control, though steering feel isn't particularly a strength. The S6 has the tautest responses, of course; with impressively strong brakes and the firmest Sport settings, it's sweetly maneuverable in tight curves.
With its swept-back, more rear-biased sport-sedan look, the A6's silhouette does rob some interior space. It feels somewhat smaller inside than some other mass-market cars in its size class, but front-seat space is excellent. Legroom can feel tight in back, and that middle space back there isn't adult-sized. That also makes the four-seat A7 and its practical hatchback cargo area, again seem more appealing. Trunk space is obviously smaller than in the A7 hatchback, but at 14.1 cubic feet it's even a bit small by luxury-sedan standards; the cargo floor is also quite high.
The A6 offers all the active-safety features you'll find on its luxury peers from Mercedes-Benz and BMW--including front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, a night-vision system, and a head-up display. It's earned top five-star results from the federal government in crash-testing, as well as top 'good' ratings from the IIHS in all of the areas it's been tested (although not yet the tough small overlap test).
The 2014 Audi A6 and S6 are very well-equipped at the base level, as luxury sedans. But it's the options for the lineup that will really impress passengers. From Google Earth maps, to in-car wireless Internet access, to an innovative system that lets you trace out letters with your finger, this lineup goes above and beyond with tech options. The A6 also offers all the active-safety features you'll find on its luxury peers from Mercedes-Benz and BMW--including front and rear parking sensors, a top-view camera, blind-spot monitors, a night-vision system, and a head-up display.