- Very fast (3.0T, S6)
- Great fuel economy (2.0T, TDI)
- Interior's strikingly finished
- The "wow!" moment of Google Earth maps
- Connectivity par excellence
- Audi's own A7 is better looking
- Steering isn't communicative
- A five-seater for four people
- The CVT's a skipper, we think
Brilliance takes many forms in the Audi A6: the diesel-driven TDI, the supercharged A6, or the turbocharged S6 all stand out in ways the sedate body doesn't quite match.
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 sleek sheet metal and finely 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 A7 hatchback. That A7 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 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.
Base A6 sedans come with front-wheel drive and a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-4 paired to a CVT. Opt for all-wheel drive, and the transmission becomes an 8-speed automatic. With these drivetrains, the A6 can reach 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, more or less, and can top out at 130 mph. The paddle-shifted CVT tries, and struggles, to simulate a good automatic, but our strong preference is for the 8-speed.
For efficiency, we'd choose the turbodiesel V-6 paired with an 8-speed automatic. It was rated at up to 29 mpg combined, initially. (In 2015 Audi disclosed that its turbodiesel models had flouted emissions rules. A recall has been announced, and repairs and buybacks are part of the plan.)
The A6 lineup keeps getting more powerful with other V-6 and V-8 versions. A supercharged, 310-hp V-6 pairs with an 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive for 60-mph runs in 5.3 sec. It's a fairly muted, flexible drivetrain, but outstripped fair and sqaure by the 420-hp turbo V-8 found in the Audi S6. With a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and other performance additions, the S6 puts driving thrills at fingertip's reach.
All versions of the A6 family have fine handling, no matter whether the front wheels or all four wheels draw power. Understeer is its default handling mode, even with the AWD system's rear power bias. Drive Select is Audi's drive-mode system; it changes suspension, transmission, throttle, and steering through a toggle switch from comfort to sport modes. Steering feedback isn't the A6's strong suit, though it's better on the S6, with its tauter responses and sweet maneuverability.
The A6 has a sleek shape with a long nose and a swept-back roofline. The sharp silhouette cuts into back-seat room. Front-seat space is great, with nicely padded seats. In back, the A6 has less leg room than most rivals, and the middle seat isn't really useful. We'd opt for the A7 hatchback's cargo space, though it's tougher to get in thanks to smaller doors. The A6 has a fairly small 14.1-cubic-foot trunk, and the cargo floor sits high.
Active safety combines with good crash test scores in the A6. Both the NHTSA and the IIHS give it top scores. Options include a rearview camera, parking sensors, blind-spot monitors, night vision, and a head-up display.
Other features include standard power features, leather, and cruise control. On the options list are impressive tech touches like in-car wireless Internet and navigation with Google Earth maps, as well as premium audio.