Now that we've seen the 2012 Audi A7 hatchback up close, the formally roofed A6 sedan bores us a little bit.
While other German car companies have been moving swiftly away from copying design themes up and down the price scale, Audi's doing just the opposite, giving its A4, A6 and A8 sedans a common design language and similar proportions. It does the most metaphysical damage to the A6, which isn't as attainable as the lookalike A4, and isn't the pricey social climber the A8 has become. The most recognizable line on the A6, the "tornado" line that slopes up into its rear haunches, is no longer the definitive cue it once was, and frankly it's been knocked off and upstaged by some dramatic-looking economy cars like the Hyundai Elantra. Audi's immense ground-to-nose grille doesn't entice us--it goads you into staring it down, a visual trick even Chrysler's 300 has done away with as it's grown more mature. All told, the A6's sheetmetal speaks more to its mission around the world--more of an everyman's sedan--than to its U.S. mission as an alternative to zingy cars like the latest Benz E-Class and the Infiniti M.
Styling's better inside the A6, where a slimmer dash means the optional navigation system's LCD screen flips out of the dash, adding one more cutline to a cabin muddled by them. The overarching shapes are pleasant, and the concave door trim panels and boatlike dash line are handsome in a vintage way (just like they are on the Jaguar XJ and the Nissan Maxima). It's better than it was, but those shapes are cut to pieces by dozens of panel joints, air vents, and metallic trim. It can read busy, though most of the major controls are grouped in logical ways. There's some disconnect, too, on versions with wood trim and red lighting, a visual mismatch that could be cleaned up with simple white lighting on luxury versions, and red lighting on more sporty models--or driver-selectable lighting, an inexpensive feature we've seen on everything from Mustangs to New Beetles. That said, Audi's fit and finish is as good as ever, with the least expensive plastics banished to places like the undersurface of the door handles, and the retractable cupholder cover.