2012 Audi A6 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 27, 2012

It's the same V-6 blast to drive as the far more sexy A7, which makes the 2012 Audi A6 a little irrelevant for those not fixated on five seats or four cylinders.

As Audi continues its relentless march on the turf occupied by BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it's also whipping its lineup into fighting shape with a uniform look and more evenly divided price points. That shape-up works fine for the more attainable A4 and the social-climbing A8, but we're left wondering whether the plainer 2012 Audi A6 has been left behind.

Now that the A7 hatchback has wedged its way handsomely into the equation, the A6 has less to make it distinctive, even in its own family. The formal roofline can't compete with the A7's Kardashian rear; even the cockpit's a carbon copy, nothing solely its own. The best A6 is the supercharged version--but again, its 310 horsepower, all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are identical to the A7's drivetrain. To justify the cheaper A6 four-cylinder, for thousands less than the A7, you'd have to accept the shortcomings of its continuously variable transmission, overlook the "smaller" A4 sedan's quite large cabin, and pass over the fact that the A6's fifth passenger seat is a token distinction over its sibling rival.

The A6 kills in tech features, but it's nothing we haven't seen before in the A8 and A7. Google Earth navigation maps leave us goggle-eyed at their marketing and digital brilliance, and in-car wireless Internet access isn't an Audi invention--it's just common sense, for any family with iPads or commuters with hotspot-seeking passengers. The A6's rearview camera and blind-spot monitors are worth adding to the standard Bluetooth connection, and if your budget's up for it, so is the dazzling Bang & Olufsen 15-speaker sound system, offered only on the V-6 Prestige model.

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With the attractive, expensive A7 a small reach up in price, and the roomy A4 widely bargained down, the A6 has some sales work cut out for it. We can think of only a few user cases for it, including technophiles who won't have a normal heartbeat until they too have Google Earth and wifi in their cars before everyone else, and design snobs who carry Dwell in their messenger bags, and care more about the dash font than the way the A6 dashes from crest to curve.

With nothing but a more conservative shape to call its own, we'd say those buyers are bound to be few and far between. Mercedes and BMW sell style-conscious spin-offs of their core sedans, but those vehicles--the CLS and the 5-Series GT--don't detract so much from the mainstream E-Class and 5-Series. The A7 wholly renders the A6 less appealing and not much less expensive, giving you far more reason to look elsewhere--even within Audi's own showrooms.

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2012 Audi A6

Styling

The borderline anonymous 2012 Audi A6 can't help but be compared to its sultry A7 sibling; at least the cabin's identically hot.

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.

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2012 Audi A6

Performance

Frugal brandies who love the logo will be okay with the 2012 Audi A6 four-cylinder cars; for us, there's nothing like the V-6 quattro car--and the same running gear looks better in the A7.

It's a tale of two cars. With the expensive, technologically complex supercharged V-6 and all-wheel drive, the 2012 Audi A6 is a borderline brilliant machine, with steering feel less of an Achilles heel than ever before.

We haven't driven the 211-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder version of the new A6, but with its technical specs little changed from the last-generation sedan, we're not holding out much hope for zesty driving feel. Audi's turbocharged four-cylinder has the torquey response we love in other applications, and Audi bets it'll accelerate to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, up to a top speed of 130 mph.

The killer will be the continuously variable transmission, a system that uses pulleys and belts instead of a conventional set of stepped gears. CVTs are less complex than automatic transmissions and usually conserve fuel, but they lack the quick responses of a good automatic transmission, and tend to linger at points in the powerband where power output equals drivetrain noise. On its own, this front-drive-only model likely would earn a rating of 7, more for its transmission than its engine.

Audi promises best-in-class fuel economy with this drivetrain, but that omits some standard-issue family sedans like the Sonata, Optima and Camry that outflanks it for half the price. As soon as we're able to drive one of these new A6 sedans, we'll confirm or update these impressions.

The other A6 feels entirely different, and it's a strikingly fast performer. Supercharging and direct injection on its six-cylinder give it the pace of any V-8 German sedan in its class. By the numbers, the V-6 blasts out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and it's all harnessed to an eight-speed automatic and standard quattro all-wheel drive with a rear torque bias of 40:60. Audi says it's good for 0-60 mph times of 5.3 seconds, and the same governed top speed of 130 mph. Getting there is nearly all pleasure: the A6 jumps off the line and runs like it's on a luge, with extremely good tracking, no torque steer, and an amazingly flat powerband. The eight-speed automatic is a perfect fit, clipping off upshifts and downshifts with just an occasional part-throttle moment of confusion; paddle controls amplify the high-performance feel, and the transmission actually obeys the manual commands. At times, it's tough to shake the feeling of piloting a bullet train, so arrow-like is the A6's straight-ahead focus.

Audi Drive Select is standard on every A6, and it's been a source of frustration on A4 and A8 and A7 models before it. The system adjusts the feel and response of the transmission, throttle and steering to Comfort, Auto, Sport and individually tailored specs. Of all the things it controls, steering has been improved the most, and the uncanny way the A6 tracks on interstates is proof of concept, even if the execution of Sport steering mode feels too heavy, and Auto seems to believe low-speed corners require the same steering feedback as high-speed sweepers. Even in Comfort, the A6's ride quality is firm and strongly damped, which cued us to leave the car out of Sport mode for most of our 750-mile test drive. Dial up a custom setting for Individual mode--we tried Auto steering and Sport transmission settings--and it's possible to enjoy tucking in the A6 with its impressive brakes and tossing it around steep curves, though even with all-wheel drive biased to the rear, it's a nose-heavy understeerer that prefers to punish its tires for your transgressions.

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2012 Audi A6

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Audi A6 isn't an exceptionally spacious five-seater; we'd opt for the sexier four-seat A7 hatchback.

The 2012 Audi A6 is billed as a five-seat sedan, but its relatively skimpy trunk space and fifth-passenger space has us thinking most buyers will be better off with the four-seat hatchback version of the same running gear--the Audi A7.

The A6 rides on a wheelbase of 114.7 inches, identical to that of the A7, while its overall length of 193.9 inches is shorter than the A7 and its ride height almost two inches taller than the more sleek hatchback counterpart. There's a touch more headroom inside the A6 as a result, and up front, passengers will find lots of head, leg and knee room, though the A6's center console widens a bit and nibbles out a bit of the available space. The power front seats are exceptionally comfortable on long trips, and for those who notice protruding active headrests on some luxury cars, Audi's units recess for better neck comfort. Front seats are heated as well, and on the most expensive models, they're ventilated--a must in Sun Belt states.

The back seat and trunk create the biggest functional differences with the A7, at least on paper. We're not convinced the A6's rear bench would hold any third passenger comfortably, since it's raised on the transmission tunnel and since shoulder room isn't extravagant. Two six-foot passengers will have adequate room, though, with a bit of contact with the headliner and about an inch of knee room to go with roomy foot wells. The seats themselves hit a sweet spot for firmness, and the seatback angles a bit for touring comfort, but there's not a magnitude of difference back here from the sinuous A7. Entry and exit are better in the A6, for sure, with its taller doors and wider door openings.

Trunk space makes it clear. You can either settle for the 14.1 cubes in the A6's trunk, and deal with a fairly high load floor--or you can have about 25 cubic feet under the A7's hatchback. Both cars have fold-down rear seats to boost cargo capacity, and neither rear seat folds completely flat.

Small-item storage isn't lavish inside the A6. The armrest bin is shallow, and the glovebox runs lean, too. Door panels have molded-in spaces for water bottles, and twin cupholders sit just a bit back from the ideal spot. Audi's cupholders are sumo wrestlers, though--try to wedge in a couple of Starbucks tall lattes and the cupholders' tight packaging and strong tensors mean you'll pop the lid off every time. Considering Audi's vocally smug owner body, this oversight is bound to trigger J.D. Power IQS fails from day one.

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2012 Audi A6

Safety

A strong reputation for crash safety earns the 2012 Audi A6 a score of 8 here, but we'll revisit its rating when crash-test scores have been published.

We're assigning a safety score of 8 to the A6 based on Audi's strong crash-test performance in the past, and a list of safety options that will give peace of mind to the most tech-enabled dangerphobe.

No official crash-test scores are yet available for the 2012 Audi A6 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the big sedan a Top Safety Pick for the 2012 model year.

Every A6 has standard front, side and curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as well as traction and stability control. Bluetooth, which we consider a safer way to place distracting mobile phone calls, is standard. Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system is not available on four-cylinder A6 sedans, but it's standard on six-cylinder cars.

Audi's presense system tenses seatbelts and prepares the car when it detects an imminent collision. Couple that with the A6's available adaptive cruise control, and the A6 can completely slow down and accelerate when it senses obstacles changing speeds in the lane ahead.

Available in option packages are features like front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, and night vision, which uses infrared sensors to pick out obstacles coming on the road ahead. A head-up display also is available.

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Visibility to the front and sides is excellent, and the A6 has large glass areas and a low beltline. Large side rearview mirrors taper off in size but still give a good view to the rear quarters. We recommend rearview cameras even for cars with average to better than average visibility like the A6, which has a fairly open field of sight to the back, but a tall, stubby decklid that cuts into the view a bit.
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2012 Audi A6

Features

In-car wireless Internet and a brilliant Google Earth navigation display vault the 2012 Audi A6 into tech leadership.

Every 2012 Audi A6 has features expected in a $50,000 luxury sedan. It's the options that will stun your passengers, from in-car wireless Internet access to Google Earth street-level navigation.

Standard equipment on the base A6 Premium includes the usual power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; leather-trimmed seats; tilt/telescoping steering; 17-inch wheels; ambient lighting; three-zone automatic climate control; power front seats; a sunroof; pushbutton start; LED taillamps; AM/FM/XM/CD audio with a 6.5-inch LCD screen; and MMI, Audi's multi-media interface.

We've applauded and complained about MMI in the past, and it's not substantially different here from the system that rolled out two years ago. That update cured the knob-controlled system of its worst logic, but MMI remains a hybrid system of clicks, wheels and roller knobs that cuts down on the button count on the days, but requires several physical movements to accomplish what used to be a single tap. As an example, pushing a preset from the steering-wheel controls could be governed by one switch, but MMI forces drivers to press a mode button, then scroll down to a "presets" command, then choose a preset.

There's a secondary presets pane on the console that doubles as a writing surface, and it lets drivers enter destinations for the navigation in handwriting. Tapping a radio control really requires your attention to move to the console, which isn't an improvement, and it's easy to see all these systems being replaced by touchscreen LCDs with more highly evolved navigation. For now, it's a usable, complex mess--and it's mandatory on every A6.

The next step in the A6 equipment schema is the $4,220 Premium Plus package. All the Premium gear is standard, with the addition of a seven-inch color display; a CD changer (for anyone who still uses physical artifacts); 18-inch wheels and tires; HD Radio; front and rear parking sensors; real-time traffic data; and Audi Connect, an in-car wireless data service linked into T-Mobile USA, and free for the first six months. We've connected iPhones to the service with no issue and really, in similar systems from Ford, Chrysler and GM, the only issue is the network itself, with T-Mobile having a more limited footprint in America that Verizon or even AT&T, with which it's engaged in merger talks.

With the Plus package you'll also get Google Earth navigation, a stunning, simple add-on to conventional navigation that skips POI icons drawn by graphic artists and goes right to the Web titan for real-world pictures of the landmarks you're passing. Keeping in mind that Google Earth only reshoots every few months to more than a year, some landscapes won't appear exactly as they are today--but the backup plan of real-time traffic supplements that information nicely in case of roads damaged by storms, or disabled for construction. Audi's system also allows you to plan and send up to 50 destinations to the car's navigation system from a computer and Google Maps.

The last layer of features comes to the 2012 A6 in the Prestige package. For $6,880, Audi adds on distinct 18-inch wheels; four-zone climate control; adaptive headlights; LED interior lighting; a Bose speaker package; ventilated front seats; a power-adjustable steering column; cornering lights; and S-line cosmetic trim, including its own grille and bumpers.

Options on the A6 include heated rear seats and steering whee, in a cold-weather package, and an aweseom 15-speaker, 1300-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system with tweeters that rise out of the dash like Miracle-Gro mushrooms.

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Value is a serious concern with the A6. It barely stickers below $50,000, and fully trimmed Prestige models easily top $70,000.
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2012 Audi A6

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage isn't quite up to the numbers you'll find on basic family sedans, but the luxurious 2012 Audi A6 has great fuel economy for its class.

The 2012 Audi A6 offers very good fuel economy even when it's powered by a terrifically quick V-6, and especially in its base four-cylinder configuration.

To get the best fuel economy, though, you'll have to endure Audi's continuously variable transmission. We haven't driven this version, but the powertrain isn't changed much from the last-generation cars--and we expect the same typically sluggish response and powertrain drone we've sampled in other CVT Audis.

Still, with the CVT, the 2012 A6 earns an EPA-certified 25/33 mpg, an exceptional figure for a luxury car, and just a few ticks below fuel-conscious sedans like the 2012 Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

The supercharged, direct-injected V-6 powerplant and its standard all-wheel drive deliver 19/28 mpg.

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Audi's promising both hybrid and diesel versions of the new A6 for the North American market, but neither is due to arrive before the 2013 model year.
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Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 10
Fuel Economy 7
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