Driven: 2012 Audi A6

By Brandon Turkus

August 22, 2011

—Rochester Hills, Michigan
When Seyth Miersma tested out the Audi A7, it was in the role of both intra-continental cruiser and mobile office. It proved capable in both tasks, transiting him and his fiancée to New Orleans in utter comfort all the while turning heads, and delivering a somewhat reliable data connection. That test did not, however, prove the A7’s mettle in the sort of day-to-day grind that it, and its platform-mate the A6, will have to endure during their lifetime.
To sample daily life in this new platform, we procured an A6, with the same eight-speed automatic transmission, Quattro all-wheel drive, and supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that powered the A7. Producing 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, the 4045-pound A6 can zip to 60 miles per hour in a manufacturer-estimated 5.3 seconds. While that’s a nicely respectable number for a luxury sedan, it’s only half the story.
With peak torque coming on between 2900 and 4500 rpm, the A6 delivered brisk acceleration from a standstill, feeling quicker than its 0-60 estimate. Off-the-line power was strong, with mid-range offering the best punch. This has the added bonus of making the A6 feel properly quick when rolling. Power tapers off towards the top of the rev range, but not so severely that you’ll be discouraged from playing around at the redline.
Some problems come not in a straight line drive then, but when accelerating from a standstill around a turn, like at an intersection. Due to the nature of the eight-speed automatic and its gearing, dipping into the throttle too much can cause a sort of shift shock between first and second gear mid corner. This disruption in power mid-corner, while manageable, doesn’t inspire the sort of handling confidence we’ve come to expect from Quattro-equipped vehicles. In wet or snowy conditions, it could prove downright problematic.
The transmission also proved problematic during highway passing maneuvers, as it would take a bit too long hunting for gears under wide-open throttle. Fortunately, our tester came equipped with a set of steering-wheel-mounted paddles, allowing us to nullify these two issues by shifting gears on our own, as God intended.
Like the A7, the A6 excelled as a high-speed cruiser. The ride is smooth, but it’s the absolute stability that’s dialed in to the suspension and steering that truly stand out. We often found ourselves moving at well over the posted speed limit, unaware of how fast we were really going, due to the stability of the chassis. Both the primary and secondary rides were simply excellent, delivering a level of comfort that was lacking in the previous-generation A6. Even on the pockmarked roads of suburban Detroit, the A6 never felt out of sorts or jittery, delivering confident handling in most every situation.
When it came to turns, the A6’s suspension seemed equally adept. Body motions were well controlled, with little squat/dive or lateral motion. Throw the sedan into a curve, regardless of speed, and it just sort of hunkers down and goes. The fact that our tester was wearing the nineteen-inch-wheel-equipped Sport Package (eighteens and twenties are also available) certainly helped, as the amount of grip that came from the larger tires and the Quattro all-wheel drive was simply excellent.
The steering on the A6 was more of a gray area. While it wasn’t as communicative as we would have liked, we hesitate to call it numb. There was some feedback, especially off center, but we still found ourselves relying a bit too much on the suspension to tell us what was going on. The weight of the tiller also left something to be desired, as the speed-sensitive rack couldn’t quite deliver the solid feeling that we appreciate in other mid-size sports sedans.
As has been the case for several years, Audi has crafted a simply exquisite driving environment in the A6. Full of wood, leather, and technology, the entire cabin comes together in a way that makes the competition seem less than premium. The flip-up navigation screen looks cool, and is a refreshing change from the standard issue, fixed-dash displays found in Mercedes-Benz and BMW products. The driving environment itself is engaging, with the power tilt/telescoping wheel and comfortable and supportive seat allowing the driver to get in just the right position for driving. We especially enjoyed Audi’s trick gear shifter, which is a cool fusion between the T-shifter on a 60s muscle car and the throttle on a fighter jet.
What Audi has done with the new A6 is take a car that was always highly competent in a highly competitive class, and made every little thing markedly better with added technology, better looks, and excellent driving dynamics. Vorsprung durch Technik indeed.
VS: BMW 535i xDrive
What has, for a long time running, been the leader of the mid-sized sport-sedan class, the 5-Series, despite being only a year older than the A6, appears rather outclassed. From an involvement standpoint, it is still the better car, but from an overall “I’m a luxury car buyer” standpoint, it loses out to the Audi.
The natural competitor for our A6 is the 535i with xDrive all-wheel drive. With a starting price of $52,400, it’s about $2500 more than a base A6 3.0T. Despite the cost difference, the Audi comes standard with heated leather seats, satellite radio, and iPod connectivity (all of which are optional extras on the 5-Series).
Finally, the 5er’s 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder is at a bit of a power disadvantage, producing 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, compared to the Audi’s 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. With its power and pricing advantages, the Audi makes a seriously compelling case against the BMW.
VS: Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic
The Mercedes-Benz E350 actually presents a more compelling value case than the BMW. A basic E350 with 4Matic all-wheel drive will run $51,900. Optioning it out to be competitive with our A6 will cost $67,065, thanks to the addition of the Premium 1 and 2 packages, an eighteen-inch wheel package (19s are not offered), the Driver Assistance Package, Parktronic, heated and vented front seats, and a panorama sunroof, .
The bad news comes in the power department. With only a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6, the E-Class is seriously outgunned, delivering only 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, in a vehicle that is less than 100-pounds lighter.
Despite having less power, the E350 lacks the fuel economy of the A6. Audi drivers will see 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. Meanwhile, the E-Class can only manage 16 city miles per gallon and 24 miles per gallon on the highway.
While we enjoy the more reasonable starting price of the E-Class, its lack of power, fuel economy, and a higher overall price don’t stand up well to the all-new A6.
2012 Audi A6 3.0T Quattro Prestige
Engine: Supercharged V-6, 3.0 liters, 24v
Output: 310 hp/325 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.3 sec
Top Speed: 130 mph
Weight: 4045 lb
Base Price: $56,780
As Tested: $61,530
On Sale: Now