Ride harshness from big tires; premium options cost premium prices.
Whatever stereotypes that might remain of the austere German sedan of the past, the 2012 Audi A6 3.0T shatters them into a thousand sparkling bits. In place of the good, gray Sub-Zero refrigerator on wheels, we have here a kind of smartphone — clever, multidimensional utility wrapped in the finest package design. Even better, this smart car makes you feel smart for driving it.
The A6 defines what a sedan like this should be all about. It has all-wheel drive for all-weather driving, a turbocharged engine that delivers fuel efficiency as well as power, a cabin that is humane in design as well as décor, convenience features that energize your imagination as well as pamper your person, and a way of going down the road that makes you love the whole idea of travel.
At the same time, the 2012 Audi A6 is also a test. Can this Audi in its two iterations as a $49,900 all-wheel-drive sedan powered by a supercharged V6 and a $41,700 front-wheel-drive car powered by a turbocharged inline-4 finally achieve sales parity with the longtime sales leaders in the class, the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class? Much like the Jaguar XF, the 2012 Audi A6 is the untraditional choice.
The 2012 Audi A6 drives with a personality that's far more alert and lithe than its large dimensions might suggest. It now features more aluminum bodywork for its steel chassis, so it weighs a reasonable 4,175 pounds. As a result, the supercharged 3.0-liter V6 gets a little more leverage than you might expect with its 310 horsepower at 5,500-6,500 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 2,900-4,500 rpm.
In Edmunds testing, 60 mph comes up in 5.2 seconds and the quarter-mile goes by in 13.6 seconds at 102 mph. The engine feels stronger than you'd expect thanks to the technology trifecta of supercharging, direct fuel injection and one of the new generation of eight-speed automatic transmissions. The power arrives in a predictable fashion, and you're never even aware of the way the eight speeds cycle through the selection process as you drive. It's the perfect package for cross-country cruising.
The A6 puts a lot of tire on the ground through its all-wheel-drive system in this V6-powered version with optional 19-inch tires, and these wide 255/40R19 Pirelli P Zero tires are largely responsible for this car's superior braking performance of 111 feet from 60 mph, yet the brakes themselves seem especially resistant to fade under repeated use.
The 2012 Audi A6 is a larger car than you might remember, as its wheelbase has been stretched to 114.7 inches for a stable, poised ride on the highway, which makes it a couple inches larger than the BMW 5 Series. The A6 is now more like a full-size car than the slightly enlarged sport sedan you might remember, something that has become a trend in this class.
The A6 certainly goes down the road like a full-size missile, irresistibly powerful in the way of the German sedan. The long wheelbase calms the ride motions, although the A6 does its best with its standard 245/45R18 tires, as these optional 19-inchers degrade the ride over rough pavement and the optional 20-inch performance tires foster a brittle, busy dynamic that's tiresome on the turnpike even as it's more capable in the off-ramps.
In comparison, the BMW 5 Series drives in a way that's a little more refined at low speed, its strongly damped ride motions delivering a prominent sense of insulation from the road. The Audi flutters a bit over choppy pavement and lacks the BMW's initial suspension compliance. But as speeds increase, a feeling of lightness and agility suffuses the A6, and it's far more of an energetic proposition on the open road than the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class, despite its size.
As a package, the 2012 Audi A6 offers a feeling of spaciousness that its competitors do not have, thanks to an expansive field of view through the glass, large yet lightweight doors for ingress and egress, and seating positions that are meant for full-size Germans. While the passenger compartment is only a few inches larger than before, these are inches you appreciate having if you also are a bit larger than before.
These days we ask our cars to take better care of us than ever, and this Audi does so with the impact safety of its chassis, the all-weather grip of its all-wheel drive and the reassurance of its stability control and pre-sense collision system. This A6 3.0T also has bright LED headlights, a head-up instrument display, night-vision capability and blind-spot monitoring. You really never have to take your eyes off the road ahead, and since crowded urban traffic means your fellow travelers are likely doing just that, you'll be prepared when someone drifts into your lane without a glimmer of warning from their car's turn signals.
This particular A6 features the optional $5,900 Bang & Olufsen sound system with forward speakers that rise cleverly out of the dash, but you might be even more impressed with Audi Connect, which makes the A6 a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot with 3G download capability. T-Mobile is the designated provider, and the Audi system is intended for passengers who want to check e-mail, download music or watch a video.
The navigation system also takes advantage of the Wi-Fi connection by giving you access to Google Maps in addition to the onboard DVD that provides the database of street locations. Even though we often speculate about a time when maps and directions generated by mobile phone might replace elaborate built-in navigation systems, systems like the A6's with its Google-accessed maps, weather, gas prices, travel info and destination search — plus the sophisticated, intuitive Audi MMI interface — make us think the time when handheld phones might prevail is still a long way off.
Design/Fit and Finish
Audi pursues a different look than its competitors from Munich and Stuttgart. Even as BMW and Mercedes have tried hard to make their cars warmer, more sensuous and more approachable, Audi continues to lead them with a sense of modernity that you can appreciate with a touch as well as a look.
As always, this is most noticeable in the passenger cabin, where the architecture, color values and material textures all set the standard of presentation in this class of car. But you should also understand that this is an information-rich environment, and while Audi's design sense helps you organize the visual information, process it and use it appropriately, it can look overwhelming at first.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2012 Audi A6 remains a great highway car in the American style, smooth and refined in its approach to cross-country travel. It's not exactly a sport sedan, yet it applies a particular German appreciation for technology to the package.
There is a price for innovation, however. These new middle-size sedans not only measure out like large sedans, but also cost the same as large sedans if you put too many options in your shopping basket. This 2012 Audi A6 3.0T Premium might be $50,775 with destination charge when you pull it down from the shelf at the store, but our well-equipped tester rang $71,330 at the checkout counter.
Yet with the 2012 Audi A6, Audi has seized the high ground in this category. As the task of building a fine sedan has become more difficult because of ever more demanding standards of safety, efficiency and refinement, Audi's smart approach finally seems to have prevailed.