In its fourth generation as a midsize luxury sedan, the Audi A6 enters the 2012 model year with a beautifully restyled exterior, dazzling new technology and the performance we have always expected from Germany's most capable road cars.
Generally known for building handsome but sedate sedans and wagons, Audi stretched a bit in the new model, extending the wheelbase while shortening the overhangs and sloping the roofline to give the A6 a more performance-oriented personality.
The new dimensions expand the passenger space while allowing designers to go full throttle on luxury amenities.
Sold in front-drive or Quattro all-wheel-drive formats, the A6 is offered with a choice of two gasoline and three turbo-diesel engines.
The review car was a Quattro powered by a 3-liter, 300-horsepower, supercharged V6 with eight-speed automatic transmission. This is a car designed for the long haul.
The sedan's power steering features a new electromechanical drive for high efficiency, and buyers can choose from wheels measuring between 16 and 20 inches in diameter, backed up by powerful ventilated disc brakes.
The roomy interior features wood trim, heated, massaging front seats, and ambient lighting.
Among the technical advances is an optional MMI navigation plus system controlled via touchpad. Audi also offers an optional head-up display that projects data and alerts onto the windshield and can include night vision assistance.
Stability and control improve through use of lightweight aluminum in the suspension and other components.
MMI navigation plus works with the optional driver assistance and safety systems, forwarding route data to the control units for the headlights, the transmission and the adaptive cruise control that adjusts speed in stop-and-go situations. The high-tech interaction enables the systems to recognize various scenarios and aid the driver. The Audi pre-sense safety system is designed to reduce the severity of accidents or avoid them where possible.
Audi is collaborating with Google to link to the Internet via the online Bluetooth car phone. A module pulls images and information from Google Earth up on the monitor and integrates them with the navigation route. A wireless local area network hotspot provides contact to mobile devices on board.
In the near future, Audi plans to include voice-activated Google search and traffic information. The Audi active lane assist helps the driver to keep the A6 on course, and the park-assist system relieves the driver of the chore of steering when parallel parking.
All of the electronics available on cars like the A6 are designed to enhance safety or ease of use. But we are fast approaching the era when drivers will require special training to be able to use all of the features safely and without losing sight of the road.
The luxury car makers have adapted computer design to the center console, allowing adjustments between menu options on a color screen in the center dash. The A6 instrumentation is bit more intuitive than that of the competing BMW 5-Series, but it still requires some use before it feels second-nature.
Audi built its ads for the A6 around the theme of "making the road a more intelligent place," which would be a welcome improvement. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood revealed earlier this year that a third of drivers under the age of 30 admitted to texting while driving. What this tells you is that defensive driving has never been more important; distant early warning systems like those of the A6 could make a huge difference in a close call.
WHAT'S NEW: Redesign for 2012 model, new interactive technology.
PLUSES: Performance, comfort, luxury amenities, ride and handling.
MINUSES: Styling is middle of the road.
BOTTOM LINE: Nose-to-nose with best on the road.
2012 AUDI A6
TYPE: All-wheel-drive, five-passenger, midsize sedan.
PRICE: $49,900 base, $61,530 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Neckarsulm, Germany.
POWER: 3-liter, 310 horsepower, supercharged TFSI V6; eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 19 city, 28 highway, 22 combined mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $2,184.
CHASSIS: Unibody; five-link front suspension with anti-roll bar; rear trapezoidal link, twin-tube/gas-filled shock absorbers; power steering; power ventilated disc brakes with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control; 19-inch alloy wheels.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 195.6 x 84.2 x 55.9 inches.
WHEELBASE X TRACK: 114.7 x 64.7/64.4 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,210 pounds.
STANDARD: Power windows/locks/mirrors; remote keyless entry/start; push-button start; four-zone automatic climate control; heated/ventilated/power-adjustable front seats; Bose surround-sound audio with AM/FM/XM satellite high-definition radio; power sunroof; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; adaptive cruise control; HomeLink; split/folding rear seat; front/side/head-curtain air bags; 7-inch color driver information center; ambient lighting; front/rear parking sensors.
OPTIONS: 19-inch Sport Package includes 19-inch wheels with summer performance tires, sport suspension, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters ($1,500); LED headlights ($1,400); side assist ($500).
WARRANTY: 4-year/50,000-mile new vehicle; 12-year corrosion; 1-year/5,000-mile free scheduled maintenance; 4-year roadside assistance.