Audi's 2012 A6 is trying to get a little respect.
Much of the automotive world has been gaga over the A6's more dramatic sibling, the A7 Sportback, since it came out this summer. Lost in many discussions about the niche A7 were its esteemed components: the engine, the transmission and all-wheel-drive system.
Fortunately for the A6, which is much more of a bread-and-butter vehicle in terms of sales numbers, it inherits identical components. And it adds to them an equally impressive interior and a more mainstream look on the outside. The result is a sharp blade in the knife fight that is the mid-size luxury segment, which includes the Mercedes-Benz E350 and BMW 535i.
At the core of the $50,775 A6 is Audi's 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, tuned to put out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The company says this power plant will move the car from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds, a hiccup faster than the A7's 5.4 seconds, largely because the A6 is 165 pounds lighter.
The only transmission available with this smooth engine is an eight-speed automatic with sport and manual modes. The two final ratios are in effect overdrive gears for highway cruising. Paired with the engine's direct injection, they enable the A6 to achieve an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.
The A6's permanent (and standard) all-wheel-drive system splits the engine's power, sending 60 percent to the rear wheels, and blesses the A6 with an encouraging degree of grip. This was aided, no doubt, by the fact that my test car had the 19-inch sport package, a $1,500 option that included a sport-tuned suspension and wheels wrapped in super-sticky summer performance tires.
My biggest quibble with the A6's handling was its steering; not enough feedback and feel from the road and wheels make it back to the driver's hands.
The rest of the ride quality is rather tranquil, with the A6 exhibiting none of the harshness that can plague cars with larger-diameter rims and performance tires. In addition to being quiet, the A6's cabin presents passengers with more style and character than almost anything else in this class.
Nearly identical to that of the A7, the interior on the $57,470 A6 I tested featured a pop-up navigation screen using Google Earth, a touch pad for entering destination information, curved wood inserts in the doors and on the center console, and a secondary data screen between the speedometer and tachometer.
The most extravagant A6 buyers can knock the car's price over $72,000 with options such as adaptive cruise control, night vision, a Bang & Olufsen stereo system and full LED headlights.
A6 buyers looking for more or less car also have options. On the less side is the A6 2.0T, featuring a turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine good for 211 hp. and 258 pound-feet of torque. This car is front-wheel-drive only and starts at $42,575.
As for safety, any A6 has eight air bags, stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system, and the car was recently named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2010 Audi A6
Base price: $50,775 (including destination charge)
Price, as tested: $57,470
Powertrain: 3.0-liter DOHC, V-6 with direct injection and variable-valve timing; eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting and sport mode
Horsepower: 310 at 5,500 to 6,500 rpm
Torque: 325 pound-feet at 2,900 to 4,500 rpm
0-60: 5.3 seconds
Curb weight: 4,045 poundsWheelbase: 114.7 inches
Overall length: 193.9 inches
EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Bottom line: A sleeper hit