Not long after it was unveiled to the world at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, we spent a couple days behind the wheel of the European version of the all-new Audi A6 expected to arrive Stateside in September.
For a new car that doesn't look or drive a whole lot different than its predecessor, the 2012 Audi A6 sure is a whole lot more alluring. Technology is a big part of the draw, thanks to available features like a dedicated internet connection, touchpad interface and stop-and-go cruise control. In addition to a supercharged V6, the new A6 will also offer the segment's only four-cylinder engine, delivering category-best 33 highway mpg. The new A6 is thoroughly improved, but we don't think it will greatly change the balance of power in the category dominated by the E-Class and 5 Series.
An Evolutionary Creation Our first two thoughts after stacking pictures of the new A6 (top) and old A6 were completely contradictory: "Wow, the change is even subtler than we thought" and "Wow, the new one looks so much better."
Go to the Light Audi's mastery of lighting as sales bait continues on the 2012 Audi A6 with gorgeous LED clusters front and rear.
Two Engines: One New, One Updated
Audi's supercharged 3.0-liter V6 will continue as the key motivator in the A6 lineup, but it's been tuned to deliver 10 additional horsepower for a total of 310.
We got to sample the upgraded V6, but only in conjunction with Audi's seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission, the way it will be offered in Europe. In America, the V6 will be matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces the current model's six-speed unit. Some will cry foul that Audi won't offer American buyers the quick-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, but after driving the A6 so equipped we're confident the traditional auto will be a better fit for the car. We're fans of the S tronic, but the added performance and more direct feel comes with a sacrifice in smoothness at drive-off and in slow-and-go situations -- a tradeoff that wouldn't make sense for most A6 buyers.
Buyers who demand S tronic shifting will surely be able to get it in the Audi S6 performance variant, the timing of which is still unannounced.
Other significant powertrain news is the addition of the automaker's world-renowned 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the lineup. This version will produce 211 horsepower and more torque than the 3.2-liter V6 it replaces, checking in at 258 pound-feet. The 2.0T will be matched with Audi's continuously variable transmission and offered in front-wheel drive format only, delivering what Audi promises to be class-leading city/highway/combined fuel economy of 25/33/28 miles per gallon. This will be the category's only four-cylinder offering, but it's an excellent engine that's likely to deliver more real-world power than most A6 drivers will demand.
On the Clock When matched with the Europe-only S tronic transmission, Audi says the A6 3.0T will scoot to 62 mph in an impressive 5.5 seconds. We suspect the eight-speed automatic will be just a couple ticks slower. Thanks to increased use of lightweight materials, the larger, more equipped 2012 Audi A6 is about 80 pounds lighter than the model it replaces.
Let's Reconvene the Steering Committee
Driving feel. It's a broad term to describe how a car integrates and communicates with its driver via the steering wheel, accelerator, brake pedal, shifter and the systems they control. Steering feel, the big one, is currently under assault by the otherwise noble forces of fuel economy, safety and convenience. And like the latest BMW 5 Series, the segment's long-tenured champion of driving feel, the 2012 Audi A6 has not survived unscathed.
The new electro-mechanical power steering system delivers improved fuel economy, helps the A6 practically parallel park itself and will steer you back into your lane should you unintentionally drift out of it, but it just doesn't "feel" as good as a traditional hydraulic power steering system.
It would be one thing if this were an issue in the kind of spirited driving only enthusiast owners and auto journalists are likely to subject an Audi A6, but our biggest complaint about electric power steering systems is the unnatural feel they can exhibit while simply driving straight down the highway. The minor corrections require more effort and the wheel doesn't pull back to center as readily, making it more work to steer the car straight.
Wood, Metal, Leather, Perfection Ho hum, another gorgeous Audi interior. The inside of the 2012 Audi A6 has changed more than the outside, but it's still wonderfully familiar. The overall vibe is richer, thanks in part to larger trim elements on the doors, dash and center console.
The Parts of the Sum The 2012 Audi A6 is offered with a variety of interior trim sets, including this distinctively styled wood. This concave trim piece surrounding the front door handle is a particularly interesting element.
Look at the Pretty Colors Forty years after color television first outsold black-and-white in the U.S., Audi brings color to the head-up display. Now we're one step closer to watching Seinfeld reruns on the way home.
You Gotta Hear This The 2012 Audi A6 is the first to offer a Bang & Olufsen sound system similar to the one that first blew us away in the flagship A8. For an extra $6,000-ish you get 1,300 watts of power and 15 speakers, including two retractable tweeters on the dash. That's a lot of money for good sound, but it's some of the best sound money can buy. We find the rich, clear sound more natural than some of the other high-end systems out there, many of which sound over-processed.
Go-Stop-Go Cruise Control Using long-range radar and ultrasonic sensors, the 2012 Audi A6 can gas and brake itself along in stop-and-go traffic. Just keep it pointed in the right direction.
The Straight and Narrow At speeds above 40 mph, Audi's active lane assist will steer the A6 back into the intended lane if it detects unintentional drifting.
Write it Down The 2012 Audi A6 is the first to offer Audi's MMI touch trackpad on which you draw letters with your finger to quickly and easily filter your way to a navigation destination, for instance. We've found the system more reliable than voice entry, and faster than scroll-and-click.
Got Google? Unlike some other cars, which will connect to the Internet via the driver's cell phone, the 2012 Audi A6 features its own dedicated connection. The system will deliver Google data -- detailed maps and updated destinations, for instance -- to the navigation system in real time. It also allows the A6 to function as an internet hot spot that can provide web access for up to eight devices at a time.
Virtual Valet When you drive slowly by a row of parked cars, the Audi A6 automatically starts looking for a big enough parking spot -- and it only needs an extra 2.5 feet. It lets you know when it's found one, at which point all you have to do is put the car in reverse and the computer will steer you into the spot.
Bringing Up the Rear Enthusiasts may be disappointed in the lack of S tronic transmission availability, but they should be happy that the A6 will offer the sport differential we first experienced on the Audi S4. The system sends more torque to the rear outside wheel, effectively "steering" the rear end toward the direction of the front wheels. Audi's system is different from Acura's, for instance, in that it works when coasting and not just while under engine load.
For every A6 sold in 2010, Mercedes sold seven E-Series models and BMW moved five 5 Series sedans. Based on our first drive of the next-gen A6, we don't expect those ratios to change dramatically -- although we'll probably recommend the A6 more often than those others. If the Audi A6 does indeed win significant share from those rivals, we suspect the increasing strength of the Audi brand will deserve as much credit as the product itself.