After a decade of increasing displacement to compete in the great horsepower race, automakers are turning their attention to fuel economy. But they don't want to lose the power buyers have come to expect. The 2009 Audi A6 3.0T gets a smaller engine than any other model in Audi's A6 lineup, but uses a supercharger to beat out the A6 3.2 for the middle spot, coming in behind the A6 4.2.
Other than the new power train for the A6, its cabin tech remains unchanged from previous models. It has the familiar Audi Multimedia Interface (MMI) that controls navigation, phone, and stereo. Audi is rolling out a new version of the MMI and cabin tech, but it hasn't found its way into the A6 yet. Audi promises the new MMI will be in the 2010 A6, due to come out in the fall.
On the road
From most angles, the 2009 Audi A6 3.0T just looks like any other modern sedan, but from the front it is unmistakably an Audi. The grille, glossy black on our car, is huge, stretching down through the front bumper. A strip of white LED running lights adorn the bottom of the headlight casing, another signature Audi move.
The cabin is also a treat, with fine leather and maple wood trim. The MMI controls, a knob and various buttons on the console, are easy to reach. The glove compartment holds the Audi Music Interface, offering connectivity for iPods, USB drives, and other MP3 devices. After pairing an iPhone with the car's Bluetooth system, we plug it into the iPod cable.
Phone and iPod interface make up the best of Audi's cabin tech, as the system makes a phone's contact list available on the car's LCD, and provides for browsing an iPod by artist, album, and genre. But the navigation system is outdated, slow, and difficult to use.
But we are most eager to see how this new power train feels. On city streets, the car feels underpowered, as you have to get beyond 25 percent throttle to really feel the engine. Audi seems to have tuned the throttle for fuel economy, giving it a long lead-in before the engine speed starts to go up. At city speeds, the six-speed transmission spends a lot of time hunting, shifting gears manically. It's annoying.
The Audi A6 3.0T feels better on the freeway, the higher, constant speeds letting the engine and transmission settle down, and the ride quality shows Audi's luxury side. The car gets even better in the twists and turns of a mountain road. Here, the Quattro all-wheel-drive system can show its stuff. The suspension isn't really tuned for this sort of work, as the car exhibits body roll when the tires are singing in a turn.
The transmission performance improves under this kind of stress. In Sport mode, it does a good job of proactively downshifting and holding lower gears. For manual shifting, the thin paddles on the steering wheel feel like they might break off, and the gears change with the usual slushbox sluggishness.
In the cabin
As mentioned, the two best cabin tech items in the 2009 Audi A6 3.0T are the Bluetooth cell phone system and iPod integration. The navigation system is usable, but outdated. It stores maps on DVD, meaning slow response times when accessing street names and other data. The map quality isn't bad, with easily readable street names.
Audi really needs to update this system, though, as competitors are adding features such as live traffic, weather, and 3D graphics. The A6's navigation doesn't even have text-to-speech, a feature that tells you the name of upcoming streets.