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.
The Audi Music Interface lets you browse music on an iPod.
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 But the navigation system is outdated, slow, and difficult to use.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.
These paddle shifters feel a little insubstantial.
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.
This interface makes entering addresses tedious.
And we are definitely not fans of the navigation system interface. Manually entering an address is tedious, and voice command only lets you choose preprogrammed addresses. Using the MMI dial to select the letters of a street or city name is like using an old rotary phone to dial numbers.
Using the MMI to select music from an iPod is better, although it could be a problem if you have a lot of different artists and albums, requiring a lot of scrolling. The iPod port is in the glovebox--we would prefer it in the console, as it's kind of a stretch for the driver to plug it in. Other audio sources include satellite radio and an MP3-capable CD player.
Music plays through a Bose audio system which uses 13 speakers and an eight-channel amp. The sound quality is excellent, with crisp and distinct highs that let you hear the most delicate instruments. Bass isn't overwhelming, but strong enough for good music reproduction. Our only complaint about this system is that the digital signal processor lets you turn on surround sound for either the front or rear seats, but not all at once.
The MMI and the voice command system control paired Bluetooth mobile phones. You can use the rotary dial to select each number, or the voice command system to speak the numbers. More conveniently, you can choose entries from the phone's contact list right on the car's screen.
Another stand-out piece of tech from Audi is the rearview camera, which includes overlays that give an idea of the distance between the car and obstacles. It also shows lines that curve as you turn the wheel, showing the path the car will take. One other feature available for the A6, but not present on our car, is called Side Assist, a blind spot detection system that warns of cars in the lanes next to the A6.
Under the hood
Audi points out that the T appended to its engine displacement number now includes superchargers, widening the previous meaning, which only extended to turbos. The 2009 Audi A6 3.0T is one of the first cars to use this new powerplant, based on a new direct injection 3-liter engine from Audi. The supercharger components themselves are very compact, and nestle between the cylinder heads of the V-6.
The new supercharged 3-liter engine delivers impressive performance at virtually no extra cost in fuel economy.
The supercharged V-6 gives the A6 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That's 45 more horsepower than the bottom line A6 powered by a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter V-6. Audi also claims 0 to 60 mph acceleration for the A6 3.0T of 5.9 seconds, a full second faster than the lower-end A6. But EPA fuel economy numbers are almost identical, with the A6 3.0T getting 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. During our time with the car, we saw fuel economy hang around 21 mpg for mixed city and freeway driving. Extra performance at no cost--we like it.
The A6 3.0T is also equipped with the latest generation of Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which we last tested in the Audi A4. This system sends 60 percent of the torque to the rear wheels by default, but shifts the torque percentages front and back, depending on which end needs the power.
Unfortunately, you can't get the air suspension or Audi's magnetic ride technology on the A6 3.0T. There is a suspension upgrade available as part of a sport package, but it relies on mechanical components to stiffen the ride. We would opt for that package, as our A6 showed some roll while cornering.
The six-speed-automatic transmission has three modes: one for normal driving, sport, and manual shift. We were impressed by the sport mode's willingness to downshift aggressively.
Audi asks a premium price for the 2009 A6 3.0T, at $50,100. Our only option was the $5,100 Prestige package, bringing in tech such as the navigation system, Bose audio, LED running lights, adaptive headlights, and the rearview camera. The total price for our car, with destination, came to $56,025.
The A6 3.0T earns high ratings for its performance and cabin tech. We particularly like Audi's use of supercharger technology, giving the car a strong horsepower figure from a relatively small engine. However, the transmission seems as if it could use some programming work to keep it from gear hunting. The cabin tech is primarily marred by the antiquated navigation system, something that will be fixed in the next model year. Design is where the A6 falls down further. First of all, the MMI could really be improved, similar to how BMW fixed iDrive. The car itself is only really distinguishable from the front, making it look like yet another European sedan.