2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro review: 2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

Wayne Cunningham

Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

The Good

Navigation enhanced by Google, a touch-pad cabin tech interface, a supercharged direct-injection engine, an eight-speed transmission, and Quattro all-wheel drive combine to make the <b>2012 Audi A6</b> one of the most cutting-edge cars on the road.

The Bad

Audi's routing algorithm does not do a very good job of avoiding traffic jams. Only the top trim level offers branded audio systems.

The Bottom Line

Despite some very slight issues, the Audi A6 is a tech powerhouse, a comfortable sedan with a powerful, efficient engine and the most advanced navigation system available.

When we reviewed the 2012 Audi A7, we found a near-perfect car, with cutting-edge connected cabin tech and a very efficient engine and transmission. Now the 2012 Audi A6 is here, and it differs little from its hatchback sibling, unsurprisingly as the two share a platform.

A midsize sedan, the A6 looks more conventional than the A7. Although the A7 is a couple of inches longer than the A6, the two cars have the same wheelbase length. The new A6 shows a refined grille design that deemphasizes the bumper, which gets lost under the fascia. Audi's LED parking lights gain a hook design on the A6, also seen on the A7.

With the A6 and A7, Audi is right on the cutting edge of automotive technology. The A6's navigation system gains new functionality from a dedicated Internet connection through T-Mobile, as it can connect to Google for search and satellite maps.

Google onboard
Although the navigation system, which shows up on a motorized display that slides out from under the dashboard, still offers the detailed 3D maps with rendered buildings and topographical terrain details we've been impressed by in previous Audi models, the Google Earth integration takes things a step further. Rather than drawn maps, the display shows satellite imagery of the area through which you're driving.

Google Earth integration shows photographic imagery of the exact terrain through which you are driving.

As these satellite images, with street names overlaid, are downloaded as you drive, they are likely to be more recently updated than the maps stored on the car's hard drive. The effect is so good that you will think the navigation system is showing real-time satellite video, and expect to see the top of the Audi A6 zooming down the streets depicted.

The only drawback with this system is that the car must be in range of a cell tower. If the connection fails, the maps degrade to a photographic blur. It would be nice if the system automatically reverted to its stored maps in this instance, but you have to make the switch manually.

Coupled with this navigation system is Google local search. You can enter any search term by voice or through the A6's interface, and the car will come up with a list of nearby businesses from Google that match the term. The system uses fuzzy logic, so you don't have to be precise with a business name. And the list from Google will be more comprehensive than the car's own stored points of interest. A nice addition would be for the Google search results to update the car's own POI database, but Audi has not taken this step yet.

The navigation system integrates traffic data, which is both displayed on the maps and used to dynamically route around problem areas. But on multiple occasions Audi's routing algorithm suggested badly jammed freeways rather than surface streets, even for distances as short as a half mile.

And given that the car has a dedicated data connection, an integrated Wi-Fi hot spot was a no-brainer for Audi. Passengers can take advantage of the hot spot with mobile devices, although these days most devices have their own 3G and 4G connections.

The car's data connection also brings in weather, gas prices, and other travel information.

The Google integration is an excellent step forward, but as yet, Audi has not announced an app strategy to compete with Ford AppLink, BMW Connected, GM MyLink, or Toyota Entune. The car uses its data connection to bring in data about the weather, gas prices, news, and local landmarks, but it lacks Pandora integration and other familiar apps. However, Audi should be able to add such apps relatively easily.

Audio and interface
But the A6 does not lack for audio sources. Broadcast comes from satellite and HD Radio. Stored sources include iPod integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, an SD card slot, and the car's own hard drive. And in a big improvement from the previous generation, Audi moved the iPod port from the glovebox to the console, making it much easier to hook up when you get in the car.

Although it doesn't have Pandora integration, the A6 lacks for little else when it comes to audio sources.

In Premium Plus trim (as CNET's car was equipped) and Premium trim, the A6 gets a base, nonbranded audio system. In Prestige trim, buyers get a base Bose system or can upgrade to a Bang & Olufsen system. The base system is still very good, with plenty of detail and balanced frequency response, but audiophiles will want to move up to the Bang & Olufsen system, which delivers superb music reproduction.

Choosing music from the various audio sources through Audi's cabin interface is very easy, as the responsive screen immediately brings up lists of artists, albums, and tracks. For music stored on the car's hard drive, you can use voice commands to request specific artists. This capability is not as complete as that found in some Ford and Mitsubishi vehicles, which let you use voice commands to request artists, albums, and track titles from MP3 players and hard drives.

Audi makes one of the best cabin tech interfaces in the business. The A6 is the third model to receive this interface, after the A8 and A7. Along with its console dial and elliptical onscreen menus, the system uses a brilliantly engineered touch pad. This little square of touch-sensitive material in the console changes mode depending on which cabin tech function you are using.

This touch pad is an excellent innovation by Audi for controlling its infotainment systems.

For example, on the radio screen the touch pad shows six numbers, corresponding to station presets. With the navigation system, you can drag across the touch pad to browse maps. And the most fascinating feature is its ability to recognize letters you trace when entering search terms or addresses. There is no need to take your eyes off the road, as the system confirms each letter with an audio prompt.

You can also use the onscreen interface to customize the car's performance. Audi Drive Select offers Comfort and Dynamic modes for the steering and drivetrain response. In Dynamic mode, the throttle feels much more responsive, although the eight-speed automatic transmission, even when in its own Sport mode, does not get drastically aggressive. The steering feel remains very light in all modes, allowing for effortless turning but not a lot of road feedback.

Audi Drive Select lets you customize how the drivetrain and steering perform.

Impressively, the new A6 comes powered by a direct-injection supercharged 3-liter V-6, an excellently efficient engine that Audi also used in its S4 model. Mated to the automatic transmission, this engine produces 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Even with that kind of power, the A6 turns in fuel economy of 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

All this performance technology combines to make the A6 very easy to drive. The engine delivers immediate thrust, useful for merging onto the freeway and quickly passing slower traffic. The easy turning wheel makes city driving effortless. An automated parking system will be of huge benefit to people who have trouble parallel parking. A blind-spot detection system turns on lights in the side mirror casing to warn when it's unsafe to change lanes.

But aside from the light steering, the A6 also works as an excellent sport driver, helped considerably by the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. As we drove fast over a road with many tight turns, the smell of burning rubber wafted into the cabin. The car does have a traction control system, but it seems more focused on keeping the car on the road rather than stepping on its performance.

The new A6 gets a supercharged V-6, a very efficient and powerful engine.

Audi's use of aluminum in the A6's structure helps keep the overall weight down, letting it dance through the turns. In manual mode, the transmission shifts satisfactorily, not with the hard changes of a dual-clutch system, but nowhere near as sloppily as a typical torque converter.

In sum
When driving the 2012 Audi A6 hard, we had to remember that it is not an S model. Its engine and Quattro all-wheel-drive gave it excellent sport characteristics, but its steering tuning and transmission suggested it wasn't built for the track. As an everyday driver, it offers good fuel economy combined with excellent power.

The cabin tech is also currently unparalleled. We found a few small areas that could be improved, but no other car maker has hit so many marks. The Google navigation system is obviously a high point, but the audio quality was also good, and could be even better with a higher-trim car. Although Pandora integration would be nice, the car offers enough audio sources for most people.

Audi also scores high on the tech meter with its cabin tech interface. The company designed an incredibly smart and usable system for the A6. The exterior design of the A6 may not be particularly eye-catching, but it offers solid, sedan practicality. All things considered, we give the Audi A6 our Editors' Choice Award.

Tech specs
Model2012 Audi A6
Trim Premium Quattro
Power trainSupercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy23.4 mpg
NavigationHard-drive-based with traffic and Google integration
Bluetooth phone supportYes, with contact list and voice command
Disc playerMP3-compatible single-CD player, MP3-compatible 6-CD changer
MP3 player supportiPod integration
Other digital audioOnboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, SD card, HD Radio, satellite radio, auxiliary audio input
Audio system12-speaker system
Driver aidsNight vision, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, blind-spot detection, automatic parking, rearview camera
Base price$49,900
Price as tested$57,470
2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

2012 Audi A6 Premium Quattro

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 10Performance tech 10Design 8


Available Engine GasBody style Sedan