Driving the 2016 Audi A6, I realize the need to pay more than usual attention to my speed. The car smoothly crosses speed limits before I notice, feeling pretty much the same at 35 mph as at 70 mph. Oddly, the engine isn't extraordinarily powerful nor does the ride quality benefit from an air suspension. The car just goes well, very well.
Fortunately, the A6's head-up display conveniently projects the speed on the windshield, right in my field of view.
Audi's second largest sedan, this generation of the A6 came out in 2011, but it gets a few upgrades for the 2016 model year. With the A6, Audi shows it can partially conquer the disparity between automotive and tech product cycles, upgrading the dashboard electronics outside of a generational update.
Audi improved the new A6's already impressive dashboard electronics by upgrading from a 3G to 4G built-in data connection, installing a faster Nvidia processor and adding features to the navigation and stereo system software. Efficiency improvements mean a horsepower increase and improved fuel economy for this generation, as well.
The base 2016 A6, with a 2-liter turbocharged engine and front-wheel drive, goes for $47,125, but the model I drove came with Quattro all-wheel drive and a 3-liter supercharged V-6, starting at $58,325. Bumping it up to Prestige trim and adding a few other package brought the total as tested to $66,875. UK buyers will only find diesel, or TDI, A6es on the dealer lot, with a price of £32,295 for the 2-liter base model. The base A6 in Australia gets by with a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine, at a price of AU$89,061.
One of the remarkable things pioneered by Audi and in full display in the A6 is the integration of Google Earth and the navigation system. I never get tired of seeing satellite imagery on the LCD, overlaid with road markings and live traffic for ease of navigation. While this system worked fast enough in previous iterations of the A6, the imagery loads more quickly over the new 4G data connection. And I was pleased to see the navigation system automatically switch over to its stored, graphical maps when the data connection dropped out.
Audi retains its Multimedia Interface (MMI) dial controller, buttons and touchpad on the console, which let me browse menus and select functions. Along with typical destination options such as address and points-of-interest database searches, the A6 also offers online destination search with results from Google and a new freeform search, which immediately began listing results from the car's onboard data as I entered letters, matching business, city and street names. It is the quickest way to find a destination, working even faster than the online option.
Under route guidance, Audi supplements onscreen turn directions with indications on the head-up display. However, the simple blue lines projected on the windshield, lacking even street names, often left me wondering which turn I should actually take.
The display and MMI show the A6's age, as Audi rolled out its new Virtual Cockpit display and refined MMI in the TT coupe model , a whole new infotainment interface that will find its way throughout the Audi lineup. However, Audi manages to replicate a bit of the Virtual Cockpit interface in the A6 by showing the navigation maps on the small instrument cluster LCD, which sits between the analog gauges.
The A6's data connection also supports live traffic, current public parking garage capacity when available, gasoline prices, weather and my favorite, a sort of location-based Wikipedia showing interesting locations in the car's vicinity.
One of my constant complaints about Audi vehicles has been the Audi Music Interface, a proprietary port requiring a multitude of adapter cables to support iPhones, USB drives and other music storage devices. The new A6 does away with that legacy, adopting the industry's more widely used USB ports. Two of them sit in the console, although only one supports iOS devices. Other audio sources include Bluetooth streaming, an onboard hard drive, an SD card slot, and satellite and HD radio.
Audi also upgraded the stereo system so that I could browse my iPhone's music library using the MMI when it was paired through Bluetooth. Not every car has that capability yet.
The Prestige trim meant a Bose audio system, with 14 speakers, for the A6. While the Bose system is certainly a step up from the standard 10-speaker system, it falls a little short of finely detailed audiophile quality. I never felt a really immersive listening experience with this system. Hardcore audiophiles will want to get the available Bang and Olufsen system, with 1,300 watts and 15 speakers.
The sound from the Bose system never had to compete with the engine, which hummed along quietly whether I was cruising at 2,000rpm or pushing redline. Audi gives the A6 3.0T, this model's designation, a 3-liter V-6 employing variable intake and exhaust valve timing, direct fuel injection and a supercharger to make 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, a 23 horsepower increase over the 2012 A6. The supercharger, a bit of forced induction technology not widely used in the automotive industry, compresses air into the cylinders whenever the engine turns, creating an always-on power boost.
Stomping the gas pedal from a stop, I barely registered the time before the head-up display read 60 mph, but Audi puts the zero-to-60 mph time at a quick 5.1 seconds. The A6 shows so little drama getting up to freeway speeds that I was there before I knew it. More impressive, the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts incredibly smoothly, barely letting itself be felt during acceleration runs or dealing with the everyday stop-and-go of city traffic.
Earlier this year, I drove the A6 with its 2-liter turbocharged engine, and was a bit underwhelmed. Rather than the easy power of the V-6, I had to get on the throttle harder with the four-cylinder, and was treated to more intrusive, and less pleasant, engine noise, not what I would want in the A6.
Audi's DriveSelect system comes standard in the A6, letting me choose between Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual drive modes, affecting throttle and steering response. The transmission includes its own Sport mode which was, thankfully, engaged when I chose Dynamic in DriveSelect.
Given the A6's fixed suspension and conservative sedan design, I didn't expect much when I put it in Dynamic mode and powered through a tight set of turns. But the A6 showed remarkably impressive handling, gripping the pavement and resisting wallow as I kept the speed up and got the tires singing. OK, Quattro all-wheel-drive enjoys an excellent reputation for performance, but the suspension also managed to keep the A6 relatively flat without resorting to adaptive technologies.
And despite the handling acumen, the ride quality didn't feel too firm during mundane driving tasks. I felt rougher sections of road, but the suspension proved very competent at minimizing vibration in the cabin of excessive body movement. The A6 strikes an excellent compromise between comfort and handling.
The A6 achieves EPA fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, a decent range for a car this size. An idle-stop feature seamlessly shuts down the engine at traffic stops, saving gas at red lights. Audi's idle-stop works better than most I've experienced, quickly bringing the engine back to life with barely a shudder when I lifted my foot off the brake pedal.
The 2016 Audi A6 revealed my own bias against large sedans, from which I expect piggish performance. The A6 really surprised me with its adept handling, able to take turns very comfortably at speed. Likewise, the modest-sized engine produced excellent acceleration and ran smoothly, helping to deliver a comfortable ride and seamless idle-stop behavior. Other automakers should aspire to the driving dynamics of the A6.
For connected features, Audi's closest rival is BMW. Both companies do an excellent job of integrating online destination search. But Audi steps it up with the 4G connection and Google Earth integration. Audi's connected services are good, but I would also like to see more third-party apps built into the dashboard.
The one feature I missed in this A6 was adaptive cruise control, which automatically slows the car based on the speed of slower traffic ahead. Adaptive cruise control, capable of bringing the A6 to a full stop, comes as a feature of Audi's Driver Assistance package, which also includes lane keeping assist.
Beyond a few minor criticisms of the A6, this is one extraordinarily good, high-tech sedan. However, expect a new generation of the A6 within a couple of years, using the innovative Virtual Cockpit cabin tech interface along with whatever bright new innovations Audi has been keeping under wraps.
|Model||2016 Audi A6|
|Powertrain||Supercharged direct injection 3-liter V-6 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, HD radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 630-watt 14-speaker system|
|Driver assistance||Night vision, adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$66,875|