Exhilaration, satisfaction, safety, a sense of control—these are the expected feelings associated with driving a luxury automobile. But being surprised by a car is rare. It's more rare still when you're somewhat familiar with the maker, like we were when we had the chance to test out Audi's 2012 A6 recently.
This newest version of their midsize sedan features all of the brand's latest innovations in design and technology (i.e. updated versions of everything that made us fans of their cars in the first place), in addition to some appealing new options that take the driving experience to the next level. Of course, it's hard to say which manufacturer in this category is winning the race to achieve the kind of contended sigh for which they all seem to be going, but there's perhaps no brand who's embraced it more, continuing to position themselves as the new luxury vehicle.
From the weight of the chassis to integrated technology (an increasingly definitive point when it comes to cars), Audi has rethought the A6 from top to bottom. Quattro devotees will notice off the bat that this car has the expected excellent handling that makes for a super fun drive—hitting off-ramps at 90 miles per hour, zipping around NYC traffic—but refinements build on this foundation, improving both efficiency and comfort.
The most immediately noticeable difference is the vehicle's larger dimensions. A longer wheelbase makes for a roomy interior, presenting a more accessible but comparably luxurious alternative to the A7. Ample space makes for a more pleasant ride for rear passengers (along with other details including independent climate controls) and the generous trunk even accommodated a bulky planter bought on an antiques run.
To haul whatever you might put in it, the A6 boasts some pretty powerful guts. We took the 3.0-liter version of the V6 engine for a spin (it's available as a 2.0 as well), quickly becoming fans of the low revolutions per minute at which it operates. Cruising at 65 M.P.H., the tachometer still registers under 200,000 R.P.M., leaving plenty of room for accelerating quickly even at high speeds and embodying an efficient engine.
This revelation comes only second to our first "wow" moment in the car when driving through the midnight rain in rural Pennsylvania using the night vision assistant. The feature proved amazing for seeing the dark road better, making the drive safer while allowing a speed demon to have some fun.
Part of a package of safety features, overall the user experience of Audi's driver assist maintains a balance between enjoying the car and limiting potential hazards. Small details like a volume control on the passenger side show just how well-considered the setup is.
Adaptive cruise control is another telling example of how intuitive Audi has made the user interface, and a feature that has repeatedly impressed us. Smooth thanks to the adjustable distance range as well as front and rear sensors, the assist is a boon to modern drivers who face stop-and-go traffic and the increasing reality of a car that drives itself.
More proof of the automaker's forward-thinking approach is in the connectivity package that turns the car into a wireless hotspot using T-mobile's 3G service. Passengers can connect personal devices (we spent a lot of time skyping with friends abroad) and the car's navigation system can tap into Google search results. While no nav is perfect, Audi's innovative touchpad interface, allowing you to write out info with a finger, is one of the easiest to use out there. The Google Earth integration is fairly beautiful too, coordinating nicely with the woodgrain inlay.
In all, the only weak spot in the car was using the iPhone integration to make calls; the system for finding phone numbers in address books and the like was nearly impossible to use. But who needs to talk when you have banging Bang & Olufson sound, complete with tweeters that emerge from the dash when you start the car?
For a top-down experience of modern luxury, buoyed by innovations in technology, design and engineering, the 2012 A6 makes quite a case for itself.
Additional reporting by Tim Yu