It is easy to get an attractive design among the mid-size sedans. Any number of mid-priced four-doors can be loaded with big wheels and the latest electronics, and the luxury versions approach the interior improvements that were once the exclusive province of German luxury sedans like the Audi A6. The current-generation A6 doesn’t stand out the way it did when it debuted in 2011, even when it’s sitting on 20-inch wheels and something less low profile like the Mazda 6 Grand Touring or the Kia Optima SX. But keep in mind that the A6 is a primer for anyone unfamiliar with high-end badges: With this car, your extra expense buys substance, not just style.
However, at $72,175, our competition Florett Silver A6 3.0T wasn’t much different than the last 3.0T Prestige we tested, despite the $5,275 higher label. For that extra scratch, the new high-spec Competition model squeezes seven more horses from the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 (340 total), adds five-spoke wheels from the S6, paints the brake calipers red, and makes the Sport and Black Optic packages Standard (sport suspension, summer tires, tinted grille, and gloss black rims). It also borrows trim from the S6’s interior, including its high-back front seats, diamond-trimmed leather inserts, and sturdy rear seat bolsters. A flat-bottom steering wheel is fitted, unless you order the $500 cold weather package, which brings a heated swivel wheel (plus heated rear seats). Our test car also has a $2,550 driver assistance package (adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, 360-degree cameras, automatic high beams). With adaptive cruise and split lane controls between the steering column stems with a rocker switch on one, the system is competent enough to automate the vehicle in low-speed traffic but is difficult to adjust.
We’ve played with this system a few times, but the A6 prefers your hands and feet – as do we. Hit the gas, steer into a turn, or tap the brakes, and the car’s responses explain why an A6 costs twice as much as a V-6 Honda Accord. The Audi supercharged V6 is a Bentley that is silent at idle and at low speeds. Switch to dynamic mode, and only the librarian will yell at him. The exhaust is muted and there’s a silent inlet snarl at the redline as the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts fast. When left in Auto or Comfort mode, the A6 glides unaffected by road imperfections, despite the firmer suspension and 20-inch wheels. Most drivers aren’t likely to provoke a competition model’s torque-guided rear differential, but on tough driving, it will provide more power to the outside rear wheel, increasing revs and helping with center-angle stability.
With Pirelli P Zeros standard, the A6 Competition produced side grip and brake numbers — 0.93g and a 159-foot stop of 70 mph — essentially on par with the 3.0T Prestige we tested previously. Perhaps that was a drawback with our car’s 87-pound weight and lack of 93 octane fuel at our California test site, but we couldn’t muster better than 5.2 seconds to 60 mph, versus the 4.6 we scored in the regular A6 3.0T. Although the A6 Competition had a slight advantage in rolling and mid-range acceleration, the extra seven ponies and identical 325 lb-ft of torque were clearly not transformational. That’s still a lot, and certainly enough to make a good argument for a supercharged V-6 on the inline 2.0-liter turbo base.
Even next to newer competitors such as the Mercedes-AMG E43 and BMW 540i, Audi’s powertrain and chassis stand alone. The A6’s age is revealed by the MMI infotainment system, which relies on a separate touchpad to zoom in on maps, toggle radio presets, and handwriting recognition. However, it is still one of the most intuitive settings available. For its latest cars, though, Audi has switched this functionality to a larger scroll handle surface and omitted the four submenu buttons surrounding it. This isn’t a bargain, but after sampling the simpler hardware and modern graphics on the latest A3 and A4, it’s clear that the new setup is an improvement. Materials and overall fit are exemplary – another area where the A6 feels as fresh as ever – and the red contrast stitching and piano black stitching of this test example proclaim its serious ability without the glamor of some other manufacturers’ sporty interiors. We also dig the classic analog gauges, which are oriented slightly toward the center display in the instrument cluster. The car’s age appears again in its old electronics – notably the power-draining infotainment screen that emits unprecedented machine noise – along with the lack of customizable ambient lighting and adjustable lateral support. The all-new A6 is imminent.
However, the biggest counterpoint to this A6 is not the age of the base car. Depending on the price, the 3.0T competition is on eye level with the 450-hp S6, but it doesn’t offer any tangible performance advantage over the regular 3.0T. As handsome as the S6’s looks are, you can order equally different 20-inch wheels (with summer tires and sport suspension) on a loaded A6 Prestige for thousands less. No matter which A6 you choose, an Optima one-lane driver may not understand why you bought an Audi, but you will.
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