Import Sport Sedan Comparison: Second Place: Audi A6 3.0T

Michael Freed
by Michael Freed

After urbane styling and precise road manners made Audi a real player in the luxury sports sedan market with the late ‘90s A6, the Ingolstadt Werkmeisters took a more conservative route with the third-generation A6. It became larger, more architectural than haute couture, and softer. For 2009, though, Audi decided to give the A6 an adrenaline shot right to the heart: a new engine that transforms this car from wallflower to stealth wildcat.

The current-generation A6’s style has always been understated and very elegant; subtle tweaking makes it look a little more aggressive than last year’s model. Chrome trim accents the A6’s subtle lines, and the looks substantial without being too showy. If the Jaguar’s look evokes Savile Row; the Audi’s evokes Hugo Boss, the real Hugo Boss, not the cheapend t-shirts you get from the emporium a couple streets over from Rodeo Drive.

Audi’s interior decorators have gotten their share of praise over the years; one look at the A6’s interior reveals why. This is an extremely handsome and stylish environment, with flowing shapes and exquisite detailing; look at the chrome strip around the wood trim on the dashboard, or the way the shape of the highly-legible instrument cluster fits within the arc of the three-spoke steering wheel. The interior color scheme was smashing: dark charcoal color on the dash, side panels, and seat bolsters, with Amaretto-colored leather inserts on the seats and door panels, and a matching headliner. The quality of the leather, and some other interior materials, aren’t quite up to snuff compared to the Lexus or BMW, but there’s little to argue about style-wise inside the A6. In fact, BMW were smart, they’d do whatever it takes – stock offerings, pay raises, kidnapping, blackmail, virgin sacrifices, whatever – and hire Audi’s interior stylists tomorrow.

The A6’s driver interface looks mostly solid, but some ergonomic quirks surface, in Audi’s latest attempt to delight and annoy. For instance, if you want to crank up the A/C, you have to use the temperature control to increase and decrease fan speed. Like Jaguar, Audi designers decided to invest some razzle-dazzle in the glovebox door latch, placing an “open/close” switch on the center console. And while all the cars in this test feature pushbutton start, Audi’s system has one button to start the engine and one to stop it. Why?

The A6’s ergonomics are also heavily compromised by their version of IDrive,

labeled MMI (Multi-Media Interface), which works no better than BMW’s or Mercedes’, and adds a new level of silliness: no radio controls on the dashboard. To turn the radio on and off and adjust the volume, you use a rotary switch to the right of the shifter, and use the separate large rotary wheel to control inputs, settings and the like. The MMI wheel has menu buttons surrounding it to control navigation and other functions, but as in the BMW, they’re out of the driver’s line of sight, and all feel alike, so you have to take your eyes off the road to use them. As bad as the BMW and Mercedes systems are, at least they leave the basic radio controls on the dash, where God, Krishna, Allah, and Bahá’u’lláh intended them to be.

Hit the ignition switch – the one marked “start,” as opposed to the one marked “off” – and you unlock the A6’s warrior heart. Like the other truly potent engine in this test, the BMW’s twin-turbo six, Audi tuned this new supercharged engine to be a stump-puller – 310 lb/ft of torque at 2500 rpm – and the supercharger system ensures even power delivery throughout the power band. But unlike the BMW, which hits hyperdrive from a standing start, the A6’s engine pulls its punches until 2500 rpm, at which point the blower kicks in, and launches, more like the Millenium Falcon in “Empire Strikes Back” than the original movie.

The sequential-shift six-speed transmission, plays wonderfully with the devilish engine. While supercharger whine, a typical bugaboo on this type of engine, has been massaged into near-nothingness, this engine trumpets its existence louder than the BMW. The numbers show the BMW as slightly faster than the Audi, but if you’re into adolescent bursts of power, this Audi won’t disappoint.

It won’t disappoint on a winding road, either. Although the Audi’s front-heavy handling balance makes it feel less eager in tight corners than the BMW, on fast sweepers and the Interstate, the A6 is every bit the Bavarian’s match. The same is true of the A6’s steering, which is quick, accurate and communicative. The A6’s handling capabilities do little to compromise ride quality, which is first-class.The Audi is also a first-class value – the Premium model tested, with navigation, the performance package, heated rear seats, and rear side airbags, stickered at $57,000. Well, a value for this class, if you want to penny pinch, Hyundai just set up shop down the road.

So if the Audi can match the BMW on a performance basis, and best it in the styling and value departments, what’s with the second place finish? The A6’s loss is a narrow one, to be sure, but in subtle ways – the refinement of the powertrain, the quality of the interior materials, and the offbeat, gimmicky ergonomics, to name three – the Audi just doesn’t quite measure up. The Audi feels solid; the BMW feels like it’s been laser-carved straight out of Mount Rushmore.

In other words, the Audi is great to drive, but the BMW’s sublime. Still, greatness is nothing to sneeze at, especially when it’s value-priced, so this rocket-man Audi nabs second place.

Performance: 5/5

So much for the A6’s boring rep – the new supercharnged engine blasts the A6 forward with amazing urgency

Ride: 4/5

Compliant without being harsh

Handling: 4/5

Feels a little larger and ever-so-slightly more ponderous than the BMW

Exterior: 4/5

The best looking of the Germans: stylish in an almost architectural way.

Interior: 4/5

A stylistic knockout; wacky ergonomics and some cheap materials cost the Audi a perfect score.

Fit and finish: 4/5

Certainly well made, but seems more mass-produced than bespoke

Toys: 4/5

This A6 is extremely well equipped, and attractively priced.

Desirability: 4/5

A kick in the pants to drive, with a “yee-haw” factor that’s rare in this class

Michael Freed
Michael Freed

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  • Gottleib Gottleib on Nov 07, 2009

    After reading this article and the comments I can conclude that people definitely see what they want to see. Those that think German cars are better espouse their reasoning, those that don't espouse their reasoning. At the end of the day it all boils down to " don't confuse me with the facts I all ready made up my mind!"

  • Acaper Acaper on Nov 15, 2009

    So...I'm on my 6th used Audi since the mid-90's (2 5k sedans, one 5k Avant, and '00, '02 and '06 A6's. The first two A6's were bi-turbos; the '06 is a 3.2 I bought for my wife). Only the '06 was bought with less than 80k miles on it (it had 55k when we got it 3 months ago). The '02 bi-turbo was pretty typical of how I've bought them -- I paid $14.6k w/new brakes, timing belt and water pump from a guy who owns a speed shop up in NH and goes to auctions for off-lease cars. I mentally set aside $3k for any unexpected expenses, and other than an O2 sensor I've had none. It now has 122k on it, and I've only had to do wear and tear stuff -- brakes & tires. It's got a click on hard rights, so I'll have to do a new CV joint, probably after this winter. The car is in great shape, despite the fact that I live in the city and most of its miles are city or near-city driving. I'll probably drive it until it has 150k or so and sell it for $4-5k. So I'll have spent ~ $10k in depreciation and maybe another $5k in maintenance. Call it $15k in vehicle-related expense for 70k of driving. 70k of 6-speed manual, bi-turbo, AWD, kick-ass, "oops I passed that guy doing 100 w/out realizing how fast I was going" driving. Just to quash the naysayers, my entire family has driven Audi's for about the past 20 years, and we've all had the same experience. The biggest misery was the tendency for the old 5000's to spring leaks in the power steering and brake systems that was a pain in the ass. No such misery since they went to the As. I did have one "by the side of the road" experience, but that was when my mechanic screwed up the tensioner during a scheduled timing belt replacement and the engine turned into a lump of dead metal at 75MPH. The new ones have chains, not belts. Yes, they depreciate like hell for the first three years, but that's more of a function of Audi's aggressiveness in leasing them and dealers' refusal to negotiate over the buyout price (I found the original owner of my '06 bi-turbo. The dealer wanted $28k for the buyout, she offered $24k, which was blue book. It sold for $11k at auction and went through two hands before I bought it for $14.6k. She was beside herself when I told her about that). If you can handle not having the latest and greatest at all times, there's no better car dollar-for-dollar. Buy it off lease from someone who knows how to buy & sell Audi's and you can do the same. DO NOT be afraid of maintenance expenses -- instead, buy it right, find a mechanic you like & trust (NOT A DEALER!) and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

  • SCE to AUX Here's some advice - slow down. That's a great way to arrive home safely, without a ticket, with lower blood pressure, and more economically.
  • Dartdude They need to rebrand the models, The standard model should be Wagoneer and long version should be Grand Wagoneer. There should offer the Ram Rev powertrain in these
  • Irvingklaws Seems more like they're adopting Honda styling queues. Now if they would just adopt their reliability...
  • FreedMike "Obsidian Edition."Oooooh, obsidian is really, really hard stuff.
  • John The awesome Infiniti G series saved this company 20 years ago, but they are right back on track to obsolescence. (yawn)