Over the years, I’ve realized what products people want to see most on MM through the quantity of emails asking for reviews. It’s iPhones, cameras and lastly cars. It’s kind of odd that cars are in there but suppose there’s a universal interest in them that cannot be denied. I find them hard to review though - it’s probably the most expensive and complicated product we buy and doesn’t serve a simple purpose, making it hard to judge objectively. But at the same time, as a designer with a firm belief in honest, simple products, cars are a bit of a guilty pleasure. They’re emotive, inefficient and quite honestly, increasingly nonsensical in existence. But who cares, you’re here for the photos anyways. Here you go.
Automatic full LED headlights
Heated windshield washer nozzles
S line exterior appearance
Glacier White metallic paint
Nougat Brown leather interior
12 way perforated leather front seats
Bose 14 speaker sound system
Four-zone automatic climate control
Cold Weather package (heated front/rear seats, heated steering wheel)
Ventilated front seats
Black cloth headliner
Fine Grain Ash wood inlay
18” 5-V-spoke design wheels
Quattro is what makes an Audi an Audi. Introduced by the company over 30 years ago, it’s the first permanent all-wheel drive system designed for passenger vehicles. In 1986, Audi created the now legendary ski jump commercial that showed off the technology in an exaggerated fashion. The ad was then recreated in 2005 to introduce the previous generation A6. It’s one of my first memories of admiring the brand and left a long lasting impression. Vorsprung durch Technik.
The executive sports saloon is possibly the most important segment for the big 3 Germans. These cars are in the Goldilocks zone - not too small, but not too big and priced right in the middle of their price range. You probably can’t buy a bad car here; the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 are all great machines. I have a soft spot for fast AMG wagons but when it comes to more sensible choices, there’s something about the A6 that really connects with me. It’s the quiet and subtle car out of the bunch that doesn’t mind going unnoticed. It wins comparison tests all the time though, making Audi’s design language even more humble. It’s the Goldilocks zone in a segment that is in itself a Goldilocks zone. It isn’t pompous like the Mercedes but also not outrageously priced like the BMW.
Introduced in 2012, this is the 4th generation Audi A6. The wheelbase has been extended by 3” and its width by .7”. The car has been shortened by .5” though, making the overhangs shorter than before. The car starts at $44,800 but you’ll want to get something more powerful than the 2.0T so adding $20,000 in options is relatively easy.
The biggest change from prior Audi A6 generations is the extensive use of aluminum. Major components like the bonnet, fender, doors and boot lid are made of the material, as well as internal components like suspension strut domes, cross-members and axel components. This has reduced the cars weight by 130 pounds, which also makes it lighter than its peers.
Let’s start with paint. From what I’ve seen, Audi offers the nicest paint choices in the market. Nardo Gray and Suzuka Gray are probably my favorite though sadly reserved for RS models. This is Glacier White metallic, a slightly blue-grey white with a touch of metallic flaking. Most people will just see it as white but the discerning eye can appreciate its beautiful shade. Parking it next to a white car really shows its unique color as it has a tendency to make other white paints look like cream in comparison.
There are bunch of automotive brands that I respect from a philosophical point of view (Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Land Rover, Bentley, etc) but when it comes to purely aesthetics and design, only Porsche and Audi really resonate with me. Audi particularly impresses with their understated approach to design. The A6’s design is a refinement of the classic saloon shape and isn’t trying to be new for the sake of being new.
I’m not going to say that the A6 doesn’t have an aggressive face but the car is largely constructed of gentle, subtle lines that are unique to this company. The current Audi A6 is designed by Jurgen Loffler but retains much of the minimalistic aesthetics of the previous generation designed by Satoshi Wada. I wish that the company would take their cars further into the pure geometry pioneered by the TT but realize that they’re competing with products that are becoming increasingly about flamboyancy.
Audi works with very few design elements so the shoulder line is one of their most important assets. A sharp character line defines the A6’s side profile and accentuates it’s length and stance.
The company has also started creating a sharper language for the rear of the car. The A6 has an exaggerated overhang for the top of the trunk, helping split up the rear surface. One of my favorite details is how the part line between the rear fender and trunk doesn’t look like an after thought. Most companies draw an arbitrary here.
Readers with sharp eyes would have noticed the satin silver mirrors on this car. They’re normally reserved for the S models but it’s one of my favorite Audi details so I added them anyways. Something also worth noting is Audi’s sensibility in finishes. Like the mirror, the chrome think around the windows have a satin finish that looks far more sophisticated than the standard chrome you find in most cars.
Because the Germans like to confuse everyone with their options, the S line exterior appearance comes with the Prestige trim, rather than having an S line package here in the US. In my opinion, this appearance is a necessity to make the car look attractive. It annoys me that car manufacturers purposefully make lower optioned cars look worse for the sake of hierarchy.
The A6 like all members of its family has the signature Audi grille. I really like this implementation as it doesn’t use any chrome garnish and instead relies on light to create highlights
Another option that I find a must-have are the full LED headlights. They really define the car’s face and makes you wonder why it’s not standard equipment. Being LEDs, they offer a clean, white projection with great visibility. They’re also adaptive, meaning that they move with the steering wheel to light where you’re going, not where you are. Component finishes are refined too, with titanium-like vapor metalized surfaces rather than chrome.
Audi has pioneered LED technology and the tail lights really show how good they are. They have signature running lights that are remarkably evenly lit. These are the types of details that signify the level of attention the company puts into their products.
My A6 came equipped with the pretty pedestrian 18” wheels. They’re great for Seattle’s coarse roads but look really really small on the car. I’ll have to eventually invest in some 20” wheels to give the car some better proportioned shoes.
As far as petrol choices go, the 3.0 TFSI is clearly the best choice for the A6. Mounted longitudinally, the V6 produces 310 horsepower and 325 ft-lbs of torque. The motor is supercharged (I know, it’s weird that Audi calls it TFSI) with the blower making the torque number typically high. 0-60 happens in just 5.3 seconds which is pretty damn brisk. In fact, it’s quicker than both the Mercedes E350 and the BMW 535i.
The 3.0 TFSI is shared with the A7 and is work of art. It’s immensely smooth, puts out power effortlessly and has no noticeable boost lag. In practice, it actually feels very much like a naturally aspirated V8. Smooth, powerful throughout the entire rev range and effortlessly quick. As you can tell by the location of the suspension struts, most of the power plant sits in from of the front wheels. Not ideal but a typical Audi trait.
19/28 MPG are the official fuel economy numbers for the 3.0T. It’s pretty hard to hit the city number though I admit that I’m a fairly aggressive driver. While we’re looking at this photo, I’ve got to mention that this is one attractively finished engine. Everything metallic has a nice bead blasted finish and there are also a few red accents added for visual interest. Also, look at how the warning graphics are etched attractively.
Quattro is what defines the A6’s driving characteristic. The power bias is 60% rear and 40% front. Of course, power is distributed differently as traction requirements change (ie: 80% to the rear when accelerating hard). The car puts down power effortlessly and I’ve never driven a car that feels more stable on wet roads. I do miss sliding the tail through corners from time to time but that’s not what the A6 is made for.
All American 3.0Ts come equipped with an eight-speed triptronic transmission. Many people yearn for the DCT available in other regions but I've come to appreciate the smoothness of the eight-speed. In normal everyday driving, shifts are almost imperceptible and the car accelerates in a smooth languid motion that is almost electric.
Audi Drive Select allows you to customize a range of parameters to adjust for your style of driving. I like to keep everything in auto but change the steering to dynamic; the comfort steering is way to light.
Sporting drivers will be disappointed by the near silent exhaust note. It’s great for comfort driving but I personally like hearing a bit of growl. You are reminded of the engine by a light roar when pushing hard but it silences itself quickly. It feels like a tease more than anything.
Thanks to the extensive use of aluminum, the Audi A6 is about 200 pounds lighter than the BMW 5 Series. This makes the A6 feel deceptively smaller when driving, helping it feel eager and light on its feet. The only thing preventing it from being the perfect sports sedan is steering feel. Coming from Mercedes’ fantastic steering, Audi’s electric system definitely feels a bit jarring and uninvolved. The brakes are decent though and stop the car effectively. I personally prefer a bit more immediate bite in the brake's travel but that’s probably another thing I’ll just have to get used to coming from a roadster. Overall, it’s better suited to everyday city driving and leaves a bit to be desired for canyon carving.
Regardless of a few shortcomings, driving the A6 is still a very pleasant experience. Where BMWs feel like a sports car that’s comfortable, the A6 feels like a comfortable car that’s sporty. It’s a balance that’s uniquely Audi and is what I liked the most after test driving competitors from Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar.
The new A6 also features some aerodynamic improvements and drops its drag coefficient to just 0.26 Cd. This makes wind noise non-existent and helps improve fuel economy. Something I’ve also noticed is how Audi has designed a track at the edges of the front window to direct rain water up to the roof of the car rather than the side windows. Clever.
The cabin in the A6 is clearly one of the highlights of the car. Overall, it’s an airy, soothing place to be. Consistency is the key to successful design, and Audi has done that exceptionally here by making everything look and feel like they were designed in unison. They also do fit and finish exceptionally well and the A6 is no exception. There is not a creak in the cabin and hard brittle plastic is nowhere to be found, even in areas like the lower door panels. This space is what really sold me on the car and it’s no wonder why so many people rave about Audi interiors.
The doors of the car wrap into the dashboard, making them feel like a thoughtful part of the cabin. I love how the aluminum inlay runs all the way around one side of the car to the other.
I find black interiors a bit drab so like to have the leather surfaces in a lighter color, but also dislike going all the way to beige. Audi offers this beautiful Nougat Brown leather that strikes the perfect balance for me. It has a bit more orange than typical brown interiors but isn’t saturated or bright as saddle leather. My SLK had the optional Nappa leather package which I loved but also found to be too soft and easily scuffed. The A6 comes with a thicker, coarser hide which should be easier to maintain.
Audi seems to have great paint and leather choices so it’s no wonder their wood looks great too. This is what Audi calls “Fine Grain Ash” and it both looks and feels fantastic. Judging by the edges of the inlays, the wood seems to be relatively thick at a couple of millimeters, rather than a paper-thin veneer.
Small details are what end up defining a greater experience. This makes seemingly trivial elements like seat memory buttons and climate control dials immensely important. Every interaction point is spot-on in the A6, with a premium, tactile feel. It’s also interesting that every button, dial and switch make a similar, seemingly curated mechanical “click” during operation. It’s an awesome moment when you realize this, as it’s further evidence to the care that has gone into this space.
There’s also an available sunroof although a panorama one would have been nice to have. This car has the optional black headliner, which is a must, unless if you’re going for a grey interior.
I have no complaints about the four-spoke steering wheel although paddle shifters would have been nice to have. It’s heated though, which turns out to be an amazing thing to have when getting in the car on a chilly night. The multi-function buttons are also nice to have since the button layout in the car can be hard to navigate by feel.
What Audi does better than everyone in the industry is the instrument cluster. Their gauges are always, simple, clean but also have a little bit of depth. I particularly enjoy how the numbers slightly float off of the face of the gauge and begin to curve slightly around the edges. This type of subtle dimensionality gives the car more sophistication than the acre of chrome other manufactures may garnish with.
At the center of the instrument cluster is a very handy multi-function display. It’s very high resolution and is often time the only display you need to interact with when driving.
The seats are very comfortable but on the firm side when comparing with Mercedes products. They’re also nicely designed with an attractive shape and stitching that looks purposeful. Coming from a roadster, the side bolstering doesn’t feel adequate but people who drive more aggressively will probably opt for the S6 with the sport seats. Otherwise though, they’re great seats that I’ve been able to find the perfect driving position with.
One of the things that I’ve found assisted greatly with finding the comfortable seating position are these headrests. Pushing the button allows height but also depth adjustment.
The seats are heated and ventilated, hence the presence of the perforation in the leather. The ventilation gradually whisks away heat, perfect for long drives. The perforation is functional but also adds a nice visual texture without too much noise.
Rear seating is also very comfortable with generous leg and headroom. This car features four zone climate control so both rear seat passengers can have their own AC settings.
When you start the A6, a hidden LCD panel gracefully pops out of the dashboard. Audis’ multimedia/navigation system is called MMI. It’s considered by many to be one of the best in the industry and can confirm that it does offer some nice functionality. Being one of the best in the industry isn’t saying much though, and the MMI still feels painfully slow and confusing compared to modern mobile devices. What makes the system pretty unique is the onboard 3G modem that brings in Google mapping data and POIs. It requires a monthly cellular plan though, and isn’t something I’d ever pay $30 a month for.
The physical controls in the A6 feel fantastic but have some usability issues. First of all, the knob for navigation operates in reverse - a clockwise turn scrolls up rather than down. It’s an interaction decision that simply makes no sense but isn’t something that company seems to have interest in changing. The other issue I have is that the buttons surrounding the dial are hard to hit by feel and require you to look away from the road. Maybe I’ll build muscle memory over time.
Address input is one of the most important things to get right in a car and Audi does a great job. When inputting via voice, you can say the whole address in a string. It’s a bit slow but hard to complain about when the system in Mercedes’ don’t work at all. Addresses can also be input via handwriting recognition on a touchpad. It’s very intuitive, and much faster than scrolling through the alphabet with a knob. I’m also amazed at well the car recognizes even sloppy writing.
The car provides device connectivity through an iPod connector and Bluetooth. I’ve started to depend exclusively on Bluetooth so that the car will just continue to play what I had been listening to previously. With the addition of “Hey Siri” handsfree mode on the iPhone, it has also become easier to change tracks or call someone.
The park assist system features both proximity sensors and a rearview camera. The car draws predictive lines to illustrate where you’re steering to. It even has a parallel parking mode that’s super useful when in the city.
Audi offers two sound system upgrades - a Bose system and a ridiculous $5900 Bang & Olufsen one. This car is equipped with the 14 speaker, 630 watt Bose system. I usually find Bose products to be pretty hit or miss and this one isn’t bad. You’re probably never going to do critical listening in a car but If I were to nitpick, it could use both increased clarity in the highs and a tighter bass.
It goes without saying but interior lighting in the A6 is tasteful in the typical Audi way. Thin strips of white LEDs provide a soft glow at night without looking tacky. Small touches like the lit door sills are a nice too.
As this review comes to a close, I cannot understate how good of a job Audi is doing these days. The A6 comes off as subtle and rewards you with surprises as you dig deeper into its nuances. From the metalized finish of the headlights to the satin finish of aluminum in the interior, these are things often seen as trivial by most car manufactures and done without thought. It’s so great to see a car manufacturer standing by pure and timeless design principles in a market so polluted by extravagancy. It makes sense that Leica consulted Audi for the T system’s design.
The more I learn about design, the more I’ve come to appreciate the power of consistency and harmony. I have huge respect towards Audi for achieving those things. They promise to be a simple, subtle and design focused brand and it’s present in every facet of their presence from their website all the way to the bead blasted finish of the engine. I’ve always been a huge car fan and an even bigger sports car fan. There’s something about the connection of man, machine and road that is simply joyous. But what the Audi A6 has proven to me is that the joys of great design and craftsmanship can provide just as much, if not more joy. Everyday, I’m excited to get in my car and drive. You’d think that an executive saloon couldn’t be as exciting as a convertible sports car but the smile on my face is even bigger. This is the art of progress.