By Kris Hansen
Hot on the heels of the CES show, where Audi brought out all of their newest technologies for the public to see, we had the chance to sample much of it in real life.
The rolling showcase for all of the technology we’d be sampling is a beautiful Havana black A6 sedan, with the eager 3 liter supercharged engine. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that we’re head over heels in love with this car, but in case you missed it, check out our first drive, and road test.
Audi has a very large collection of high tech gadgetry in its catalog, and this particular A6 was fitted with almost all of it (it did not have the sports rear differential). One of our favorite features ever fitted to a car is the Audi Advanced key. The A6 comes standard with keyless start, but the advanced key adds keyless lock and unlock to the mix. Admittedly not a brand new feature, it is nonetheless one of those things that you never realize how nice it is till you have to be without it. The fact that you never have to take the key out of your pocket is something we like in our hectic lives of brief cases and camera bags.
As we mentioned in the road test and first drive, the Premium and up trim level A6 models inherit the MMI system with touch pad from the A8. This brilliant little device completely revolutionizes the data entry process for navigation and telephone, giving drivers the ability to “write” letters on the touch pad instead of forcing them to stare at the MMI display screen while they twiddle the main control dial from letter to letter. The same touch pad can be used to scroll around the map, something which is useful when trying to find a specific landmark on the map. Of course, the map is provided by Google maps, which are updated live thanks to the next bit of tech we want to visit.
Included with the Prestige level Audi A6 models is Audi Connect, which is a cellular data based internet connection. This connection not only feeds the google maps and various other navigation items, BUT, it allows the car to become a WIFI hotspot for up to 5 simultaneous connections. Again, this is one of those things you never realized you needed till you find yourself without it. On a road trip, passengers can stream videos, or internet radio stations, check email, and more. We found that we liked to stream our favorite internet radio station on an Ipod touch, and then using the Bluetooth audio player in the MMI system, play it through the car’s audio system (in this case, the exceptionally good Bang and Oulfsen system). Honestly, for a technology enthusiast, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Other systems that can be fitted to the A6 are part of the Innovation Package. They include the spectacularly good Adaptive LED headlights, Adaptive Cruise Control, Audi Side assist, Heads Up Display, Night Vision Assistant, Audi Pre-sense plus and power folding mirrors. Note that some of these can be optioned individually, such as the LED headlights and Side assist, but only on the Prestige trim level.
The LED headlights are incredibly well focused and bright. They emit a very bright white light, even when compared even with the HID version, the LEDs are much closer to daylight than any other light. We were pleased that the high beam was also very good, something that many HID lights can not say. The LED lights also adapt to turns, adding light to the inside of a bend when needed. The overall pattern of the light is so broad though, it’s not really necessary. We also had the chance to drive in a snow squall with our car, and found that the LED lights produced very little “dazzle”, which is the light reflecting off of the snow. So good were the LED headlights that in no way did we long for fog lights.
As good as the LED lights are though, nothing can pierce through the murky dark night like the infrared cameras which feed the Night Vision Assistant. When activated, the area of the instrument cluster between the tachometer and speedometer becomes the display screen, and what is shown the driver is a very clear view along the road, and more importantly, along the sides of the road. Because it’s infrared, the image is based on heat, the warmer an item is, the brighter it is. Since we were in the midst of an arctic cold snap here in Vermont, we found that there were dramatic differences between the ground and living things, such as pedestrians. The night vision assistant is very good at figuring out what is a person, and when it finds one, it puts yellow brackets around each person it finds in view. We assume that it would do that with animals, but amazingly enough, we encountered not a single deer in the week we had the car.
One thing that puzzled us a little was the lack of interaction between the night vision assistant, and the heads up display. What we expected to see was an alarm when the Night Vision assistant determined that a pedestrian was in the car’s path. We never managed to get it to do anything, but we’re not entirely sure we were doing it right. Even driving through the traditionally chaotic main campus of Dartmouth College, we got nary a squawk from the heads up display when a pedestrian wandered in our way. The night vision did detect the pedestrian, so we know it was working fine, but it never detected a potential hazard, possibly because the pedestrian was relatively close to the car, and our speed was rather low. Either way, the night vision assistant should be very good at picking out wildlife on country roads at night, which is something we like!
We were eager to try out the adaptive cruise control, as this was the first such example we had in US spec. As it turns out, the European spec adaptive cruise control seems to allow a much shorter following distance. The US spec version allows about 3 car lengths (if not more) as the minimum following distance. The only problem we have with that is, in areas where there are 3 or more lanes, we found that because of the large gap, people would try to slot in front of us, which caused the car to slow down to regain a gap. It wasn’t a big deal though, especially compared to the other issue we found with it. Because of the large gap the car gave itself, we found that it was absolutely critical to NOT let the car begin to slow itself down if we wished to pass the car we were gaining on, especially if there was a car in the lane we wanted to move into. One particularly scary moment occurred when the car decided to apply its brakes, just as we moved into the far left lane to overtake a slower car, nearly causing us to get rear-ended by a car that was already in the left lane. If the cruise control took no action and maintained the speed we had set, this would have been a non-issue, but as it happened, the adaptive cruise caused us to drop almost 10 mph, creating a near situation. Luckily, a quick stab of the accelerator pedal fixed the problem.
The solution we found was to pay close attention to the indicators on the dash (and heads up display). When the adaptive cruise signaled that it detected a car ahead, we began to make plans to move over to the left lane to pass (or, just took that car’s speed, depending on the situation). We did generally like the adaptive cruise though, once we got used to how it worked in light traffic. In heavy traffic where we weren’t changing lanes, it was very good, and in fact maintained the lead car’s speed exactly.
We also liked the Audi Side Assist, which is a blind spot warning system. Mounted on both side mirrors are small LED arrays, which light up to indicate that a vehicle is in the car’s blind spot. If the driver puts on the signal to change lanes and a car is still in the blind spot, the LEDS blink brightly to warn the driver. It is a very effective system, it’s very easy to adapt to, and it is not intrusive at all.
All in all, the new A6 is a rolling showcase of modern automotive technology, both in the safety and infotainment areas, which combine to make traveling so much more enjoyable. Add to the fact that the A6 is an absolute joy to drive, and you have a winning package all the way around. We’re already looking forward to our next visit with one!