First Drive: 2011 Audi A6

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By: Kris Hansen
Sciacca, Italy – Audi’s all new C7 A6 is here and it’s fantastic. The A6 is described as an executive sedan, one which is luxurious and safe, sexy and sporty, and brimming with some of the most exciting technology that’s ever been fitted to an automobile. We’re extremely impressed with this all new Audi A6.

With the outgoing model having been introduced in 2006, Audi’s segment leading sedan was due for a refreshing. We feel that the C7 is better in every way than the outgoing C6 model, and it’s not like the older version was a particularly bad car, far from it in fact. Rather, this new A6 is jam packed with some incredible technology that either didn’t exist when the C6 was born, or was too complex for automotive use at the time (examples, full LED lighting, Driver assistance capability, adaptive heads up display) or was optional on the earlier version (keyless go).

We had the chance recently to spend some time with the new car, and learn about the new and exciting A6.

As is standard practice at Audi in recent years, there is a strong family resemblance across all of the models, and this is plainly evident with the C7 A6. No one would ever mistake this car for anything but an Audi. We’ve heard complaints from people that the recent Audis look too much like each other (A8 and A4 mainly), and sure, they are very similar, but is this a bad thing really? There are specific design elements which distinguish the models from one another, and while they are similar looking, they aren’t merely differently sized versions of the same design in our eyes. In this regard, the new A6 is beautifully designed to fit between its A4 and A8 siblings. The face of the A6 is very distinguishable by its aggressively styled headlights with the distinctive LED driving lights and gloss black single frame grill, and the so called tornado line beginning at the headlights, and culminating at the tail lights, which is tighter to the greenhouse, and more prominent than it is on the A4.

The beautiful new body contains more aluminum (over 20% of the body) and high strength steel than the outgoing model as well, combining to make the overall car lighter than its predecessor. And even though the new car is almost exactly the same length, thanks to the newer style axle forward design, the wheelbase is longer, and the front overhang is much shorter. The C7 is around 2 inches wider than the C6, which translates into a slightly roomier interior.

While previous A6 was never lacking for creature comforts, the C7 is packed full of them, and the new A6 interior is flat out spectacular. The design is not at all unlike the new A8, with its smooth flowing dash, replete with the flip out MMI system LCD screen. We like having the ability to hide the screen when we want, and feel that the dashboard looks more stylish when the screen is stowed.

Like its A8 sibling, the A6 dash flows from the door panels all the way around the double tier dashboard. It’s very much more like the A8 than it is the previous A6 in fact. The center console design is a thorough refresh of the tried and true MMI control center, and with one new addition that was first brought to us in the A8 – the touch pad. Replacing the main MMI dial mounted joystick, the touch pad is used not only for address/phone number entry and radio station preset control, but it can also be used to manipulate the nav screen in scroll mode. Its use is highly intuitive, and because of its ability to translate hand written letters, entering items into the MMI system is incredibly easy to do even while underway. And since we’re on the topic, the new NAV also has the capability for Google Earth map overlays, which are very very cool.

The A6 shares much of its under-body technology with the A8. Most of the basic underlying CAN-BUS system originates with the A8, and then various new systems are grafted to that system. This is a good thing, as the A8 is a phenomenal car, and quite honestly a great starting point for designing a new car.

Initially, the USA spec A6 will only be offered only with the 3.0TFSI (supercharged direct injected gasoline) engine rated at 310hp and mated to an 8 speed Tiptronic transmission, with the all new Crown Gear Quattro system. Later on in ’11 or even ’12 model year, Audi will introduce a 3 liter TDI diesel engine, which will also be mated to the 8 speed Tiptronic transmission. We drove the TDI mated to the 7 speed S-tronic, and it was incredible. We feel that the 8 speed Tiptronic transmission should be just fine for our driving types, and the extra cog should make for better fuel economy.

The A6 is incredibly smooth and quiet with the 3.0T engine, and the driver is never left wanting, especially on the top end. We drove cars fitted with the 7 speed dual clutch S-tronic transmission, and found acceleration to be quite brisk. We’re looking forward to sampling the A6 with the tightly spaced ratios in the 8 speed Tiptronic transmission. We love it in the A8; in the A6 it’s sure to be excellent as well. At cruising speeds, the engine is nearly silent. Audi went to great lengths to ensure that the new A6 is as quiet inside as possible, and we think they succeeded; it’s very quiet, even at full speed.

Not terribly surprisingly we found the A6 to be phenomenally good to drive. With it’s new longer wheelbase, lighter weight, and cutting edge steering and chassis dynamics, the new A6 is as comfortable with being flung at extremely tight and windy Sicilian country roads as it is hurtling down the Autostrada. This is partly because of the Dynamic Ride Control, which alters not only suspension settings, but also steering feel, throttle response and transmission behavior. With a few clicks of the MMI controls, activating Dynamic mode transforms the A6 into a genuine sports car, capable of high speed antics on all types of roads. In this type of driving, the A6 is able to mask the fact that it’s a large car, and with perfect chassis balance, clings to the road in such a way that would leave any lesser sedan in its dust. Once again, Audi have managed to engineer the car to understeer as little as possible. Thanks to the crown gear center differential and optional sports rear differential, full throttle exits from tight corners result in a hint of oversteer. The only time the car understeers is if the corner entry speed is dramatically too high, otherwise it feels mostly neutral. Steering feel is good if slightly removed, but it’s possible to feel what’s going on where the front tires contact the road.

As we slide into the fabulously comfortable seats, we decide that we’re in love with this new A6. The new design is much warmer and more inviting than the outgoing model, which while not particularly ugly, was not exactly inspiring either. The design of the new A6 dash gives the front seat area a more open and airy feel. Because of the retracting MMI display, the designers were able to use a little artistic flair instead of designing in a large flat expanse. The only negative to the new dash would be the “tacked on” appearance to the Heads Up display, which is contained within a pod that sits atop the instrument cluster hood. However, with the added benefits of the heads up display, the appearance of the hardware can be overlooked.

Heads up display has been around for a while, but the way Audi does it is pretty cool. Drivers are given multiple bits of information to the heads up display, such as navigation prompts, current road speed, current speed limit (which is gleaned from the NAV system) and more. The image is very crisp and unobtrusive, and is not affected by bright sunlight, and we found it to be a nice addition. We’ve gotten used to Audi’s excellent steering wheels, and since the A6 shares its instrument cluster with the A8, similarly the steering wheel has the controls to navigate through the various display options within the instrument’s central information center.

When navigation is active, specific turn instructions are relayed to this area, and Audi have done an amazing job at creating a system that is capable of drawing even incredibly complex intersections exactly as they are arranged in real life, which makes a confusing situation easy to navigate. When navigation is inactive, you can display a compass, or trip computer information, or phone information via Bluetooth, and so on. The design of the gauge cluster is very clean and easy to read.

We’ve been huge massive fans of the various ease of operation features that Audi have offered throughout the years, and the keyless go is far and away our favorite. Added to it are a variety of other driver aids, such as parking assist, blind spot and lane assist, rain sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlights, and on and on. We didn’t really have the chance to play with most of the new features, but we hope to soon.

All in all, we’re genuinely impressed with the new A6, and we feel that it should be a strong competitor in it’s segment. One thing we do know is that there is no plan for an Avant version of the A6 here in the USA, which is a bummer, but since the A4 Avant exists, and is apparently a bigger seller, it didn’t make much sense to bring the A6 Avant AND the A7 Sportback, as well as the Q5 and Q7. In any event, we’re looking forward to spending some more quality time with the A6!







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