For Audi enthusiasts

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23 February 2011

There’s an open iron gate at the end of a tree-lined driveway that leads into an abandoned school in the center of an Olive Grove. It’s about half way between Sciacca and Sant’Anna on a winding road through Sicily. Yes, there is a “Proprieta Privata” sign next to the gate and yes, Sicily is the birthplace of the Cosa Nostra, so this olive farm could be just an olive farm…. or it could be an “olive farm” (i.e. a place to dump the bodies of stupid Americans who stop to take pictures and interrupt a “business transaction”).

Regardless of the posted warning and any imagined mafia goon squad, I can’t resist. I’m no more than a few kilometers into the test drive of the all-new Audi A6 3.0T FSI S-line you see here and if I take a chance trespassing in the olive grove then I’ll assuredly get some great shots of the car. Also, I can check photography off the day’s To Do List, leaving one remaining box marked “Drive it like you stole it!” Sounds like a plan.

In the shaded yard outside the walled-in building, I find my foot has a near miss with a patch of spilled fresh olives sitting there in the grass as I circle the Ice Silver A6 S-line and take it in visually. It’s easy to get distracted by this car, a further evolution of Audi’s current design language and arguably the most handsome of the brand’s notchback sedan offerings.

Sizewise, the new A6 hasn’t changed much. At 193.7 inches (4.92m) long, 73.6 inches (1.87m) wide and 57.5 inches (1.46m) tall, the new car is actually slightly shorter stem-to-stern and lower than the old car. However, the sedan’s wheelbase and width have both grown thanks in part to the car’s migration to Audi’s modular longitudinal (MLB) architecture, and that bestows on the new new 2012 A6 (C7 or Type 4G for Audi geeks and/or product planners) with a very aggressive look.

The body itself is a mix of metals, with hood, front quarter panels, doors and trunk all made of aluminum. Overall, 20 percent of the car is made of aluminum, including cast front strut mounts that help optimize the A6’s front-to-rear weight bias.

At various points on the corporate timeline, Audi’s C-segment sedan has been its most avant-garde – a car almost otherworldly and assuredly an inspiration to the next-generation of sedan from many competing manufacturers. The C3, then known as Audi 200, was an icon that moved the 80s era box toward a more aerodynamic end and was heavily copied by cars like the first-generation Ford Taurus. Again with the C5 and its upswept bumper lines, Audi ushered in its sculptured era of design.

With the C7, there’s no fundamental design revolution in action. The styling of the new A6, with a bold tornado line like the A4 and A5 or the LED style lights clusters pioneered by the new A8 and A7, is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Still, Audi’s latest C-segment sedan is both well-proportioned and cutting-edge.

Though perhaps not as elegant as the standard fare A6, our S-line test car has an aggressive look all it’s own complete with the usual styling elements like the needle partitions on the front air intakes and titanium finish 19-inch rotor style alloys. At the nose though, there’s also a new bit of styling for those keeping track, and that is a swept-around border to those frowning lower intakes that seems as if it might have been inspired by the wing-like chin of the Audi Sportback concept. Expect it to be a common element on future Audis with S badges.

Inside, the A6 continues to benefit from the most modern of Audi design cues. A wrap-around inlay on the dash has seemingly become standard in every new Audi since the A8 as well as similar equipment like an impressive seven-inch driver information screen in the main instrument cluster and a motorized disappearing navigation screen that’s long-been an A8 hallmark have now found their way down to the A6.

Also pulled from the A8 is the latest version of MMI, complete with Google Maps, album art for music, and mobile Wi-Fi. There’s even the gluttonous Bang & Olufsen sound system with trick disappearing sound lenses that’s much more akin to the A8’s nearly $7K system than the more simplistic B&O labeled fare in the A4, A5 and Q5. Expect pricing on par with the A8’s system as well.

Elements like the layered oak wood veneer dash trim from the A7 and massaging ventilated seats from the A8 will both be on the options list, though not available on S-line spec cars like ours. S-lines makes do with a handsome aluminum treatment as well as a new three-spoke sport steering wheel and sport seats with perforated Alcantara.

Okay, so stylistically the A6 may have been more Darwin, but when it comes to technology the car leans more Che Guevara. There’s the usual latest and greatest from the Audi tech portfolio such as Audi Side Assist, Audi Drive Select, and distance-sensing cruise control, but in a Twitter-driven world that’s old news. Even the pre-sense safety system which is able to apply brakes, close windows and sunroof ahead of impact, tighten seatbelts, activate hazard lights and tense the air suspension (if so-equipped) in case of imminent collision first arrived on the market in the A8 late last year. But those systems are just the beginning.

Top on our list of useful new technology is Audi’s new heads up display. On-lookers will note the housing atop the dash, but drivers will also notice a bit of mirroring on a patch of windshield just below the field of vision ahead. Once underway though, the system readily indicates your current speed as well as posted speed limits based on navigation data and the system’s ability to read road signs. It will be available from the time the A6 launches next September though we’re told it likely won’t have full sign reading ability straight out of the gate due to need to convert the sign-reading logic to any number of North American road signs.

Another interesting addition is what Audi calls Active Lane Assist. At speeds over 60 km/h (37 mph), the system monitors lines on the road and gently moves the car back into the lane should it begin to drive drift off course. We’ve seen other systems that instead mimic the pulsing of a rumble strip and, like those systems, Active Lane Assist can be deactivated. It should be clear that this won’t make your A6 autonomous like Audi’s Pike’s Peak TTS but it is actually quite a useful driver aid for those who tend to wander around their lane.

New for any Audi is the new Park Assist system that uses various sensors in the car to usher the vehicle into a tight spot. While it won’t do a sliding u-turn into a slot as an Audi A4 did during that commercial mocking Lexus’ own parking system, the new Audi Park Assist is definitely more functional than that of the lampooned Lexus. In the case of Audi, the park assist system will not only do parallel parking, it’ll also shoehorn the car into a perpendicular spot or exit it for that matter. The driver just manages the gas and the brake. We’re excited to get it and a new BMW 5-series with its own system and have a park-off.

One more card in the hand of an A6 owner is night vision. By using a thermal imaging camera, the system is able to sense pedestrians in its field of view. If it is tracking a pedestrian that is not in harm’s way then that figure is shown on the central instrument display screen in black and white. Should that pedestrian move into position for a potential collision, the figure on the screen changes to red.

Even those optional all-LED headlights have been improved. In the case of the A6, Audi has paired the lights with an interesting new adaptive lighting concept using Google navigation topographical data and a camera detecting oncoming cars to optimize lighting while constantly monitoring the environment in which the car is travelling.

Trick stuff.

Our particular A6 S-line is fitted with Audi’s 3.0T FSI supercharged V6 tuned to 300 hp (220kW) and 325 lb-ft of torque (440 Nm). Mated with a seven-speed S-tronic transmission, this setup is said to be good for a 5.5 second run from 0-62 mph and completes the European consumption cycle at 27 mpg.

When it comes to North America, the engine will be rated at 310 hp and be paired with the same eight-speed Tiptronic used in the A8. For all markets, power is put to the ground via Audi’s latest torque-vectoring quattro system with crown gear center differential and optional rear Sport Differential. Audi is already reporting that the US-spec setup will be good for 19 mpg city / 28 mpg highway, which is 13 percent better than equivalent versions of the outgoing A6.

There are some other North American details that should be mentioned. First, there’ll be a second A6 model with Audi’s 2.0T FSI engine pushing 211 hp and 258 lbs-ft. This four-cylinder will be available as both a quattro with the 8-speed Tiptronic and as front-wheel drive with Multitronic CVT. Expect the latter to achieve 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

3.0T models are still expected to be the larger part of the A6 mix. Expect North American 3.0T models to wear their market-specific ‘Supercharged’ badges on their front fenders instead of the confusing 3.0T nomenclature pushed in Europe. Pricing for the American 3.0T FSI is expected to start at around $50,000. For now there is no plan for an A6 Avant in North America, but as a consolation prize, a 3.0 TDI model has a chance.

As is typical, A6 option packages will base around the Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige breakdowns that have worked so well for Audi in the US. A standard DSP audio system will be offered for the Premium levels and a Bose surround sound system will be standard on the Prestige level. The aforementioned $6K plus Bang & Olufsen system will be a stand-alone option costing somewhere around $6000. XM NavTraffic will also be available on US-spec cars.

On the road between Sciacca and Sant’Anna the A6 feels much like an A8. Just like Audi’s big Q-ship, the A6 drives smaller (or rather lighter) than it is thanks to generous use of aluminum. S-line models like our tester skip the air suspension upgrade for more sporting steel sprung suspension tuned by quattro GmbH. That combined with the aforementioned lighter weight and an engine positioned further back in the chassis make for the best handling A6 we’ve driven to date.

Our car also has Audi Drive Select, Audi’s dial-a-driving-dynamic system that controls suspension, shift points, steering weight and ratio. The system is largely the same, though an Efficiency program has now been added to the usual Dynamic, Comfort and Individual settings.

In the curves, Audi’s new electromechanical steering has a satisfying level of weight to it. It feels a bit more communicative than that of the previous car, which is a bit like having cake and devouring it too because this new system is less drag on the engine, helping the car achieve its greater efficiency than its predecessor. Win:Win.

Audi’s 3.0T is well-placed in the A6. With less weight the car feels more alive than the car it replaces, but it might be disappointing to anyone stepping out of the lighter S4 with its greater 333 bhp. As with the S4 though, the roots style supercharger that sits atop the 3.0-liter V6 is as silent and refined as ever.

Less refined is the seven-speed S-tronic. What the dual clutch manumatic gearbox gives up in smooth and effortless launches it gains in lightning fast shifts. Gearheads and performance enthusiasts might prefer this gearbox (and they’ll likely get it when an S6 eventually arrives) but the mainstream buyers Audi is hoping to court with the new A6 will likely prefer the buttery smooth and even more efficient eight-speed Tiptronic that will be standard on all quattro A6 models.

Further up the road is Sant’Anna where, in the city center, we park the car and climb some marble steps for a stunning view of the countryside. As we return from our sightseeing, four paterfamilias sit on a bench, enjoying the morning sun while ogling the new Audi. They nod approvingly as we return to the A6. It’s clear they appreciate the lines of Audi’s new business class sedan and, with a little luck, they won’t notice the bits of fresh olives kicked up on the bodywork from a bit of misbehaving that happened in their nearby olive grove.

Check out more photos of this car and others from the Audi A6 launch in Italy via the Photo Gallery button below.

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For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.

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