Among mid-size sedans, attractive design is easy to come by. Any number of average-priced family four-doors can be loaded up with big wheels and the latest electronics, and fancy versions approach the interior refinement that once was the exclusive province of German luxury sedans like the Audi A6. The current-gen A6 no longer stands out the way it did when it debuted in 2011, even when it’s sitting on 20-inch wheels and something lowlier such as a Mazda 6 Grand Touring or a Kia Optima SX pulls up alongside. But consider the A6 a primer for anyone unfamiliar with upscale badges: With this car, your extra expenditure buys substance, not just style.
At $72,175, however, our Florett Silver A6 3.0T Competition wasn’t much different from the last 3.0T Prestige we tested, despite the $5275 higher sticker. For that extra scratch, the new top-spec Competition model squeezes seven more horsepower from its supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 (for a total of 340), adds five-spoke wheels from the S6, paints the brake calipers red, and makes standard the Sport and Black Optic packages (sport suspension, summer tires, blacked-out grille, and gloss-black trim). It also borrows interior pieces from the S6, including its high-back front bucket seats, diamond-stitched leather inserts, and aggressive rear-seat bolsters. A flat-bottom steering wheel is fitted, unless you order the $500 Cold Weather package, which brings a circular wheel that’s heated (as well as heated rear seats). Our test car also had the $2550 Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, 360-degree cameras, and automatic high-beams). With the adaptive cruise and lane-keeping controls divided between two steering-column stalks with a rocker switch on one, the system is competent enough to automate the car in low-speed traffic but is complicated to adjust.
We fiddled with this system a few times, but the A6 prefers your hands and feet in charge—as do we. Step on the gas, steer into a turn, or get on the brakes, and the car’s responses explain why the A6 costs twice as much as a V-6 Honda Accord. The Audi’s supercharged six-cylinder engine is Bentley-silent at idle and at low speeds. Switch to Dynamic mode, and only a librarian would yell at it. The exhaust is mute and there’s a hushed intake snarl at redline where the ZF eight-speed automatic upshifts with a snap. Left in the Auto or Comfort setting, the A6 just glides, unperturbed by road imperfections, despite the firmer suspension and 20-inch wheels. Most drivers are unlikely to provoke the Competition model’s torque-vectoring rear differential, but in hard driving, it will provide more power to the outside rear wheel, sharpening turn-in and assisting with midcorner stability.
Shod with the standard Pirelli P Zeros, the A6 Competition produced lateral grip and braking numbers—0.93 g and a 159-foot stop from 70 mph—basically on par with the 3.0T Prestige we previously tested. Perhaps it was our car’s 87-pound weight disadvantage and lack of 93-octane fuel at our California testing locale, but we couldn’t muster any better than 5.2 seconds to 60 mph, versus the 4.6 we recorded in the regular A6 3.0T. Although the A6 Competition had a slight edge in rolling-start and midrange acceleration, seven extra ponies and an identical 325 lb-ft of torque clearly aren’t transformational. That’s still plenty of shove, certainly enough to make a good argument for the supercharged V-6 over the base turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four.
Even next to newer competitors such as the Mercedes-AMG E43 and the BMW 540i, the Audi’s powertrain and chassis hold their own. The A6’s age is revealed by its MMI infotainment system, which relies on a separate touchpad for zooming maps, switching radio presets, and handwriting recognition. That said, it’s still one of the most intuitive setups available. For its newest cars, though, Audi has shifted that functionality onto the surface of a larger scrolling knob and has deleted the four submenu buttons surrounding it. This isn’t a deal breaker, but after sampling the simpler hardware and fresher graphics on the latest A3 and A4, it’s clear the new setup is an improvement. Materials and overall fit are exemplary—another area where the A6 feels as fresh as ever—and this test example’s red contrast stitching and piano-black trim announce its serious capability without the garishness of some other manufacturers’ sporty interiors. We also dig the classic analog gauges, which are canted slightly toward the center display in the instrument cluster. The car’s age again shows in its older electronics—especially the power-retracting infotainment screen that makes uncouth motorized noises—along with the lack of customizable ambient lighting and adjustable side bolstering. An all-new A6 is imminent.
Yet the biggest counterpoint to this A6 isn’t the age of the underlying car. As priced, the 3.0T Competition is at eye level with the 450-hp S6, but it doesn’t offer any tangible performance advantage over the regular 3.0T. As much of a handsome S6 look-alike as it is, you can order different, equally pretty 20-inch wheels (with summer tires and a sport suspension) on a loaded A6 Prestige for thousands less. Whichever A6 you choose, the Optima driver one lane over may not understand why you bought an Audi, but you certainly will.
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