While has become known as a builder of world-class sports cars, namely the and , the lifeblood of the company comes mainly from its sedans, the , and . They make up more than 40 percent of the company's sales in the U.S. And this year marks the arrival of a completely new A6, a car we sampled on the twisty roads of Sicily, home to the Targa Florio, one of the most exciting and dangerous races ever.
Granted, the new A6 seems hardly the ideal machine for these shoestring roads because of its large size, which is about the same size as the current A6. Still, from inside the car, the new A6 sedan felt smaller, thanks in part to its excellent maneuverability and robust power delivery.
Under the hood of our test car resides Audi's trusted 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that produces 311 bhp from 5250 to 6500 rpm and 325 lb.-ft. of torque from 2900 to 4500 rpm. The belt-driven supercharger provides 0.8 bar (11.6 psi) of pressure, coming on low in the rpm spectrum, so there's virtually no lag. In Europe, this engine comes mated to a new dual-clutch 7-speed S tronic transmission that sends power to all four wheels via Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. In North America we get an 8-speed Tiptronic with a torque converter.
Our test car was a European model, so we sampled the S tronic, a sportier gearbox. When the path is straight and even, the gearbox, in Sport mode, exhibits lightning fast up- and downshifts, allowing the executive sedan to run to 62 mph in a scant 5.5 seconds, according to Audi. But what's most impressive is this: The new 2012 Audi A6 achieves 22/36 mpg city/highway, a big improvement over the current model. (Audi says there will also be a diesel and hybrid model added to the A6 U.S. lineup next year.)
Part of the reason behind the added economy is that Audi engineers were able to cut 78 lb. from the car's curb weigh. With more than 20 percent of the body composed of aluminum, the new A6 tips the scales at 3836 lb. The new chassis is stiffer too, thanks in part to the use of "hot-shaped steel," which is heated in a furnace to almost 1832 degrees Fahrenheit, then immediately shaped in a water-cooled pressing at about 392 degrees F. This temperature differential allows the steel to achieve an extremely high tensile strength values at relatively low weight.
Tight Handling Via a Revised Suspension and Quattro
Providing stability through turns and over bumps is the suspension—a 5-link setup in front and trapezoidal links at rear, although an adaptive air suspension is available as an option. Together with the car's new electromechanical power steering, the A6 corners flatly and precisely. There's some understeer if you push too hard, but the handling balance is optimal for a jaunt on a mountain road, even one as narrow as those found in the Sicilian countryside. Because the Quattro awd system maintains a 40/60 front/rear torque split when driving normally, the A6 behaves like a rear-drive sedan; it's only when the system senses rear-wheel slip does it send additional power to the front wheels. Ride quality is smooth, and you can feel the rigidity of the chassis when going over bumps.
When it comes to appearance, the A6 shines. In my opinion, this is the best-looking car in the class. Its design is highlighted by the front end, whose mesmerizing optional "xenon " headlights make it instantly recognizable as an Audi, thanks to its LED daytime running light strip, a la the R8. Inside the cabin, you're surrounded by a well-appointed interior with new redesigned seats, and more space for rear-seat passengers, thanks in part to a longer wheelbase, now measuring 114.6 in. And the cabin is quiet—even at speeds of more than 100 mph, the interior seems like a sound-proof chamber.
There are heaps of technology found within the new A6, including ESP stability control, in-car WiFi, MMI navigation system with Google Earth maps and a great-sounding optional Bang & Olufsen stereo. Although Audi officials wouldn't discuss price, we predict that the 3.0 TFSI Quattro will go for about $55,000, while the value-oriented front-wheel-drive 2.0 TFSI sedan will be priced in the mid $40,000 range. Look for both cars to make a splash as soon as they go on sale in the U.S. in September.