Test Drive: 2014 Audi A6

2014 A6 exteriorAs a luxury brand, Audi is sometimes unjustly outshined by German counterparts BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s a bit of an outlier, the hipster of luxury brands, if you will. However, the quality, drive character and style of the Audi A6 make it a worthy competitor for the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class.

Where the BMW fancies itself a performance-oriented sedan, and the E-Class is the obvious choice for those seeking to be coddled in conventional luxury, Audi achieves symmetry in these areas. It is beautiful and luxurious, yet has a spirited drive quality, even when equipped with the base 220-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine, a 10 horsepower bump from last year’s model.

“A four cylinder?” you ask, skeptically. When paired with the eight-speed Tiptronic® automatic transmission with quattro® all-wheel drive, the base A6 2.0T is surprisingly spry. And it achieves impressive fuel economy numbers of 20 mpg city/29 highway/23 combined. Those looking for a bit more kick will want to move up to the supercharged 3.0T with a 310-horsepower V-6, which takes the A6 from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds. Most buyers will opt for this model, or the new A6 TDI clean diesel.

Even with the four-cylinder, the A6 is fun to drive. There is enough road feel that you don’t have the sensation that you’re floating down the highway in a land yacht, yet occupants are adequately spared any jarring from road bumps and imperfections. The steering is extremely light, to the point that when I got back into my everyday driver — a Mercedes GLK — it felt like my steering muscles had atrophied during my time in the A6.

2014 A6 interiorFrom an aesthetic standpoint, I’ve always felt that Audi has the best interiors in the business. They’re head and shoulders above BMW, in my opinion, and more tailored and elegant than Mercedes. Here, the A6 does not disappoint. You’ll find real leather surfaces, impressive aluminum and wood trim and inlays, a wraparound dash and Alcantara headliner — nary a hard plastic surface or chintzy material to be found. At night, the soft glow of the ambient lighting suffuses you with a sense of satiation and overindulgence.

Moving outside, the opulence fades a bit. The A6 is not unattractive; let’s just say it has a great personality. The LED lights that sort of squint from the front of the grille are appealing, but overall, the A6 doesn’t turn many heads, but rather fades into the crowd.

But technophiles will be absolutely thrilled with the A6. It is one of the most technologically advanced vehicles on the road, making 2000 “decisions” per second to assist the driver and help avoid collisions. Blind spot monitoring, pre-collision sensing, side assist, pre-sense rear, adaptive cruise control, heads-up display, night vision assistant – in short, Audi will do everything in its power to help avoid a crash, and to mitigate the damage if by chance you cannot.

And Audi connect® gives you the MMI Navigation system enhanced with Google Earth™ maps. It features real-time localized weather, news and live fuel prices; Google Voice™ Local Search for detailed information about travel destinations, such as restaurant or hotel hours, pricing and customer reviews; and the myAudi Destination feature, which allows users to log on to Google Earth from virtually any location in the U.S. and download up to 50 destinations to the vehicle.

This system used to be absolutely maddening to manage and operate, but has gotten exponentially more user-friendly and intuitive, with controls placed in ergonomically friendly locations on the center console. Clearly, it has an abundance of features, and while I wasn’t able to master the system in a week, proficiency can be achieved through everyday use rather than multiple trips to the Bible-thick user’s manual.

Overall, the A6 is an excellent choice for the luxury customer who likes to go against the grain, who appreciates both luxury and performance, and has high standards for quality. But, you won’t stand out in a crowd based on looks alone.

The Audi A6 starts at $45,200 for the quattro Triptronic equipped 2.0T model; the 2.0T tested here was $53,845 with options, including the Premium Plus package with Audi connect and other technology features ($4,300), upgraded sound system ($850), and the Sport package ($1,500).  The 3.0T starts at $55,100, the TDI model is $57,500 and the performance-oriented S6 has a base price of $73,400.

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