The verdict: It got a lovely styling update, but a stiff ride and the proliferation of touch-sensitive controls haven’t made the new Audi A6 better than the old one.
Versus the competition: The field is thick with sportier alternatives (like the BMW 5 Series), more luxurious ones (the Mercedes-Benz E-Class) and some that can be had either way (Genesis G80), but few are as visually stylish as the A6.
When thinking of the generic, average mid-size European luxury sedan, the Audi A6 is a good image to keep in your head. It’s always been a cross between the luxury of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the sportiness of the BMW 5 Series. Competent, comfortable and long the benchmark for interior quality, the A6 keeps a lot of the things we’ve always enjoyed about it in its latest all-new version, the 2019 A6 3.0T Quattro. But some things have changed for the worse, including some basic things on the interior as well as the way the A6 rides and drives. Are the changes enough to sully our impression of the A6 overall, or are they minor quibbles with Audi’s latest effort in the mid-size luxury sedan category?
Looks Haven’t Suffered
One area where Audi has been successful with the new A6 is exterior styling. Yes, it’s a continuation of the “one sausage, many sizes” idea that has defined Audi sedans for decades now, but we don’t mind at all when the overall shape looks this good. The A6 has gone from being bland to mildly stylish to truly lovely in this latest iteration. It’s all in the details: The way that character line starts up front at the headlights, sweeps down the side and ends at the taillights is pure artistry. It gives the A6 a long, low look that adds presence to the styling and keeps onlookers interested. The latest LED headlights and taillights are yet more artistry, especially when you lock or unlock the vehicle. They do a dance routine that will have you using the key fob to lock and unlock the car as you approach or leave it, just so you can watch the miniature fireworks show.
Driving Experience Isn’t What It Was
Powering the A6 is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 engine making a healthy 335 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a standard seven-speed automatic transmission. Arriving late is a new 248-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that serves as the base engine, down 4 hp from 2018. Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive is standard on the A6 for 2019.
Despite having plenty of power on paper, the A6 doesn’t feel sprightly or quick; powertrain tuning has been tilted toward calm, sedate motoring instead of aggressive, entertaining performance. The new A6 sports a 48-volt electrical architecture that includes a mild-hybrid powertrain system, but the transmission feels slow to shift and eager to keep the car in low gears to maximize fuel economy. It doesn’t seem to like cold mornings, either, exhibiting a reluctance to shift after sitting all night. Audi reports a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds, but you’ll have to go hunting for that performance, as it feels hidden behind a more relaxed approach. Switching into Sport mode doesn’t seem to do much for its responses, so you may as well leave it in Comfort.
Steering is accurate but doesn’t provide much in the way of feel or feedback. Sport mode adds some heft to the steering effort, but feedback is lacking — again, more signs of the A6 being skewed toward luxury. It makes the ride a little confounding; it’s surprisingly firm, even in the softest Comfort mode setting. A surprising amount of harshness and road imperfections are transmitted into the cabin. You could blame the 20-inch wheels that came on my car, but not the softer winter tires with which it was fitted (Audi swapped the Sport Package’s 21-inch wheels on my test car for 20-inch winter tires because it was Michigan in January). Either way, the A6 feels like an odd mix of relaxed powertrain and confused body control.
If you’re seeking a more sporting flavor for your mid-size Audi, take a look at the S6, which is decidedly spicier. But if you want something sportier for the same money, the BMW 540i and Genesis G80 5.0 are worth a look. The 540i matches the A6’s power output but with a rear-biased chassis, and the G80 offers up a much more powerful 5.0-liter V-8 engine and all-wheel drive in a loaded trim that’s the same price as a base A6. If you’re seeking luxury over sport, the Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic is hard to beat as long as you stay away from the lengthy (and expensive) options list.
Fuel economy is middle-of-the-road, with the A6 rated 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined on premium gas. They’re decent numbers — proof that the car’s mild hybrid system is indeed providing some benefit; my week of testing netted a solid 25.4 mpg in mixed use. The competition compared with the A6 here can’t match the Audi unless you go to their less-powerful four-cylinder versions, with the Mercedes-Benz E450 earning a 20/28/23 mpg rating while the BMW 540i scores 21/29/24 mpg. The Genesis G80 makes you pay for that big V-8, sliding in with a dismal 15/23/18 mpg rating, though if you want to save a little cash and still enjoy a powerful luxury sedan with an outstanding engine, the 3.3-liter turbocharged V-6 G80 Sport is rated a better (but still bad) 17/24/20 mpg.
A Lesson to be Learned, Inside
Audi gives the interior the same design attention as the sheet metal, crafting a stunning, modern, sumptuous cabin that’s a visual delight. The modern design language of sharp angles and creative lighting is quite distinctive and attractive, but a problem is starting to rear its ugly head in the latest Volkswagen Group products, including this Audi: touch-sensitive panels instead of buttons. For climate control, audio and various other functions, the Audi A6 features two large touchscreen panels on the center console. They look pretty slick, but they don’t work well.