Editor's note: This review was written in July 2015 for the significantly refreshed 2016 model; little has changed for 2017. To see what's new for 2017, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years here.
Automotive enthusiasts often disparage vehicles that aren’t cutting edge, hot performers or wildly styled. But real-world buyers outnumber the enthusiasts, and more often than not they’re just looking for something attractive, comfortable, efficient and reasonably priced. Sometimes they also want a little more pampering than normal, and for these people, Audi has crafted the latest A6 sedan.
The German automaker mildly revised the A6 for 2016, including a new base powertrain, its latest MMI multimedia system, some interior trim and color options, and improved fuel economy across all models. It’s not going to turn any new heads or find its way onto the bedroom walls of car-crazed teenagers, but for buyers seeking a solid, practical luxury car, the new A6 should appeal.
Exterior & Styling
The 2016 A6 looks pretty much like the 2015, as the styling updates are extremely subtle. Reshaped headlights with new LED running lights, a wider grille and a new bumper adorn the front end, while a new rear bumper and taillights appear out back. The overall effect makes the A6 look a little wider and slightly more aggressive, but it also looks so similar to the rest of the Audi lineup you’ll have to check the badge on the back to make sure it’s not an A4 or A8.
As we’ve said before, if you like the look of one Audi sedan, you’re likely to like them all. It’s attractive and understated, almost classic now, with its iconic arching roofline. Audi stylists didn’t change much, but they didn’t mess anything up, either.
How It Drives
There’s a new standard powertrain in the A6: a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine replaces last year’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, making considerably more power and torque. Horsepower goes from 220 to 252, while torque climbs from 258 to 273 pounds-feet. Audi threw out the old, unloved continuously variable automatic transmission in the base, front-wheel-drive A6 and replaced it with a seven-speed dual-clutch “S-tronic” model found in several other Volkswagen Group vehicles.
If you opt for Quattro all-wheel drive, you’ll be upgraded to the conventional eight-speed automatic transmission that was previously found only in V-6 models. An optional supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 is available. It also gets a power bump, from 310 hp to 333 hp. There’s also a TDI diesel model that doesn’t see any powertrain changes from 2015.
I drove an A6 2.0T Quattro, which is the version Audi says makes up the vast majority of A6 sales. Everything about the A6 is smooth and designed to be as uncomplicated, inoffensive and easy to get along with as possible.
The new engine is plenty powerful. Its improved torque allows for rapid off-the-line acceleration when called for, but also provides quiet motoring at highway cruising speeds. The exhaust has been tuned to produce a throatier growl when the throttle is aggressively applied, which it frequently was during my test drive through the hills above Santa Monica, Calif.
The transmission shifts smoothly and the car never seems to hunt for the right gear. My only real complaint with how the A6 drives has to do with its completely numb steering; it may as well be Nintendo’s latest gaming console for all the feel and feedback it provides. Using the Audi drive select function (now buried in a menu in the MMI system instead of having a dedicated button, as before) can increase the effort required for steering if put into Dynamic mode, but it doesn’t improve feedback at all.
The A6’s competitors tend to be more athletic. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has a wide range of powertrains, as well, and while it starts at a significantly higher price than the A6 and features a standard V-6, it matches up well in other respects. It’s a midsize German luxury sedan, but unlike the A6 the E-Class has rear-wheel drive, with better handling and steering feedback.
The same can be said for the BMW 5 Series and the Cadillac CTS, both of which feature base models with turbocharged 2.0-liter engines and optional all-wheel drive. Of all of them, the Cadillac has the most powerful base engine, the most torque and weighs the least — all factors contributing to its excellent overall performance.
The improved A6 powertrains also come with better EPA fuel-economy estimates. The 2.0-liter base engine sees its ratings rise to 24/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined in front-wheel-drive form and to 22/32/26 mpg for Quattro models. That’s an improvement of 2 mpg on the highway for front-drive models and 3 mpg on the highway and combined for the Quattro.
The 3.0-liter V-6 also sees a fuel-economy boost, coming in at 20/30/24 mpg, which is 2 mpg higher in the city and combined. It’s 3 mpg higher on the highway. The fuel economy champ is still the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel, however, which is rated 25/38/30 mpg.
The E-Class diesel bests the A6 diesel, coming in at 28/42/33 mpg thanks to rear-wheel drive and a smaller four-cylinder engine versus the A6’s diesel V-6. Opt for the base V-6 in the E400 and you’ll get a rating of 20/29/23 mpg. The most miserly CTS is the 2.0-liter rear-wheel-drive model rated 20/30/24 mpg. That’s considerably behind the A6. The BMW 528i, meanwhile, roughly matches the base A6 with 23/34/27 mpg.
Sliding into the A6’s comfortable front seats reveals a lovely, well-crafted interior that’s still a benchmark for quality fit and finish. Materials are of the highest caliber, even in base models, so no A6 feels overpriced in terms of appointments.
A couple of new color combinations are available for 2016 and a bit more chrome has been added to some of the controls, but that’s the extent of the interior changes — and it didn’t need much to begin with. Despite this overall shape and theme being present on Audi sedans for years now, it still looks fresh, feels luxurious and makes the A6 a pleasant place to be.
Outward visibility is quite good, with pillars that aren’t too thick and don’t create blind spots. Headroom is plentiful even with the moonroof, although the quarters are a bit more cramped in back than they could be. The A6 still has more legroom back there than any of its main competitors, however, and it’s where I’d choose to spend my time if I had to pick among the A6, CTS, 528i and E400.
The A6’s interior quality handily trumps the Cadillac — which is using loathsome touch-sensitive panels instead of buttons — and it feels more luxurious than the rather Spartan and hard-plastic BMW. The Mercedes-Benz E400 is a better match for the A6, but it’s more than ready for an update to Mercedes’ latest look; the E-Class interior feels a bit dated.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Audi is still using some of the finest switches and buttons ever to grace the inside of an automobile, making everything feel solid and well-assembled.
Electronics news for 2016 has to do with the new MMI system, an updated multimedia package that’s faster, has better graphics resolution and finally features USB ports (two of them) instead of Audi’s proprietary connectors for smartphones. The new MMI retains the same operational feel as the old one, in which four buttons that correspond to the four corners of the screen surround a rotary knob. It’s easy to use on the fly and doesn’t require you to look at your hand at all.
The speed of the new system is visibly improved (not that the old one felt slow), and features like real-time Google Maps for the navigation system seem much more fluid. BMW’s iDrive and Mercedes’ Comand aren’t bad systems, either, but neither is as easy to operate on-the-go as is Audi's MMI. Cadillac’s CUE system, however, still requires some work — it’s slow to react to voice commands, swipes or even changing tracks on a plugged-in smartphone.
Cargo & Storage
The A6 is a fairly large car, and that’s reflected in its luggage capacity; it bests all three competitors listed here. The A6 rings in at 14.1 cubic feet, which is expandable thanks to standard folding rear seats. The 528i has a comparably large trunk, at 14.0 cubic feet, and also features standard 60/40-split folding rear seats. The Cadillac is smaller, offering only 13.7 cubic feet, while the E-Class comes with just 12.9 cubic feet. Neither of those offer a standard split, folding bench — it’s optional.
As for crashworthiness, it doesn’t get any better than the 2016 A6’s results. The car scored a full five out of five stars across the board in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. It aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests, as well, earning good ratings (out of a possible poor, marginal, acceptable and good) and a Top Safety Pick Plus award. See the A6’s crash-test results here.
With the updates for 2016 have come a few new electronic safety options, as well. In addition to previously available forward collision warning and blind spot alert, a new lane keep assist feature now ties in with both, preventing you from changing lanes and accidentally merging into a car traveling in your rear blind spot.
A night-vision system is available, as is a parking aid with backup camera and sensors front and rear. As with most German luxury cars, however, very little of that comes standard. See what does come standard here.
Value in the Market
Audi has pretty much held the line on pricing, with the A6 2.0T front-wheel-drive starting at $47,125, including a destination fee. That price includes standard leather interior — a rarity among German luxury cars. Opt for Quattro all-wheel drive and you jump up to $49,325. Start adding basic options like any color paint other than black or white (every color costs an extra $575), premium equipment packages with all those electronic goodies and sport packages with bigger wheels and tires, and you can easily climb past $60,000 — even before you trade up to a V-6 model. Option up the most expensive version, the A6 TDI diesel, and you can easily top $84,000 — nearly double the starting price of the base A6.
The competition is similarly priced — except the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which starts considerably higher. Unlike the A6, the cheapest E-Class is the E250 Bluetec diesel, which rings in at $53,575. There’s no E550 sedan for 2016, making the E400 V-6 the top-of-the-line model (if one discounts the E63 AMG models, which compete more with Audi’s S vehicles, like the S6). The E400 starts at $64,025 and ranges all the way up to match the loaded A6, at $84,550.
The BMW 528i starts at $50,900 for a rear-wheel-drive model, or $53,200 for the xDrive all-wheel-drive variant. You can still get a V-8 in the BMW; if you do, the 550i xDrive tops $102,000 fully loaded.
The Cadillac CTS is more reasonably priced, starting at $46,340 for the 2.0-liter with rear-wheel drive and jumping up to $48,340 for all-wheel drive. The CTS has three optional powertrains, ranging up to a twin-turbo, 3.6-liter V-6 in the V-Sport model, which rings in at $60,335, and can be optioned up to the Premium trim model, which comes loaded at $70,335.