When we reviewed the 2012 Audi A7, we found a near-perfect car, with cutting-edge connected cabin tech and a very efficient engine and transmission. Now the 2012 Audi A6 is here, and it differs little from its hatchback sibling, unsurprisingly as the two share a platform.
A midsize sedan, the A6 looks more conventional than the A7. Although the A7 is a couple of inches longer than the A6, the two cars have the same wheelbase length. The new A6 shows a refined grille design that deemphasizes the bumper, which gets lost under the fascia. Audi's LED parking lights gain a hook design on the A6, also seen on the A7.
With the A6 and A7, Audi is right on the cutting edge of automotive technology. The A6's navigation system gains new functionality from a dedicated Internet connection through T-Mobile, as it can connect to Google for search and satellite maps.
Although the navigation system, which shows up on a motorized display that slides out from under the dashboard, still offers the detailed 3D maps with rendered buildings and topographical terrain details we've been impressed by in previous Audi models, the Google Earth integration takes things a step further. Rather than drawn maps, the display shows satellite imagery of the area through which you're driving.
As these satellite images, with street names overlaid, are downloaded as you drive, they are likely to be more recently updated than the maps stored on the car's hard drive. The effect is so good that you will think the navigation system is showing real-time satellite video, and expect to see the top of the Audi A6 zooming down the streets depicted.
The only drawback with this system is that the car must be in range of a cell tower. If the connection fails, the maps degrade to a photographic blur. It would be nice if the system automatically reverted to its stored maps in this instance, but you have to make the switch manually.
Coupled with this navigation system is Google local search. You can enter any search term by voice or through the A6's interface, and the car will come up with a list of nearby businesses from Google that match the term. The system uses fuzzy logic, so you don't have to be precise with a business name. And the list from Google will be more comprehensive than the car's own stored points of interest. A nice addition would be for the Google search results to update the car's own POI database, but Audi has not taken this step yet.
The navigation system integrates traffic data, which is both displayed on the maps and used to dynamically route around problem areas. But on multiple occasions Audi's routing algorithm suggested badly jammed freeways rather than surface streets, even for distances as short as a half mile.
And given that the car has a dedicated data connection, an integrated Wi-Fi hot spot was a no-brainer for Audi. Passengers can take advantage of the hot spot with mobile devices, although these days most devices have their own 3G and 4G connections.
The Google integration is an excellent step forward, but as yet, Audi has not announced an app strategy to compete with Ford AppLink, BMW Connected, GM MyLink, or Toyota Entune. The car uses its data connection to bring in data about the weather, gas prices, news, and local landmarks, but it lacks Pandora integration and other familiar apps. However, Audi should be able to add such apps relatively easily.
Audio and interface
But the A6 does not lack for audio sources. Broadcast comes from satellite and HD Radio. Stored sources include iPod integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, an SD card slot, and the car's own hard drive. And in a big improvement from the previous generation, Audi moved the iPod port from the glovebox to the console, making it much easier to hook up when you get in the car.
In Premium Plus trim (as CNET's car was equipped) and Premium trim, the A6 gets a base, nonbranded audio system. In Prestige trim, buyers get a base Bose system or can upgrade to a Bang & Olufsen system. The base system is still very good, with plenty of detail and balanced frequency response, but audiophiles will want to move up to the Bang & Olufsen system, which delivers superb music reproduction.