2016 Audi A6.

There are a lot of words for it in the car business.

Some of them are neutral, like “mid-cycle freshening,” or “life cycle impulse.” And some of them are pejorative, like “facelift.” They all describe what a car manufacturer does to reinvigorate a vehicle which has been on sale for a few years, but is still a couple of years away from the introduction of its next generation. Usually, and this is where the term facelift comes from, this just entails cosmetic changes: some new wheel designs, maybe different front and rear bumpers, and updated light graphics. Sometimes, car brands will go a bit farther, and throw in some extra equipment along with the cosmetic changes at no cost. A bit of spit-and-polish, papering over the cracks while the engineers and designers plug away at the new car.
Which is why this 2016 Audi A6 – ostensibly the usual facial rejuvenation – took me by such surprise.
At first glance, it does not even look like a facelifted version of the last A6. True Audi geeks would struggle, at least without the lights on, to see the difference from the 2015 (with the lights on, it’s easy: they’ve have been redone in bright LED “light pipes” and the arrowhead shapes formed front and rear have an almost Lamborghini-esque look to their graphics). Inside, the dash is the same shape, a big swoop inlaid with wood, aluminum, and a pop-up display screen, beautifully finished and nicely laid-out.
It’s the small details inside, though, that start to clue you into the thoroughness of the job Audi’s done with the A6. The first thing you notice is arguable the most subtle thing: the resolution of the infotainment display that rises out of the dash is so crisp that looking at it feels like watching sports in HD after you’ve gotten used to conventional TV. The information display between the instruments is sharper, too, allowing it to display trip computer information, infotainment settings, and navigation directions with beautifully-rendered graphics. Everything in the car ties back to these displays: whether you’re adjusting the climate control, making use of one of the multitude of seat adjustments, or altering the throttle and gearbox settings using Audi Drive Select, you get immediate visual as well as tactile feedback – and the overall effect is to render the car far more upscale and sophisticated than its competitors.
Digital displays aside, this is a gorgeous, spacious, well-stocked interior, filed with thoughtful touches that elevate it beyond its midlevel positioning in Audi’s lineup. For instance: the available 18-way individual contour seats not only come with adjustable lumbar support, thigh support, and side bolsters, but the bolsters actually relax when you switch off the car to make it even easier to get in and out. A multi-function knob on the side (in conjunction with the display) lets you easily select its various adjustments and even what sort of massage you’d like it to deliver. Front head- and legroom feels almost A8 expansive, and the rear seat has more than enough space for a couple of adults. The quality of the materials, from the big planks of wood on the doors and console, to the aluminum trim that wraps around the base of the windshield and onto the doors, to the knobs and switches for the MMI system, is stunning; the knurling on the knobs is as nice as any Bentley, and the design more modern too.
The A6 offers big-luxury-car features as well as big-luxury-car quality. The march of technology being what it is, gadgets that were once only available on vehicles costing over $100,000 now take the experience of driving this midsize Audi, which starts at just $56,900 and rises to around $80,000 for a fully-loaded 3.0T with all the options, to a whole new level. The driver assistance package ($2,900) includes active lane assist, Audi pre-sense plus, and active cruise control with a stop-and-go function that makes city driving effortless. A heads-up display ($1,500) projects essential information onto the windshield to make it easier to concentrate on the road ahead. The standard infotainment system features brilliant satellite navigation that you can program by scribbling addresses using your finger, two SD card sots, an iPod interface, Bluetooth streaming, and a killer Bose sound system (a Bang & Olufsen upgrade is available, too). At night, everything is bathed in cool LED light, and everything is brilliantly easy to use.
Which begs the question: what exactly do you get in the more expensive A8 if the A6 is so well-stocked? For one thing, you get more space in the rear – and the option of a long-wheelbase version with an especially expansive rear cabin. You get a trunk that is larger, though not by much. The interior is even more cocooning, and the options list is even longer, stretching to rear-seat entertainment, full leather, and the ability to choose two complementary trim finishes. Its aluminum construction is more sophisticated, and air suspension gives a greater variability of driving behaviour – even more comfortable when you want to cruise, and stiffer and sportier when you want to have some fun.
How does the A6 drive? As well as, if not better than, anything from the class above. The defining characteristic isn’t the speed (although the supercharged V6 and its attached eight-speed automatic deliver plenty of that), or its handling (which is, in Audi fashion, unflappable, secure, and confidence-inspiring in all conditions). It’s the refinement. A combination of slippery aerodynamics, intelligent sound tuning, and the sweating of every single detail have given the new A6 such a sense of calm. The ride is smooth and well-damped, even on the optional 20-inch alloys; the engine never makes any more than a distant murmur even when you’re pressing on, and wind and road noise are notable only by their almost total absence.
Despite the S-line styling, I wouldn’t describe the new A6 as sporty or exciting – if you need similar space and want to raise your heart rate, consider the sportier A7, which has many of the same upgrades but a more focused driving experience and its sportier profile. indeed, the A6’s mission is quite the opposite. Like the bigger A8, it’s a pocket of calm in a noisy, busy, and increasingly hyperactive world, its luxurious interior and impressive refinement there to soothe you and your passengers. In that way, it’s an old-school German luxury car, and all the better for it.