It might surprise you to learn but there's real passion at Audi. The brand has cornered the market in stylish vehicles that seldom relay passion through their design. Consider the R8: It's everything you could want in an exotic car that looks like it's never heard of Italy.
Audi's passion lies under the skin, in the mechanical technology, and now, in the 21st century, the electronic technology. What began as a passion for turbocharging and all-wheel drive has morphed into an insatiable need to seamlessly embed well-sorted technology into the hands of a driver, whether they know it or not. Thus enters the 2019 Audi A6.
Recently, Audi rolled out a brace of A6s for us to sample. While the exact U.S. specification wasn't available, the cars provided offered a solid vision of what Audi has up its sleeve for the North American market.
A Brave New World
The 2019 Audi A6 flies the family flag with a strong resemblance to the A8, the A7 and the new A5. But there's also a bit more flair and muscle in the design. Both front and rear fenders are accentuated by sculpting of both upward facing and side facing surfaces to create a restrained but still muscular appearance. If you see a bit of RS 5 (maybe a little of the original Quattro if you really squint), then head designer Helmut Jung has succeeded in providing what he calls, "A little RS for everybody."
Moving inside, Audi's obsession for technology becomes immediately clear. Physical buttons have largely been eliminated from the interior (even the rear-seat climate control) and replaced by two large, stacked touchscreens in the center of the dash. The cars we sampled all had the optional 10.1-inch upper screen (the standard screen is just over 8 inches) and an 8.6-inch lower screen that does double duty, housing climate control functions and a full keyboard when needed. The new system even has handwriting recognition that's not limited to single-letter inputs — you can write out an entire word. That's trick.
The real surprise is that in an effort to mimic the interface of a phone, Audi has ditched the physical rotary controller, relying instead on the touchscreens with haptic and acoustic feedback. So what, you ask? Well, there was nothing wrong with the old interface, which was one of the more intuitive examples on the market, but Audi wanted to push ahead so it's gone all in. Remember that passion thing? This is the manifestation of it.
Fortunately, the belief in the system is well-founded. Our fears that the Audi system would be as clumsy as other entertainment systems that rely on touch-sensitive controls are immediately dismissed. The system worked quickly and emitted sounds similar to the satisfying clicks made by the old control knob. The response time was very good, and the high-resolution screens and large icons made it a breeze to navigate. In one stroke, Audi has made the now-ubiquitous control knob old hat.
Another trick is the ability to customize the menu layout, much like you would on your phone. You can even personalize it by creating favorites and shortcuts in a matter of seconds. Audi says up to 400 parameters can be modified and saved to any one of six driver profiles.
Just Drive It Already
Out on the road, the 2019 A6 continues in the finest German tradition of being a highway-crushing business sedan. Progress is swift and quiet at all speeds thanks to ample thrust from the muted turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, which makes 340 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Naturally, all-wheel drive is standard, and the system does well to put that power to good use through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The motor has good low and midrange punch, but it feels as if it lacks a bit of the top-end thrust we've come to love in our long-term BMW 540i. Still, we have no reason to doubt Audi's low-5-second 0-60 mph claim, and we'll confirm it once we get a vehicle in for instrumented testing.
Outfitted with the optional Michelin summer tires, the A6's handling is more than adequate for the winding roads of our drive loop. The chassis has good composure, even in quick transitions, and the A6 is capable of surprising pace along tight and technical roads. The steel springs did well to balance feel, control and comfort over a variety of surfaces, so we're curious how the optional sport variant will fare. Something to watch out for in the future is rear-wheel steering, but Audi's staying tight-lipped as to when that might come out.
Even with all that ingrained performance, the 2019 Audi A6 is also a mild hybrid thanks to a 48-volt system capable of regenerating and storing power in a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery pack. An expected combined, but unconfirmed, fuel economy number we heard floating around was somewhere in the mid-30s, which would be remarkable, but we won't count it out until we see official figures.
Here a Sensor, There a Sensor
Audi's doubled down on its driver assist systems, too, offering 39 different types that bring comfort, safety and efficiency benefits. These systems can be tailored to match a driver's preferred driving style.
The efficiency systems are worth a closer look. Using predictive route data from the navigation system as well as data constantly transmitted from Audi, the A6 is aware of speed limits, road direction and changes in elevation. With this knowledge, the car can elect to shut off its engine when it's not needed and coast in the name of better fuel economy. Such feats take a massive amount of sensors and computing power. When fully equipped, the A6 has 24 sensors positioned around the car, including the laser scanner we saw introduced on the new A8.
Experiencing this array of technology during an abbreviated first drive left us considerably impressed with not only the way the A6 achieves its traditional business sedan performance, but also with Audi's dedication to and integration of thoroughly modern technology both inside and out.
Pricing hasn't been released as of this time of writing, but we expect the 2019 Audi A6 to cost about the same as the current model and for it to go on sale this fall. The A6 squares up against the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but all of its new technology might put these two on the back foot.