Poke around a little into the biographies of history's well-known names and you'll find a few who had siblings whose own successes were inevitably overshadowed.
The Wright brothers had a younger sister who promoted their careers. Joe DiMaggio had a pair of brothers who played in the majors. R&B singers Erma and Carolyn Franklin saw their sister's career outshine their own. You know her as Aretha.
So it's in this vein that Audi's 2012 A6 is trying to get a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Much of the automotive world has been gaga over the A6's more dramatic sibling, the A7 Sportback, since it came out this summer. Lost in many discussions about the niche A7 were its esteemed components: the engine, the transmission and all-wheel-drive system.
Fortunately for the A6, which is much more of a bread-and-butter vehicle in terms of sales numbers, it inherits identical components. And it adds to them an equally impressive interior and a more mainstream look on the outside. The result is a sharp blade in the knife fight that is the mid-size luxury segment, which includes the Mercedes-Benz E350 and BMW 535i.
At the core of the $50,775 A6 is Audi's 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, tuned to put out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The company says this power plant will move the car from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds, a hiccup faster than the A7's 5.4 seconds, largely because of the A6 being 165 pounds lighter.
In any car it graces, this is an engine that finds you overusing the word smooth. A jaunt through the thesaurus suggests other descriptors like fluid, velvety and unruffled; this unit is all of those. It's quiet and composed deep into its power band, and the car's maximum torque is available at a wide range of 2,900 to 4,500 rpm.
The only transmission available with this engine is an eight-speed automatic with sport and manual modes. The two final ratios are in effect overdrive gears for highway cruising. Paired with the engine's direct injection, they enable the A6 to achieve an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. Over 345 miles of driving, I averaged 21.5 mpg, close to the A6's EPA combined rating of 22.
Some of those miles took me over twisted, serpentine roads, all the better to test the A6's permanent (and standard) all-wheel-drive system, the venerable quattro.
This system splits the engine's power, sending 60% to the rear wheels, and blesses the A6 with an encouraging degree of grip. This was aided, no doubt, by the fact that my test car had the 19-inch sport package, a $1,500 option that included a sport-tuned suspension and wheels wrapped in super-sticky summer performance tires.
Dig around a hard corner and you will come up with some understeer, but you're approaching the limit of physics at this point anyway. Should you approach that cliff of limitations, strong and firm brakes are ready to rein you in.
My biggest quibble with the A6's handling was its steering; not enough feedback and feel from the road and wheels makes it back to the driver's hands. Blame the electronically assisted, speed-sensitive system for the mute feel.
Being able to adjust the steering response through the standard Audi Drive Select system doesn't help; it just modulates the wheel's resistance in your hands.
The rest of the ride quality is rather tranquil, with the A6 exhibiting none of the harshness that can plague cars with larger-diameter rims and performance tires. (Looking at you, A7.)
In addition to being quiet, the A6's cabin presents passengers with more style and character than almost anything else in this class.
Nearly identical to that of the A7, the interior on the $57,470 A6 I tested featured a pop-up navigation screen using Google Earth, a touch pad for entering destination information, curved wood inserts in the doors and on the center console, and a secondary data screen between the speedometer and tachometer.
The most extravagant A6 buyers can knock the car's price over $72,000 with options such as adaptive cruise control, night vision, a Bang & Olufsen stereo system and full LED headlights.
A6 buyers looking for more or less car also have options. On the less side is the A6 2.0T, featuring a turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine good for 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This car is front-wheel-drive only and features a continuously variable transmission. It starts at $42,575.
On the (decidedly) more side, Audi recently announced its S6 variant. This car will feature a twin-turbo V-8 engine that makes 420 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque and routes power to all four wheels via a seven-speed, automated dual-clutch transmission. No word yet on when this will be available in the U.S., or what it will cost you.
As for safety, any A6 has eight air bags, stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system, and the car was recently named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Also included on the A6 I tested were the LED daytime running lights that are quickly becoming an Audi signature. They were undoubtedly the highlight on what is a relatively straightforward exterior, the front of which is further delineated as an Audi by the large trapezoidal grille
The back's design has the same lackadaisical approach to a car's rear end that's become endemic in Volkswagen and Audi sedans. It's a clean look, but perhaps a visit from Designers Without Borders is in order.
In the meantime, there is much to laud about the 2012 Audi A6. It does nearly everything well, better than most of its peers, and does it in a more quiet and humble manner than its attention-grabbing kin. The Franklin sisters would be proud.