words: Stu Fowle

Two issues came up enough in our time with the new 2009 A6 3.0T that we just have to address them both right up front. The first is likely a no-brainer for our community, but the letter "T" doesn't necessarily stand for "turbocharger." Decades of tradition may have you believing otherwise but, well, deal with it. Or walk away shaking your head in confusion, just as we've seen a number of people do in the past week. In Audi-speak, "T" is now simply an indicator of any forced induction--in this case that means a supercharger. Our second note: people hear the word "supercharger" and expect that the next step after buckling up is to secure their eyeballs to ensure they don't slide out through their ears under full acceleration. The 'charger's intent in the A6 is to bridge the gap between V6 economy and a V8 powerband, not to disfigure passengers. With that established, we can move on.

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The changes for the '09 A6 aren't limited to the engine compartment or the addition of the new 3.0T model. The car also receives a number of subtle visual updates that keep Audi's segment leader modern and competitive. Like the A8, the A6 now wears a grille that isn't divided in half by an unattractive bumper bar, but instead uses one taller piece that pays homage to the legendary Auto Union Le Mans racers. We're told this generation of A6 was already close to being finalized when the move toward the single shield was adopted, so that's why it didn't happen until this mid-cycle refresh. It gives the front end an even more cohesive look, and the rest of the bumper too has been refined to give an aggressive, flowing appearance. That look is topped off by Audi's signature strips of LED driving lights, with six diodes residing in each headlight lens. They aren't as elegant as the shapelier units of the A5/S5 or R8, but they are distinctive.

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The detail-oriented among you will notice our car's naked front fenders, while auto show cars (and Jason Statham's ride in the new Super Bowl commercial) wear a silver "supercharged" badge that looks a bit like the ones on current S-line package cars. The rest of the world will get badge-less cars like ours here, but from April moving forward, American A6 3.0Ts will broadcast what's under the hood.

Audi has done away with the chrome strip that stretched across the trunk, connecting the top edge of the taillights, of the outgoing car. It isn't gone completely, but has been moved to the top edge of the bumper, below the trunk lid, where it's less noticeable and a bit more elegant. The trunk itself has also been restyled and now has a small lip at its top edge for a more dynamic look. Joined by wider, squinting LED taillights, a wider license plate cutout, and a new diffuser, those changes equate to a rear end that's less anonymous than the 2005-2008 A6.

Our favorite addition, though, is the fantastic set of shoes that came on our test car as part of the premium plus package, which also includes the LED running lights, bi-xenon headlamps with a self-leveling feature, a memory seat, auto-dimming mirrors, and aluminum window trim. These new 18-inch wheels, wrapped in Continental ContiProContact rubber, look bold enough to be part of an S-line package. Chicago's wintery weather helped us learn they're also easy to clean, while the Windy City's sharp-edged potholes taught us they're not too heavy when you have to change one out (though that's also a good thing all around.)

Inside the cabin, not much has changed other than a few trim pieces, a higher-resolution instrument panel, and new color options. The big news will be a switch to the latest generation of MMI, but that won't be happening until the fall of this year.

All 2009 A6 models also get a suspension update that, in Audi's words, "optimizes comfort and dynamic handling." Most of the attention was paid to the front of the car, where a number of parts were swapped. New springs have sharper, quicker response and the dampers feature a larger diameter (35 mm tubes versus 32 mm) and a new, optimized valve system. On 18-inch wheels, the car feels a bit harsher than we were expecting. Small road irregularities transmit themselves to the cabin while bigger bumps border on jarring. On the plus side, steering response feels a bit more direct, the A6 stays planted in corners better than ever, and the ride is confident and serene on smooth asphalt. A Quattro shift from a 50/50 torque split to a 60 percent rear-bias also aids the new car's dynamics. The 40/60 split can vary to deliver as much as 85 percent to the rear in aggressive driving or as much as 65 percent to the front when conditions call for that split.

The A6 3.0T's new grille isn't the only thing about this car that's suggestive of Audi heritage. Turbochargers may own the pages of the last few chapters in history books, but the Auto Union racers of the '30s used kompressors to make championship-delivering power. Still, rearward thinking can't be credited for this latest powerplant. Both bi-turbo and supercharged versions of this new V6 were subject to rigorous testing over the past few years and the latter came out on top in a number of ways. Starting performance, responsiveness, and packaging were among the supercharged unit's better assets, and any owner of a high-mileage 2.7-liter bi-turbo will likely agree with that last bit. How many, do you think, wish those two turbos were right up at the top of the engine compartment?

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Eaton was sourced for the Roots-style blower that sits atop the 3.0 TFSI engine. Its compact design allows it to sit between the cylinder banks, while direct-injection allows it to be piped in behind the throttle valve for better efficiency. Its pair of four-vane rotors spin as fast as 23,000 rpm and are capable of blowing a ton of air (literally, 2204 pounds per hour) into the cylinders.

During the first few seconds of acceleration, the engine characteristics feel similar to those of the naturally aspirated 3.2-liter-a touch coarse, but eager to rev. The difference comes as the tachometer slides beyond 2000 rpm, where the engine gains full steam and never seems to back down from its 300 hp and 310 lb-ft peak figures. An official 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds-just one-tenth behind the A6 4.2-supports our impressions of this newfound gusto. The best way to experience the new 3.0T is on the highway, though. Like BMW's 3.0-liter twin-turbo, this engine makes 10-mph speed increment changes feel effortless, as if a firm breeze, not the engine, were responsible. That's what Audi's supercharged V6 feels like, too. The blower does miraculous things in terms of refinement; gone is the bit of vibration that happens when you tip into the 3.2-liter's throttle. Pull a passing maneuver with the 3.0T and you'll be wondering why anyone might need two more cylinders. Other than the sweet, sweet noises of the 4.2, there's no real reason to make the step up.

There are numerous reasons to make the step down, however. The 3.0T delivers V8 smoothness and torque without the 4.2's low 16/23 mpg economy numbers. The EPA rates the car at 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and our time mixing between those two environments delivered an indicated 24.5 mpg, just a big above the official combined number. Those figures are also higher than a 2008 A6 3.2's 17/25 mpg, which might explain why that engine enters 2009 mated only with a front-drive, continuously variable transmission powertrain. That model equals the 3.0T's city number but squeaks out one more mile for every highway gallon.

Of course, the real hot topic among supercharged Audis this year will be the 333-hp S4 sedan, which we drove in November. With more power, less weight, and a price similar to the $52,425 our A6 3.0T Premium cost, that car will be the go-to choice for performance-oriented Audiphiles. But for drivers looking for a great combination of space, power, and efficiency, the 3.0T might just be the best A6 ever offered. It may pick up a few buyers who see the tuning potential wrapped in a discreet and luxurious package, but more importantly, it should keep Audi at the top of the highly-competitive mid-size luxury segment where, while many cars are topping 300 hp, few have torque figures just as high. Truth in Engineering, indeed.