One of the best perks of reviewing cars is that, occasionally, I get to hang with the folks who design and build them. So it was recently, on a trip through the hilly roads of Sonoma, Calif., that I tested the redesigned A6 seated next to its designer, Achim Badstubner, who had flown in from Germany. Of course, it's a thrill only when you like their work; otherwise it's an awkward drive. Fortunately, the A6's new contrivance is satisfying in every way. Badstubner discarded the old A6's flabby appearance, giving it a strapping, masculine architecture with high shoulders and an elegant front fascia. It's also slightly longer and roomier than the previous model.

The redesigned A6 is faster, too, with a 3.2-liter, V-6, 255-horsepower engine (35 more ponies than the outgoing model). And it's packed with technology, like full-time all-wheel drive, Tiptronic transmission and computer-guided steering and braking programs that make this sport sedan safer, with noticeably keener handling. Plus, with its 34 percent stiffer and somewhat lighter body than the old A6, I see Audi's midsizer taking on BMW's 5 Series for the first time. And now it's a real Teutonic battle.

Tip: Get exhilarating power and better standard features on the V-8, 335-horsepower model for about $10,000 more.