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AUDI'S LIGHTER TOUCH
Published on Tuesday 21 May 2013 05:28
Ten Second Review
Putting the A6 on a strict diet, not getting too ambitious with expanding its size and focusing on sensible engine development has seen Audi markedly improve the efficiency of its executive saloon offering. Moving it to the undisputed number one sales position is the aim, but is the A6 too subtle to grab the limelight?
It may come as a bit of a surprise that Audi reckons its last A6 was the best selling executive saloon in the world. Admittedly a good slug of these sales come from China, where a locally produced long-wheelbase A6 has been a monster hit, but even without this skew on the figures, the A6 has done extremely well in taking on the likes of the Mercedes E Class and the BMW 5 Series. Here in Western Europe however, the A6 could often be found lagging behind these nemeses in the sales charts. The reasons are hard to establish but may have something to do with the more dynamic driving appeal and image of the BMW and Mercedes models, though with the most recent additions to the new A6 range - the sharper, heavier-hitting S6 and the 3.0 BiTDI Quattro, which at last gives Audi a diesel A6 with the muscle to take on BMW's 535d - there's every reason for BMW and Mercedes not to feel complacent.
But underlying that, latest focus on efficiency through lightweight construction should certainly consolidate its recent record of success and may even be the way to put European bums on seats.
Weight reduction as a method of improving the driving experience applies just as much to executive models as it does to sports cars. The benefits in terms of handling, braking and acceleration are easy to imagine but there are also key benefits for ride quality, especially if the weight reductions come, as they do in the A6, hand in hand with an increase in chassis stiffness. The A6 has never had the best reputation for ride, largely because it took Audi quite some time to figure out how to tune their suspensions systems to harmonise with the stiffer sidewalls of run-flat tyres. The latest A6 improves that situation by taking crucial unsprung weight out of the suspension system through the use of aluminium components and it also offers the option of adaptive air suspension with controlled damping.
Engines? The A6 gets four from the outset with as many as five more waiting in the wings. To begin with, Audi has concentrated on efficiency with a 175bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel earmarked as the big seller. Three more diesels are also available, all based on a 3.0-litre common-rail V6. The 202bhp version is offered with Audi's optional Multitronic continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive while the brawnier 243bhp V6 diesel will get quattro four-wheel drive and Audis seven-speed S-Tronic twin-clutch gearbox. The most recent addition to the line-up is the bi-turbo 3.0 BiTDI which delivers 309bhp and a whopping 479lb ft of torque from just 1450rpm. It's good for 62mph in 5.1 seconds which makes it even quicker than the 298bhp 3.0 TFSI which, with 298bhp, quattro four-wheel drive and a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, requires 5.5 seconds for the benchmark sprint. In fact, the only swifter car in the range is the S6 which, with its 414bhp petrol 4.4-litre bi-turbo V8, nails 62mph from rest in just 4.6 seconds.
Design and Build
If there was one defining characteristic of the old A6, it was its size. The thing was huge. While that was great for rear seat passengers and people smugglers, it never did much for the car as a dynamic entity and it's refreshing to see that Audi has resisted the temptation to go large again. The current A6 is both shorter and lower than its predecessor but a few millimetres wider. Despite that, rear legroom is up, due in no small part to the car's wheelbase being longer than before. Use of aluminium has cut the car's body and chassis weight by 15 per cent with 80kg being shaved off the final product. A kerb weight of 1575kg while for a diesel-engined car of this size is laudable. To put that figure into perspective, it's not much more than a Nissan 370Z coupe.
The styling is rather predictable, Audi deciding not to risk edgy styling on one of its mainstream cash cows, but the overall effect is cleaner and sleeker than before. The shorter front overhangs give the A6 a more dynamic stance, helped by the lower roof line and more aggressively tapered rear. It's a very assured piece of styling although not one that will provoke too much reaction. The interior follows a similar theme and will be familiar if you've given an A7 Sportback the once over. A wraparound dash with low key but high quality detailing follows Audi's latest design theme.
Market and Model
Audi's value for money proposition looks very convincing when you compare the A6's pricing against that of its key rivals and the amount of equipment that's included. Couple that with class-leading residual figures and you have a very strong financial argument indeed. The range opens at around £30,000 for the 2.0-litre diesel in SE trim. This includes alloy wheels, leather upholstery, cruise and front and rear parking controls, SD-based satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone preparation, split/folding rear seats and light and rain sensors. S line models add larger 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED daytime running elements, sports suspension, upgraded Valcona leather upholstery and an exclusive S line exterior and interior styling treatment.
Online services including news and weather information supplied by Google are accessible if the Mobile Telephone Preparation High option is specified. This option enables drivers to plot detailed routes on a home computer and download them to the navigation system when they start a trip. Google Earth images will also appear on the A6's dash display. The list of optional driver aids includes a night vision assistant employing a thermal imaging camera to highlight 'warm-blooded' road users in front of the car, a head-up display projecting key information onto the windscreen so that it appears to float about 2.5 metres ahead and a park assist system which automatically takes care of the steering function for the driver when manoeuvring into parallel or perpendicular parking spaces. Other options include comfort seats with heating, cooling and massaging functions, acoustic glazing, supple leather trimming for the centre console, a 15-speaker 1200-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system and a TV receiver.
Cost of Ownership
Given that a large number of A6s continue to be sold to business users, getting the numbers right is key and Audi has certainly concentrated on driving down CO2 outputs - and therefore tax liabilities - across the A6 range. Kicking off with the 132g/km 2.0-litre diesel, emissions have been reduced by around 15 per cent right across the board. Audi is also planning a 2.0-litre 243bhp petrol electric hybrid that offers zero emissions for city driving and will average over 45mpg. Exceptional aerodynamics and the replacement of inefficient torque converter automatics with twin-clutch automated manual and CVT transmissions also helps to improve economy.
The A6 features engine stop/start as standard, as well as regenerative braking, which improves economy by reducing alternator drag during normal driving, instead driving the alternator only during deceleration and braking. Another feature that ekes a little more out of a gallon of fuel is the electrically assisted power steering.
The A6 is an intriguing car and here's why. Audi has clearly done what was 'correct' from an environmental and financial perspective. This latest A6 is a markedly improved vehicle compared to its predecessor. This philosophical rectitude, however well it plays with board members and lobbyists, may not be enough to punt the A6 into the undisputed number one position that Audi seeks. I suspect that the key ingredient the A6 was lacking was attitude and this latest version doesn't appear to possess the X-factor, a force of personality that distinguishes the great from the good, though with the bi-turbo 3.0 BiTDI oil burner under its bonnet, it certainly doesn't want for pace while still returning very creditable economy and emissions figures while the S6 is verging on supercar fast.
It's often the case that the more we spend on our cars, the greater the divergence between what the car is and what the car says about you becomes. Cars that convey an overt message command a premium off the back of it and the A6's messages are so subtle they're in danger of being drowned out by pushier brands. But look beyond the oppositions hype, and the cerebral Audi A6 may well prove beguiling.