Published on Sunday 9 March 2014 00:50
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?
While Audi's A6 has long been the world's best selling Executive car, it's rarely been Britain's overall favourite. In fourth generation form though, there are fewer reasons than ever not to consider one, quieter, lighter and more spacious as it is compared to its predecessor. But then the issues with the previous version, such as they were, never had much to do with comfort. It was more about a slightly detached dynamic feel and running costs a tad higher than those of obvious rivals. If, as Audi claims, both of these things have been fixed in this MK4 model, then this is likely to be a formidable Management proposition.
Of course, you could argue that Audi really should be very good at making this kind of car by now. The Ingolstadt brand has, after all, been making mid-sized business four-doors since 1968, changing the badgework from 'Audi 100' to 'Audi A6' in 1994 but keeping the same Teutonically clinical approach to wafting middle-aged business people between British boardrooms. All the while though, the German brand has been refining its approach, for this car adding the more dynamic chassis from the A7 Sportback and using weight-saving techniques and high technology to match and beat the running costs of rivals. The result should be a formidable package. Let's check it out.
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 current generation 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 a wide choice of diesel units with the entry-level 177PS 2.0 TDI powerplant currently gradually being phased out in favour of a newer, more frugal Euro 6-compatible 190PS engine of the same size. Next up is a 204PS 3.0 TDI engine that offers the starting point for the option of a quattro 4WD system you have to have if you order this unit in 245PS guise. If that's not fast enough, there's a 313PS 3.0 BiTDI diesel range-topper.
Petrol choices are more niche-orientated. There's a pricey petrol/electric 2.0 TFSI Hybrid model with 245PS that'll be a rare sight here. Almost as rare in fact as the sporting 420PS 32v V8 4.0-litre S6 model which sits just below the fearsome RS6 flagship variant, offering 560PS from a more potent version of the same 4.0-litre V8.
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 just over £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. Emissions have been reduced across the board, notably with the frugally-focused ultra version of the 2.0 TDI which features a new generation 190PS powerplant that's at its most efficient mated to a twin-clutch auto gearbox. In this guise, you can expect 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and a class-leading CO2 return of 114g/km.
If you prefer something a little higher-tech, further up the range, there's the option of a 2.0 TFSI petrol/electric variant that manages 45.6mpg and 145g/km. Even the potent 313PS 3.0 BiTDI diesel manages 44.8mpg and 166g/km.
As you'd expect, A6 engines get 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.
Has Audi done enough with this fourth generation A6? Many thousands of managers who'll put many more thousands of miles under the wheels of their new A6s every month will feel so. As before, they'll value this car for its quiet, understated professionalism, further marvelling in this guise at its mind-boggling technology and rather wonderful cabin.
There are perhaps more characterful cars than this smart, efficient and perfectly mannered business conveyance - perhaps even some that feel sharper at the wheel. But it's hard to think of a more complete or cost-effective choice in this sector. It's all very vorsprung durch tecknik. And at the end of a very long day, you're likely to feel that that's what really matters.