Car reviews - Audi - A6 - 2.0-litre range
Refinement, Multitronic transmission, all-round competency, standard equipment, price
Room for improvement
Lack of driver involvement, noisy ventilation fan, road noise
21 Oct 2011
ENTRY-LEVEL front-wheel-drive variants of Audi’s seventh-generation A6 have been launched at a busy time in the mid-size luxury sedan segment.
In a short space of time, the Australian market has seen BMW introduce downsized four-cylinder turbocharged engines plus adding idle-stop to its already frugal 520d and slashing 5 Series prices, Jaguar launch its most fuel-efficient engine ever and all-time low cost of entry to the beautifully facelifted XF range, Mercedes-Benz improve E-class fuel economy and Lexus debut its all-new GS.
Never has there been such accomplished competition for ambitious Audi and its A6, which has lagged behind its German competitors for some time. This is your chance, Audi: the pricing has to be right, the positioning has to be right and the product has to be right.
Two out of three isn’t bad for starters, with sharp pricing from $77,900 for the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol TFSI and just a $1000 premium for the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel TDI.
The petrol matches BMW’s new N20-engined 520i sedan while the diesel variant equals the new Jaguar XF 2.2D as the joint-cheapest oil-burner in its segment at $78,900, undercutting the 520d by $1800 and the Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI by $4400.
Audi hasn’t scrimped on equipment, either, for the list of standard kit includes hard-drive satellite-navigation with eight-inch screen and virtual CD stacker, electric front seat adjustment with memory, dual-zone climate-control and full leather upholstery.
And there’s more: USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth streaming, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control with braking, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, automatic wipers and headlights, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
BMW’s 5 Series comes with a list of gadgetry to rival Audi, but the ageing Benz E-class costs more yet casts the buyer into relative poverty when specified in entry-level diesel E220 CDI trim ($83,300), which misses out on more than just big ticket items like sat-nav, power seats and leather.
Other than a lack of Quattro and two fewer cylinders under the bonnet, the biggest specification difference between the four-pot A6 and the upper models is the consignment of the largely cosmetic S-Line pack to the options list.
On paper, there is little to choose between the three German contenders in terms of fuel efficiency and performance for both diesel and petrol drivetrains.
However, in a segment that is otherwise exclusively rear-drive, the two entry-level A6 variants send power to the road via the front wheels, rather than employing Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel drive system.
Once this would have been an issue – and remains so for front-drive envelope-pushers like the Ford Focus RS – but engineering and electronics advancements are such that the majority of drivers would rarely notice the difference these days and the advantage of front-drive compared with rear- or all-wheel drive is a saving in weight and friction losses, to the benefit of performance and economy.
On the road, the front-drive A6 shares interior vices with its more expensive variants, namely intrusive road noise on coarse-chip bitumen and less room for rear occupants than would be expected.
Apart from the substitution of classy aluminium or wood interior trim panels with metallic-painted plastic, which is remedied by ticking a relatively inexpensive option box ($600 for aluminium, $1360 for wood), the base A6 retains all of its cockpit appeal.
Beautifully textured and styled, with a feeling of well-hewn solidity and an intuitive layout, Audi has created another pleasant environment to occupy. In some ways it is even better than the larger – and far more expensive – A8.
Refinement from both petrol and diesel units is impressive, with the latter being so quiet once up to speed it is hard to identify as an oil-burner while the turbocharged, direct-injection petrol is torquey and flexible enough to rival some diesels while offering extra round-town quietness and smoothness.
Only at low speed or in traffic does the diesel make itself known, especially when the idle-stop kicks in. Perhaps eliminating the characteristic diesel shutdown shudder has been filed in the too-hard basket.
In return for the slight noise and smoothness trade-off is the diesel’s official combined fuel consumption figure of 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres against the petrol’s still impressive 6.4L/100km.
In real-world conditions driving through the Barossa valley, Adelaide hills and suburban Adelaide, we saw 6.8L/100km from the diesel.
Unlike the six-cylinder variants, which use a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the four-cylinder A6 engines are paired with a revised version of Audi’s Multitronic continually variable transmission (CVT).
Normally we would shudder at the thought of a CVT, but in this case it works incredibly well and even offers eight simulated ratios with either sports- or semi-automatic mode selected.
The engine is never allowed to rev wildly, rather settling in its torque sweet-spot and delivering linear power that is modulated primarily by throttle inputs, with an increase in revs only occurring during episodes of pedal-mashing.
A drone from the diesel can sometimes be detected under load but it is never intrusive and manual changes are close to instantaneous. A sports steering wheel with paddle shifters is a worthwhile and affordable ($530) option. So thumbs up for Multitronic.
The A6 never feels as big on the road as it looks, conveying the impression of lightness and agility, unlike the at-times cumbersome 5 Series.
However, in BMW’s favour, the 520d engine, linked with an eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic, makes power available in a more effortless manner than the equivalent Audi. That comes as a surprise given the 520d is only 5kW more powerful and lineball on torque.
The A6 never feels underpowered, but the BMW impresses with a feeling of always having plenty of extra power in reserve.
Things improve for the A6 with the Drive Select control set to Dynamic, but in our experience the 520d hits back by returning lower real-world fuel consumption than the Audi.
While the previous-generation A6 was criticised for a hard ride that was not adequately compensated by the car’s handling characteristics, the new version remains firm but mostly comfortable, without crashing over bumps or sending knobbly sensations through the chassis and steering.
Bodyroll is well controlled, the car feels well balanced and secure on twisty back roads, and the tyres gripped well in dry conditions. Despite the front-drive layout, only the odd chirp was heard from the tyres under brisk acceleration out of junctions.
Steering was accurate and pleasantly weighted with Drive Select set to automatic, but the extra effort required to move the wheel in Dynamic mode is not rewarded with extra feedback to the fingertips.
For Australian conditions, which for the majority of cases involve suburban and city driving with the occasional country stint, the four-cylinder A6 offers the prestige buyer value for money, refinement, fuel-efficiency, respectable all-round performance and decent – if not intoxicating – handling.
On the limit it may not offer the same level of involvement or adjustability as its rear-drive competitors, or the all-weather security of the more expensive Quattro variants, but Audi has finally come up with a highly competent – if not especially fun to drive – product that competes on a level playing field with the big-hitters from Munich and Stuttgart.
Our choice would be the 2.0-litre diesel – after all, $1000 is a small premium to pay for diesel power, especially considering the potential fuel and CO2 savings plus the engine’s petrol-like refinement.
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