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Car reviews - Audi - A6 - Avant 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Likes: Economy, refinement and power delivery of the diesel well thought-out luggage area competitive value equation
Room for improvement
Dislikes: Wind, road and suspension noise ride quality can be jittery on optional large wheels price can soar with options

Audi logo5 Jun 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI and TIM NICHOLSON

IRONICALLY, Audi has launched the latest version of the A6 most likely to be weighed down with a boot full of stuff, the Avant wagon, with the least powerful engines available in the range.

While the sedan can be had with a supercharged 3.0-litre petrol V6 with vision-blurring potency or a seriously grunty turbo-diesel of the same size – and will soon be available in tarmac-shredding, V8-powered S6 form – the Ingolstadt firm’s Australian outpost has plumped for modest 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines for the wagon.

These powerplants drive the front wheels through an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), and no all-wheel-drive Quattro version is offered.

Those who want an A6 wagon with all-wheel drive and the sedan’s bigger diesel engine will have to wait until later this year and accept the jacked-up suspension and beefy body accoutrements of the quasi-SUV A6 Allroad.

Obtaining the extra luggage space and versatility of the A6 Avant’s wagon body costs $3900 or $4000 over the equivalent sedan, depending on whether the 132kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol or 135kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is selected.

This is a far smaller premium than commanded by rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz for their luxury wagons and Audi has thrown in a few convenience measures to sweeten the deal.

First up, Audi has considered the plight of owners approaching their A6 Avant with arms full of shopping and the key in their pocket by supplying proximity-sensing keyless entry as standard and fitting an electric tailgate that opens automatically when it detects a kicking motion below the rear bumper.

Once the boot is opened, there is a uniform, 105cm-wide rectangular load bay, beautifully trimmed, luxuriantly carpeted and equipped with a telescopic aluminium arm, an extendable fabric strap and various adjustable nets and hooks that can be used to stop items moving around.

The 60:40 split rear bench is spring-loaded and folds to provide a flat load area at the pull of a lever, while the removable cargo blind incorporates another semi-transparent blind that can be affixed to the ceiling so that highly-stacked items – or pets – are prevented from entering the passenger compartment under braking.

When the rear seats are folded flat, the cargo blind unit can be relocated behind the front seats to provide the driver and front passenger with protection when travelling with a full load.

Total luggage space with the seats folded flat is slightly better than the equivalent BMW 5 Series at 1680 litres and comes with a 193cm load length, reducing to 565L and 118cm with the seats up.

Those needing more space than this could look at the more expensive but more powerful Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI Estate, which has a significantly larger load area and a third row of seats that can be lifted up from the luggage compartment floor.

The rest of the cabin is just as good as the A6 sedan and therefore a pleasant place to spend time, with plenty of space, high levels of comfort, well-chosen surface textures, beautiful attention to detail and a generally intuitive layout.

We prefer it to the similarly classy but angular and cluttered interior of an E-Class, or the masculine, bachelor-pad feel of the 5 Series.

As with the sedan, Audi has undercut the equivalent BMW 5 Series Touring – and is massively cheaper than the least-expensive Benz E-Class Estate – but it is not short on standard equipment, leaving buyers cross-shopping the Avant against German rivals with thousands in change to splurge on the extensive (and expensive) options list.

Audi’s top-spec hard-drive satellite-navigation infotainment system comes as standard, linked to an eight-inch screen that rises from the dash, providing a virtual CD stacker, Bluetooth streaming and connectivity for most music storage devices to be enjoyed through 10 speakers.

Standard comfort and convenience features include dual-zone climate-control, full leather upholstery with electrically-adjustable front seats, cruise control with braking, all-round parking sensors, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights.

As expected with a model of this calibre, a high level of safety is assured by a smattering of airbags and electronic crash-prevention acronyms, and the sedan received a five-star ANCAP rating following ‘best in class’ plaudits from Euro NCAP.

Despite a coupe-like roofline that swoops down from the B-pillars back, we found no issue with rear-seat headroom for even tall passengers, although we expected more knee-room for a six-footer behind a similarly tall driver in a car this big.

Audi expects 70 per cent of A6 Avant customers to go for the diesel, a choice we heartily recommend as it suits the car – and the CVT – far better than the petrol, is significantly more economical in real-world conditions, and costs just $1100 more.

Even if your default choice is petrol propulsion, we would recommend a test-drive of the diesel Avant as the car simply drives better with this engine and most of the time any diesely sound effects are absent – in fact, the petrol unit sounded quite like a diesel under acceleration.

We also found the diesel to be smoother and quieter in most situations. From almost any speed, a small squeeze of the accelerator is all it takes for a smooth increase in pace without any perceptible extra sound from under the bonnet, which to us is what a luxury car should feel like.

By comparison, the petrol engine felt a bit strained – although an improvement was felt by either selecting Sport mode on the transmission or moving the Drive Select control to Dynamic – and appeared to struggle with the Avant’s extra 65kg of mass over the sedan.

This raised questions over how it would cope with a full load of passengers and luggage or even towing a trailer (the petrol is rated to tow a braked trailer up to 1500kg, with the diesel rated for an extra 100kg).

Unusually, the petrol Avant we drove seemed more vocal than the diesel, with more engine noise entering the cabin than on the equivalent sedan.

Perhaps due to the engine’s extra weight, we also thought the diesel had a more comfortable, less jittery ride than the petrol, despite both cars tested being fitted with optional 18-inch wheels.

Like the sedan, the Avant felt well balanced and secure on twisty back roads, comfortable on motorways and with a firm but not crashy ride that is an improvement over the previous-generation A6.

Steering is accurate, pleasantly weighted and confidence-inspiring – if not terribly communicative –making it easy to access the Avant’s surprising agility and decent amounts of traction and grip, impressive qualities considering the unique position of the A6 as a front-drive car in a segment dominated by rear-wheel drive.

The Avant’s composure makes progress comfortable rather than thrilling and the car never feels as big as it looks, an effect amplified compared with the sedan due to the extra visibility and light coming from its third row of side windows.

In the petrol, we recorded fuel consumption of close to nine litres per 100 kilometres, way up on the claimed 6.5L/100km average, but the diesel got closer to its quoted figure of 5.1L/100km, with 5.9L/100km showing on the trip computer by the end of our journey from the southern highlands of New South Wales to Sydney.

A CVT can be a cringe-worthy affair of wildly-revving engines and a monotonous drone under acceleration, but Audi’s unit is among the best we have experienced, working perfectly to keep the diesel unit in its low-RPM sweet spot for smooth, refined progress, and was similarly impressive with the higher-revving petrol.

The transmission also offers eight simulated stepped ratios in manual and sport mode (paddle-shifters are a worthwhile and reasonably priced $530 optional extra) for extra interactivity on twisty roads or to provide engine braking on steep descents.

Our main complaint with either engine and transmission combination is a moment of hesitation that occurs when slowing down in preparation to stop but then speeding up again, for example at traffic lights that go green once approached.

The idle-stop system was also slow-witted at times, often cutting the engine just as we were about to move off, but it was the one area where petrol outdid diesel, as the latter suffered from shutdown shudder and restart rumble.

We noted a higher level of tyre noise than ideal for a luxury car with the acoustics of the Avant’s wagon body, especially on our test cars fitted with 18-inch wheels, and potholes also resulted in extra noise entering the cabin from the rear suspension.

Considering Audi’s work to make the A6 aerodynamic as well as light, we were surprised by the level of rustling wind noise around the mirrors, which more than once led us to check if the windows were fully closed.

The diesel we drove was specced up with $10,570 worth of options, bringing the value to almost $93,470 before taking on-road and dealer costs into account, and more than half of that went on cosmetic upgrades like alloy wheels, wood interior trim and metallic paint.

We thought that made equipment upgrades like the $3960 Technik Pack – comprising all-round parking cameras with top view, four-zone climate-control, sports steering wheel with paddle-shifters and Xenon headlights with LED daytime-running lights – look like good value.

Our petrol test car was worth closer to $100,000 with the options fitted, which in addition to the diesel’s upgrades included an excellent panoramic sunroof with electric blind plus tilt and slide functions ($2980) and useful head-up display ($2950).

After our brief drive of the A6 Avant and considering the limitations of front-wheel drive are unlikely to affect the majority of buyers, it has become our favourite luxury wagon – especially when fitted with the diesel engine.

It is high on style inside and out, well-specified and keenly priced. With judicious use of the options list, an A6 Avant driver will want for little in terms of creature comforts and still manage to save a few dollars compared with rival products.

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