Car reviews - Audi - A6 - range
Smooth, intuitive drive experience, easily accessible hi-tech features, spacious and comfortable without being dynamically dull, fuel-efficient petrol engines, sharp price point for V6
Room for improvement
Some disappointing cabin finishes risk Audi’s reputation for landmark interiors, dual-clutch transmission hesitant in traffic, more cabin storage would be nice
Undeterred by ebbing exec sedan sales in luxury SUV boom, Audi impresses with new A6
29 Nov 2019
AMID a worldwide addiction to SUVs and complete abandonment of the traditional three-box body style by some carmakers, executive sedans remain an important pillar in the line-up of established – and not-so established – luxury car brands.
To this end, as the ninth generation in a bloodline dating back to the 1968 Audi 100, Ingolstadt’s latest A6 remains a technological flagship for the company.
It carries much of the new thinking applied to the plutocrat-positioned A8 limousine, adds a sprinkling of extra tech that won’t be available on the A8 until its next update, and combines this with a sub-$100,000 entry price.
This makes it accessible enough to be aspirational for those with a six- rather than seven-digit household income. They might ultimately drive out in a Q7 or Q8 SUV, but at least the allure of an A6 got them into the Audi showroom to begin with.
First drive impressions
EXECUTIVE sedans tend to be the canvas on which luxury car-makers showcase their technological prowess, so it is fitting that the new A6 cockpit is furnished with at least three big digital displays, arranged and tilted 10 degrees to seemingly envelop the driver in hi-res touchscreen tech.
It is a refinement of the three-screen setup that debuted in the A8 limo and a stepped, two-tier layout that is very on-trend and familiar to anyone who has had the privilege of a perch in the swoopy A7 Sportback.
So integrated with the dashboard architecture are these screens that the layout of their user interface effectively forms part of the car’s interior décor.
With the ignition turned off, their acreage of black blankness feels rather confronting.
Even then, as the first Audi to come standard with the company’s always-on Connect Plus telematics system, the smartphone in your pocket enables you to carry a bit of this car around with you, should it be synchronised with the relevant Audi app.
Because the A6 is connected to the LTE mobile network – included in the purchase price is a three-year Connect Plus subscription – it can keep the driver informed of weather and fuel prices at the destination programmed into the sat-nav and even automatically switch to online audio streaming if you lose reception of the radio station you are listening to.
This is also Audi’s first car to adopt an extended ‘plus’ version of the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel, offering new levels of display customisation and the full Google Earth experience of satellite imagery overlay for the sat-nav can be writ large on the big 12.3-inch cluster.
Customers trading up from the outgoing A6 will be blown away, the little screen rising from the old car’s dash now feeling decidedly old-hat and all those years spent mastering the MMI rotary controller system extinguished in an instant.
The good news is that unlike similarly tech-laden rivals, it is easy to just jump into the A6 and go for a drive.
Audi has clearly spent time making the most regularly used functions quick and easy to access. Beyond this, the driver can simply drag-and-drop touchscreen icons into their preferred order. Just like a smartphone.
Lamenting the loss of tactile satisfaction from Audi switchgear?
The company has replicated and perhaps even improved on this with the sensory and audible click delivered when
punching virtual buttons on its touchscreens.
It’s genuinely satisfying and makes navigating the various menus much less distracting while on the move.
We’re even willing to forgive Audi for moving all the climate control settings onto the lower touchscreen.
Temperature can be accurately changed by a fraction of a degree by stabbing repeatedly or dramatically increased or decreased with a swipe of the finger.
The same type of pinch/flick gesture used to zoom on a smartphone synchronises or separates the temperature settings for front driver and passenger.
It’s straightforward and the same gesture works on screen above’s sat-nav map.
Similarly, scrawling characters onto this lower screen can be used as a method of entering contact names or navigation addressess. Much better than before.
Attaching a smartphone is simple, too, and we’re glad to report the wireless Apple CarPlay (there’s a wireless charger too) does not overtake the native interface if you don’t want it to – maintaining the native nav in the Virtual Cockpit for example – and can happily operate in the background.
Unlike BMW, there’s no fee or subscription charge for CarPlay.
Hopefully by now you’re feeling a level of comfort that the new A6 you’re considering won’t drown you in a sea of difficult-to-master technology.
Of course, there are also new levels of active safety and driver assistance aids.
Audi Australia has thrown the catalogue at this model and scattered around the A6 are five radars, at least 12 ultrasonic sensors and enough cameras to assemble a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings.
The car will even prevent you from opening the door in front of another road user.
If anything, these systems are a bit panicky and over-sensitive.
The aforementioned door feature kicked in when someone was milling around beside the car and one example we
travelled in constantly nagged the driver to take hold the steering wheel, despite them grasping it firmly with both hands.
In the same car, shrill lane-departure beeps seemed to chime in at random.
There is quite a lot going on in the A6 cabin and we couldn’t help but feel Audi has sacrificed a little of its legendary interior quality along the way.
Beautiful, smooth-and-supple Valcona leather seat upholstery on up-spec variants is let down by grainy and obviously fake hide on the dash and elsewhere, while lighter colour schemes really expose the flimsy, unattractive, cheap plastic used on the seat sides – as well as the electric seat adjustment switches – to the point of being a confronting first sight upon opening the door.
Also, bumpy roads caused a dashboard rattle in one of the cars we drove.
Much better news comes with the driving experience.
This is a no-surprises car and quickly feels natural on the road.
In base 45 TFSI trim on 19-inch wheels and passive suspension, we found the A6 to feel comfortable and controlled through suburban Adelaide and dealt well with some pockmarked roads through the McLaren Vale wine region south of the city.
Progress is quiet, too, with little intrusion from road or wind noise and the engine only making itself heard when revved for overtaking.
Overall, though, the A6 doesn’t quite match the limo-lite sense of isolation achieved by a BMW 5 Series.
In default comfort driving mode, the A6 steering is mostly light but delivers more bite and feel at higher speeds with greater angles applied.
We really enjoyed its smooth, friction-free nature and it is direct and predictable enough, but fail to understand why such a large steering wheel diameter was chosen.
It is clear that the both 45 and 55 TFSI models tested on launch are geared more toward comfort and both executed this brief well on our launch drive, providing sufficient driver feedback in quicker corners without succumbing to wallowy or floaty sensations and suppressing body roll well.
With bigger 20-inch wheels and adaptive suspension of the more powerful 55 TFSI variant courtesy of its standard S Line pack, the ride is marginally busier but still impressive for ride comfort.
Little adjustment is required of the front seats to achieve a high level of comfort and the ease of adjusting them is commendable.
Subtle increases to exterior dimensions and a 12mm longer wheelbase have been amplified inside, with significant improvements to headroom, rear legroom and overall interior volume.
The outgoing A6 could hardly be described as cramped but we can report that both legroom and headroom in the new model are ample fore and aft, for 186cm occupants and above.
As is typical, the rear central position would only be temporarily tolerable due to its hard, humped design that robs comfort and space, along with the large transmission tunnel intrusion that would further compromise three-abreast travel.
At least the two outboard seats are supremely comfy, with good visibility.
Three-zone climate control is standard, but the optional four-zone system takes it to another level with additional face-level vents in the B-pillars and a full touchscreen control panel similar to that provided for front occupants.
Storage is OK for a sedan. A deep, broad glove box is supplemented by another about a third its size beside the driver’s right knee and all four door bins are generously sized with capacity for big drinks bottles.
A pair of cup-holders are provided in the centre console.
Under the central armrest is a disappointingly shallow space mostly taken up by the dedicated wireless phone charging tray.
There is little room for anything else besides a pair of USB sockets, while another pair of USBs are located for rear passengers beneath the climate control panel.
The fold-down central armrest provides further device storage for those in the rear, as well as a pair of flip-out cup-holders.
Map pockets of the net variety and a pair of coat hooks are also provided on the B-pillars.
Boot space and access are both good, with the 60:40 split-fold rear bench lockable to prevent access from inside the cabin.
The central section can also independently fold to provide a ski hatch.
Inside the boot is a large recess separated by an elasticated net and an anchor-shaped bag hook can descend from beneath the parcel shelf for securing shopping.
On both engine variants tested, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission exhibited hesitation when asked to quickly down-shift for burst of acceleration and was much more seamless on the up-shift.
However, the beefier torque output of the 55 TFSI meant it was less likely to down-shift and we found this smoother, more effortless drivetrain generally easier to live with and more befitting a large luxury sedan.
Audi reckons the four-cylinder 45 TFSI Quattro ($95,500 before on-road costs, 180kW/370Nm and 0-100km/h in 6.0 seconds) will be the biggest seller.
It’s able and responsive enough, if a bit uninspiring, and lacks that six-cylinder flexibility.
Compared with its German competitors, pricing and performance of the V6 55 TFSI Quattro ($116,000 plus on-roads, 250kW/500Nm and 0-100km/h in 5.1s) makes it look like good buying.
For perspective, a Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic is $146,340 + ORC and a BMW 540i is $142,900 + ORC.
Interestingly, there is also no fuel-efficiency penalty – at least on the official combined cycle – with both the four-cylinder 45 and V6 55 units rated at 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres.
A launch drive program has little bearing on real-world conditions but following the 300km or so drive program in South Australia with a mix of drivers behind the wheel, the 45 TFSI recorded 8.8L/100km and the 55 TFSI 9.5L/100km.
We’d wager that the superior 48-volt mild hybrid system of the 55 (the 45 makes do with a 12v setup) enables better urban fuel-efficiency.
The ‘coasting’ mode enabled by this system, where the engine shuts down and a trickle of electric power keeps the vehicle moving, is a little disconcerting at first but engages and disengages with impressive seamlessness.
It may not cosset its occupants in the way a BMW 5 Series does, but after most of a day travelling in the new A6 we appreciated the quiet, fuss-free way this car goes about its business.
This may sound strange, but it goes exactly as you’d expect based on how it looks.
There’s plenty of tech, a decent standard equipment list and pricing that leaves a substantial chunk of change for personalisation and options that give Audi something of an edge over its main German rivals.
Especially on the V6-powered 55 TFSI that drove more convincingly than the four-pot 45.
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