Car reviews - Audi - A6 - sedan range
Diesel torque, smooth and quiet powertrains, quattro grip, driver ergonomics, all-round competence
Room for improvement
Some tyre rumble on coarse road surfaces, short and hard standard seats, light steering in comfort mode
18 Jul 2011
THE Audi A6 is where the German brand’s advanced technologies and styling cues congregate, but only after being trialled on Audi’s more glamorous and extravagant models such as the A8 limo, TT sports car and RS5 coupe.
After all, the average A6 buyer is a professional man aged 54. We are guessing he does not appreciate shocks, such as stock market crashes or a sudden burst of radical car styling.
So Audi wisely keeps the A6 on a steady, linear trajectory with evolutionary upgrades and tried-and-true technologies that managing director/engineer/accountant customers can appreciate.
However, hidden under its suave but undeniably conservative-looking suit, the latest, seventh-generation A6 has way-out-there design going on.
In a veritable riot of lightweight aluminium and steel, the A6’s body rests on an aluminium spaceframe, all in the name of improved performance on the road and at the fuel pump. Lots of motor companies talk about “light-weighting”, but Audi is leading from the front.
This hybrid construction – 20 per cent aluminium and 80 per cent steel – is a hand-me-down technology from the flagship A8, but, like receiving a near-new Armani suit from your rich older brother, it still looks impressive.
Trick torque-splitting quattro all-wheel drive technology from the hot-shot Audi RS5 sports coupe and an S-Tronic dual-clutch seven-speed transmission pioneered on the TT are other advances incorporated into the A6, elevating the mid-sized sedan to new heights, albeit not new ones for Audi overall.
Launched in Australia in three V6 quattro models, the 2011 A6 range is all about refinement – of styling, powertrains and chassis, all contributing to more refined ride, performance and fuel economy.
At the media launch on the splendiferous roads of New Zealand’s South Island, GoAuto sampled the two 3.0-litre V6 flagship models – the supercharged, direct-injected 220kW/440Nm petrol 3.0 TFSI and the turbo-diesel 180kw/500Nm 3.0 TDI (the base 2.8-litre petrol 150kW/280Nm 2.8 FSI was unavailable).
Starting at the top, we selected the petrol 3.0 TFSI first up, finding it easy to get settled behind the chunky sports steering wheel, with a little whirring electric seat adjustment.
Perfect ergonomics are let down by a rather hard, flat and short seat squab – a shortcoming that can be rectified (as we discovered later) by ticking the option box for the comfort or sports seat packages with their extra support and adjustment, albeit at a hefty price of as much as $2660.
Sumptuous leather and other high-grade finishes are par for the course in any Audi, along with satisfying switch gear. The A6 does not disappoint, although the ‘swoosh’ shapes of the polished wood inserts and other features – supposedly to add a little interest to the cabin – look a little contrived.
Simple round chrome-ringed speedo and tacho dials – attractively raised out of the black dash surface – are split by a large information screen that carries a smattering of useful housekeeping information right in front of the driver.
Hit the start button – ignition is keyless – and the engine leaps into life, along with the seven-inch multi-media screen that appears out of the dash, Buck Rogers style, to lock into place vertically above the console. We could not help thinking that the electric motors and mechanical levers driving this performance are just more things to go wrong later in the car’s life, compared with fixed screens offered by rivals.
Dubbed Multi Media Interface (MMI), the system is the nerve centre for a range of functions, including the Bose sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation and – on the high-end models such as this 3.0 TFSI – drive select.
The latter offers a range of modes to adjust the A6’s chassis and steering to suit the mood, ranging from a sporty ‘dynamic’ to ‘comfort’, plus a new one in any Audi – ‘efficiency’ – that adjusts the gear changes, air-conditioning and other parameters to maximise fuel economy.
All this is controlled by selection of console buttons – ‘radio’ ‘nav’ and so on – and a simple knob that is – unlike some others – intuitive and easy to learn.
Switching between the various chassis modes, we played a game of spot the difference in the settings and, frankly, the answer seemed to be ‘not much’, except in one area: the electric steering.
Because the A6 has followed in the footsteps of other top-end Audi models by adopting electric-assisted steering in place of the fuel-sapping hydraulic pump system, it becomes a relatively simple matter to adjust power assistance according to driving style or selectable mode.
In the ‘comfort’ or one-size-fits-all ‘auto’ modes of the drive-select system, we felt somewhat disconnected from the road, with steering lightness being the main feature.
But select ‘dynamic’ and that all changes, with a firmer steering feel and more natural inputs on winding roads.
This firmer steering adds to driver confidence, working in league with the sure-footed quattro all-wheel drive system that can shunt driving force between axles to maximise grip.
We even got to try this on an icy mountain-top proving ground called the Snow Farm, which includes a picturesque sky-high skating rink for cars. Fitted with winter tyres, the A6 negotiated various icy handling courses with remarkable resolve, its talents exceeding the expectations and abilities of Aussie drivers unfamiliar with the snow-bound conditions.
In more surefooted circumstances of the surrounding valleys, the A6 galloped along winding roads in easy style and, while the ride could be described as firm, even on the ‘comfort’ setting, all but the harshest bumps were absorbed satisfactorily.
The supercharged V6 – which has spread over a range of models in the Volkswagen kingdom – is quiet, smooth and powerful, without a trace of blower whine.
Undeniably quick under full acceleration – Audi claims a 5.5-second 0-100km/h sprint time – the A6 3.0 TFSI’s natural character is cruiser rather than bruiser. Frankly, the 3.0 TDI diesel variant felt just as quick under a fully extended right foot, and maybe even a fraction quicker in overtaking manoeuvres.
As one might expect from a VW Group diesel, this turbocharged V6 is not only smooth, quiet and amazingly torquey – try 500Nm – but also extremely efficient, with a claimed fuel efficiency rating of 6.0 litres per 100km.
The lack of diesel clatter and general insulated quietness of the A6, however, made the hum of tyre noise from the course-chip bitumen a little more noticeable than might otherwise be the case, along with a rustle of wind noise around the external mirrors.
Although Audi’s engineers took the trouble to move the front axle forward by placing it ahead of the clutch and transfer case to help lengthen the wheelbase, the interior is still a little on the tight side for a mid-sized prestige car.
For tall passengers, rear seat legroom could best be described as adequate and, while three adults can sit across the bench, it might be best for shorter trips only unless they are extremely good friends.
The boot, however, is useful, made even more so by split-fold rear seats.
Commendably, Audi Australia has elected to fit the S-Line sports pack as standard equipment on the three entry models, giving the exterior styling a lift with sportier front and rear air dam treatments, side skirts and other touches, such as a sports steering wheel.
Well, Australian A6 buyers are not that conservative …
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