First Drives

18 May 2018

Review: 2018 Audi A6

The new A6 can't just be good, it has to be really good. Find out how it fares here

Tom Harrison
Car image



What is it?
A new Audi saloon, in size L to the A8’s XL, A4’s M and A3’s S. Its maker claims the eighth-generation A6 is a “multi-talent in the luxury class” that “brings numerous innovations to the segment…in terms of digitisation, comfort and sportiness”. Bold claims, and possibly justified given the A6 is based on the same platform as the A7 and A8, and thus gets much technology. Pretty much everything available on its bigger, more expensive stablemates, in fact, except the A8’s fancy AI autonomy. Technology like all-wheel steering, the mild-hybrid system that allows engine-off coasting at up to 99mph, and the twin-touchscreen ‘MMI touch’ infotainment system. More on all those later.

Problem is, the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Volvo S90 – the A6’s main competition – are all tremendously good cars. The BMW for the way it drives (an honourable mention for the Jaguar XF too, although it’s lacking elsewhere), the Mercedes for its refinement and the S90 for its serenity and Scandi-charm. If you’re in middle-management and want A Good Car, you are not without options. So the Audi A6 can’t just be good – it has to be really good, and in pretty much every conceivable way, just to compete.

Naturally it’s bigger than the car it replaces, by 7mm in length, 12mm in width and 2mm in height. And while there’s undoubtedly a lot of A4 and A8 going on in the design – because why wouldn’t there be – we think the A6 is a quietly handsome thing. Especially in S-Line trim, which adds a bit of aggression to what is otherwise a very subtle package. Better-proportioned than the A8, certainly, and (marginally) more interesting than the A4. More differentiates these three than separates the C-, E- and S-Class – that’s for sure. The wagon looks especially good, and will look better still when Audi pumps out the arches for the inevitable, million-horsepower RS6.

What is it like on the road?
Sadly, that isn’t yet. Like the A7 and A8, at launch you can choose between two engines of 3.0-litres and six-cylinders, one petrol and one diesel – the 55 TFSI and 50 TDI. The former gets a seven-speed ‘S-tronic’ dual-clutch gearbox, while the latter has an eight-speed auto. Both have Quattro AWD, but the petrol gets the newer version that uncouples the rear-axle when it isn’t needed for better economy. The A7 and A8 ranges stop there, but the A6 adds a 2.0-litre diesel option – the 40 TDI – which also gets Quattro and the seven-speed DCT.

A less powerful version of the 3.0-litre diesel – the 45 TDI, which we’ve tried – is available in other markets and may make it to the UK. We’re guessing a plug-in hybrid will be added to the range before long (to compete with the Mercedes E350e and BMW 540e), along with a 2.0-litre petrol, an S6 and in time, an RS6 range-topper.

All three launch engines get mild-hybrid technology, which uses a lithium-ion battery and belt alternator starter to give engine-off coasting between 54 and 158kph and super-smooth start/stop that kicks in when you drop below 14mph, and restarts when it senses the car ahead has moved off. Cars with this kind of tech have by far the smoothest stop/start systems – they’re the only cars in which we don’t immediately reach for the off button. Most of the time, you won’t notice whether the engine’s running or not – and that’s precisely the point.

We’ve tried all three available powertrains, and true to form there’s not a duffer among them. The new 2.0-litre diesel is especially impressive – punchy (204bhp), exceptionally quiet and a good match for the DCT to which it’s paired. As for the two 3.0-litres. In isolation the TDI is a fine thing, but exposure to the TFSI (or Mercedes’ new inline-six) really shows up its deficiencies – namely the extra volume and added vibrations. The petrol is whisper-quiet, satisfyingly brisk and unencumbered by the eight-speed auto – its DCT is sharper and more decisive.

Today’s A4 is as good an A4 as ever there’s been because Audi concentrated on making it as quiet, comfortable and refined as possible. It didn’t embark on a frankly unwinnable quest to make it better to drive than a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE. Which is why it’s a bit worrying the A6’s bumf is awash with words like ‘sporty’ and ‘dynamic’. Audi claims its new model is “noticeably more agile” than the car it replaces. And for the most part, it’s right. We’d stop short of calling it especially fun or in any way sporty, but the optional all-wheel steering system takes an easy foot out of the wheelbase and a metre out of the turning-circle, so is therefore well worth having.

There are four different suspension options – which one you get (or are allowed to specify) depends on the engine and trim level you’ve chosen. Besides the standard, steel springs there’s ‘Sports Suspension’ (a bit stiffer, lowers the body by 20mm), ‘Suspension with Damper Control’ (adds adaptive dampers and a 10mm drop from standard) and the top-of-the-line ‘Adaptive Air Suspension’. We’ve tried the last two (on admittedly quite smooth Portuguese mountain roads) and were impressed. Both setups seem to handle the A6’s bulk without issue and give a smooth ride on even especially abrasive cobblestones, and in their firmest settings. The A7 suffers when you equip it with big alloys, but happily it seems Audi’s fixed that problem for the A6.

Steering? Twirly light in any of its modes. Remote, as indeed you’d expect. In cars with all-wheel steering you get a ‘dynamic’ rack that basically makes up its own mind about how much steering lock is required depending on your current speed, whether you want it or not. Not the most confidence-inspiring setup, but we’d live with it for the four-wheel steering.

Layout, finish and space
Audi does interiors very well indeed. The design and layout of the A6’s cabin is more or less identical to the A8 and A7’s, and while it’s bound to be cheaper to buy (Audi hasn’t released prices just yet) the materials feel just as solid.

All models get a version of the ‘MMI Touch’ interface that debuted on the A8, and has since been fitted to the A7 (and, would you believe, the Lamborghini Urus). In its ultimate form, it mates two touchscreens – one of 10.1 and the other of 8.6 inches – with the tried-and-tested 12.3 inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ instrument cluster. The top touchscreen does infotainment and navigation, while the bottom takes care of the air conditioning. Haptic feedback – see your iPhone’s home button – is supposed to make the system easier to use while driving, but with Virtual Cockpit you can (and should) do most of the important stuff using the click-wheels and buttons on the steering wheel. It’s certainly a far better system than what Jaguar fits to its cars, but whether you prefer it to Mercedes’ ‘Command’ interface or BMW’s iDrive is, we reckon, entirely personal preference. They all do much the same thing nowadays, after all.

The seats are excellent, if not quite as plush as an expensive 5 Series’, and the driving position well-judged. But what impresses most about the A6 is how quiet it is. Whatever speed you’re doing, whatever surface you’re driving over, you need never speak to your passengers in anything more than a delicate whisper. You’d need some proper measuring equipment to see how much louder, if at all, the A6 is than the A8. We bet there’s nothing in it.

As for space – the A6 is physically bigger than the car it replaces, so naturally the interior is too. The 12mm longer wheelbase gives 21mm more legroom – trust us, you’ll be fine in the back – and at 530-litres the boot is as big as the BMW’s (and old A6’s) and only 10-litres shy of the Merc’s.

Verdict
More of an A8 than it’s ever been, the A6 is a superbly quiet, comfortable and refined thing that really makes you question why you’d spend the extra on the bigger, uglier car. It isn’t quite as good to drive as a BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF, but it’s better-looking than the former and a much cleverer, higher-quality product than the latter. Yes it’s a bit clinical, a bit boring, but you could levy that criticism at any car in this class. It’s an able competitor that come facelift time, will give BMW and Mercedes engineers a lot to think about.



Tags: bmw, mercedes, audi, a8, a6

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