"The A6 is Audi's answer to the BMW 5-Series. And this version is the best yet."
Audi has a lot to be proud of in the current A6. The preceding model didn’t really distinguish itself, seemingly happy to be a decent car that was easily overshadowed by executive car rivals from BMW and Mercedes. The latest model takes fight to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, using more lightweight materials in the construction to improve both performance and fuel efficiency at the same time. But Audi has managed to save the weight without cutting back on equipment, with the classy interior jammed full of all the hi-tech gadgets you’d expect from a luxury car. It's good enough to rival the Jaguar XF with its range of efficient diesels, plus it's the only car in its class that's offered with four-wheel drive. Beyond the saloon version, there's also an A6 Avant estate that comes with a more practical 565-litre boot, a rugged-looking A6 Allroad 4x4 and a pair of powerful S6 and RS6 models with more than 400bhp and quattro four-wheel drive. All in all, the A6 tops its class with real style.
Nearly all of the models in the A6 range now weigh less than other executive saloons from its German rivals, BMW and Mercedes. This is thanks to Audi's aluminium construction, which saves weight across the car with lightweight body panels. However, it doesn't feel quite as agile as the BMW 5 Series, with the steering not offering a lot of feedback. That said, there's very little body roll and the car does strike a strong balance between comfort and sportiness. The bottom-spec 175bhp 2.0-litre diesel has as much speed as most drivers will ever need (0-62mph in 8.2 seconds), while the 3.0-litre diesel and 3.0-litre turbo petrol offer terrific performance, but at a significant increase in price.
The entry-level SE specification comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and steel suspension as standard, which makes for a very comfortable driving experience. Inside you don’t get much road or wind noise, and the easily adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel make it quick and straightforward to find an ideal driving position that makes long motorway journeys a breeze. However, be careful when choosing the sportier S line models – they certainly look the part, with the 18-inch alloy wheels, a subtle bodykit and lower sports suspension, but their firmer suspension makes them crash through potholes. The new car is shorter than its predecessor but is also wider, so offers improved space in the back, which can comfortably accommodate two tall adults in the well-bolstered, supportive seats. The interior of the A6 is basically a very nice place to spend some time.
Audi's always had a strong reputation for build quality and reliability – and it looks like that is just getting better. The manufacturer climbed five places to finish overall 10th in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power survey. This sixth generation of A6 ranked 27th in the top 100 cars, an impressive 40 places above the previous model, but still slightly off the pace compared to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. The A6 is built using tried and tested engines and parts – like the seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox – that have showed their resilience and quality in the likes of the smaller A4 and flagship A8. It's all safe, securing the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests thanks to standard safety equipment like six airbags, traction control, tyre pressure monitoring and electronic stability control, plus options that include adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, blind spot warning and a night vision system that can detect pedestrians in the dark.
Shorter but wider than the old model, the latest A6 provides a lot more room in the back – with enough head, leg and shoulder room for two six-foot adults to sit comfortably. The 530-litre boot is pretty massive and betters the BMW 5 Series and is only marginally smaller than the Mercedes E-Class. Fold down the rear seats and the capacity increases to 995 litres, although the A6 Avant is the real answer to any luggage space needs, especially as the saloon's boot opening is a bit small and hard to negotiate with bulky items. There are plenty of storage cubbies inside, so it's fairly practical for an executive saloon.
Value for money
The A6 range starts at the entry-level SE, followed by the sportier S line model and the premium Black Edition. All specs are very well equipped. The SE comes with climate control, Google sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone, as well as automatic wipers, cruise control, parking sensors and leather seats. Go for the S line, and you get a bodykit, plus higher-quality leather, electrically adjustable sports seats and Xenon headlights. Buyers can also choose a head-up display system, night vision technology and an expensive Bang and Olufsen stereo. The Black Edition adds 20-inch titanium-style alloy wheels, a Bose sound system and privacy glass, plus the trademark black grille. Extras across the range include voice and touch-activated sat-nav and a TV – but get carried away with options, and you can easily double the initial list price. Resale values in the used car market are always high for the much-desired Audi models.
All that lightweight aluminium really pays dividends here. All models have impressive fuel efficiency – even the 242bhp 3.0-litre BiTurbo diesel with four-wheel drive and automatic gearbox manages nearly 45mpg in economy figures and 169g/km in CO2 emissions. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel is the top seller, and it's easy to see why as it returns nearly 60mpg and emits only 129g/km of CO2, so it's cheap to tax, too.