Audi A6 saloon
"The sleek Audi A6 looks familiar, but there's cutting-edge technology under the surface"
- Comfortable ride
- Impressive economy
- Futuristic technology
- Evolutionary style
- Expensive options
- Not a 'drivers' car'
The Audi A6 is embroiled in one of the fiercest rivalries in the car market and has been exchanging blows with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class for decades in the quest for class supremacy. Unfortunately, while the BMW is popularly regarded as 'the sporty one' and the Mercedes 'the luxurious one', the Audi's forte has never been quite so clear-cut.
This makes life very difficult for the A6, particularly with the advent of rivals like the Jaguar XF, Lexus GS and Volvo S90 and with such charismatic competition as the Maserati Ghibli. The latest generation, then, had to not only better its predecessor in every single area, but also introduce an extra element of desirability.
On the face of it, the latter seems to have been achieved with some style. Thanks to a sharp 'single-frame' grille, swept-back headlamps and razor-edge character lines, the overall look is familiar. Critics might say this evolutionary approach is a disappointment, but there's a sense the A6's design was always leading to where it is now. There's no doubting its presence, either – broad flares over the front and rear wheels lend it a sense of visual strength that the previous model never quite possessed.
Step inside and you're immediately aware of the other side of the A6's personality. The interior is likeably low-key, with a retro-inspired instrument pod set into a sleek dashboard with full-width air vents. It looks familiar and welcoming – particularly in lighter colours – but a second glance reveals that its friendly face masks some serious technology.
The full extent of this depends on how many optional extras are fitted, but a fully equipped model presents the driver with a configurable 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument panel, which can show full-colour 3D mapping over much of its expanse. To the right and slightly below is a large, glossy touchscreen that controls the A6's infotainment system by means of touch and swipe gestures, just like a smartphone. There's even 'haptic' feedback, giving you a click or vibration when you select a command.
A third screen is mounted directly below; this controls the air-conditioning and convenience functions and also accepts text inputs for the navigation and communications systems – it's well positioned for this, being more conveniently located than the larger, higher main infotainment screen. Not only is there masses of technology to aid convenience on the move, there's some clever thinking to make driving easier, too. Much of the autonomous technology of the bigger Audi A8 has trickled down to the A6, and its full potential will only be unlocked as legislation evolves to keep up.
One of the clever features just around the corner is remote parking, which allows you to send your car to a parking space by remote control, using a smartphone app. Even from launch, the Tour Assist package combined active cruise control with steering assistance to keep the car in its lane, while City Assist uses sensors to look out for traffic crossing your path and apply the brakes if necessary.
The A6 goes beyond cold, calculating technology, though – it's genuinely enjoyable to travel in. It's not the most invigorating car to drive, but few models can match it as a smooth, quiet and relaxing mile-muncher. This is especially the case when Audi's air suspension system is fitted; it does an impressive job of concealing road imperfections, even with big alloys fitted.
The four available engines all make use of 'mild hybrid' technology, which allows the A6 to coast without the engine running. It'll then restart when acceleration is called for, and Audi claims at least a 5% efficiency increase from this system alone. Entry-level is an all-new, 201bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder '40 TDI' diesel, while a 282bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel (badged 50 TDI) occupies the next rung on the ladder. High-performance S6 and RS6 models are also offered, and we've reviewed them separately, but the fastest A6 until then in the regular range is a 335bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6-badged 55 TFSI. A 2.0-litre petrol 40 TFSI has also joined the range, offering 242bhp.
The 2.0-litre diesel is expected to be the most popular, and we reckon it's all most buyers will really need. It's fast and quiet, and returns up to 48.7mpg, significantly bettering the 39.2mpg of the 3.0-litre diesel. Being the most in-demand version, it's likely to have the strongest residual values and will be the most cost-effective on a three-year finance deal.
We recommend pairing this engine with the entry-level Sport trim, as the larger wheels of S Line and Black Edition cars can ruin the ride slightly. Sport offers almost everything you might need, including LED headlights, upgraded navigation, a rear-view camera, leather seats (heated in the front), 2-zone climate control and DAB radio. S Line adds sporty styling and seats, plus larger alloy wheels and Matrix LED headlights, while Black Edition cars feature even larger wheels, black styling elements and privacy glass. The range-topping Vorsprung grade brings huge 21-inch wheels, all-wheel steering and luxuries including a panoramic sunroof and Bang & Olufsen stereo.
Audi doesn't have everything its own way, however – the brand came a disappointing 21st out of 30 in our 2020 Driver Power survey, but this was still significantly higher than its German rivals. Thanks to the A6's strong construction and cutting-edge safety technology, it was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Does the A6 finally have an edge over the 5 Series and E-Class? We reckon it does. The BMW is still the sharper drive and the Mercedes still the most opulent. But the A6 finally has a USP – it's the most sophisticated executive car you can buy.