Audi A6 Avant estate
"With sophisticated road manners, an efficient engine and lovely interior, the Audi A6 Avant is a great reason not to buy an SUV"
- Impressive 40 TDI engine
- Agile and comfortable
- Fantastic interior
- Mercedes E-Class has a bigger boot
- Virtual Cockpit isn't standard
- 50 TDI feels coarse
Despite the popularity of SUVs taking its toll on the sales of large estate cars, the rivalry between the Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class Estate remains as fierce as ever. With newcomers as impressive as the Volvo V90 also arriving on the scene, manufacturers certainly won't want to be caught napping.
The result of Audi's engineering efforts is an eighth-generation A6 Avant that handles better than before, has an incredible interior and rides serenely in spite of large alloy wheels. It's no more focussed on load-lugging this time around, though, and if a 586-litre boot can't accomodate your needs, the Mercedes E-Class Estate remains a more versatile option.
Slightly shorter, but wider and taller than before, the A6 Avant looks lean, and despite there being few surprises in its evolutionary design, the finished article looks taut and expensive. Almost impossibly sharp creases in its metalwork lend the estate a technical attitude, backed up by intricate LED headlights and bold new design for the rear light clusters.
The combination of Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and two touchscreen displays stacked on the central console are sure to impress anyone sitting in the A6 Avant for the first time, although it's a shame this setup isn't standard. It's a testament to their intuitive controls that a lack of buttons doesn't feel unnatural, and features like haptic feedback, voice control and a gearlever that doubles as an armrest mean exploiting the A6 Avant's technology requires only a quick learning process.
On the move, the big Audi is as smooth and quiet as a limousine, even if you're behind the wheel of the standard model that does without air suspension. Yet it's also more agile. There's a fleet-footedness to this model that's been missing before, helping the A6 Avant to feel smaller and more enjoyable from behind the wheel now – even if enthusiasts are still likely to enjoy a BMW 5 Series Touring slightly more.
This newfound ability is more obvious in the lighter, entry-level 2.0-litre 40 TDI model, too, making it our pick of the range. It's an impressive new engine, with mild-hybrid technology and 202bhp, offering plenty of performance. Fuel economy of 48.7mpg and 153g/km CO2 emissions will guarantee it sales, but it's also smoother, quieter and more responsive than the 3.0-litre 50 TDI with its brawny 284bhp. That flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that six-cylinder engines are better-mannered, and is mainly because the smaller engine has a better automatic gearbox.
The A6 has been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, and this tech-laden car has come away with the expected five stars, thanks to its stiff body shell and standard features like autonomous emergency braking. Audi has work to do to keep customers happy, though, indicated by an 16th-place result (out of 30 manufacturers) in our 2019 Driver Power survey. That puts it behind Jaguar, Volvo and Lexus, but ahead of Mercedes and BMW.
If you need a large estate purely for its big boot, the Audi A6 Avant might not make the grade against bigger rivals. In all other respects, this generation of A6 Avant has taken a bigger step forwards than most of its seven predecessors. Its lovely interior, impressive refinement and excellent small diesel engine propel it back into contention for class honours.