There is fierce competition in the premium mid-size saloon market. BMW have the 5-Series, Jaguar have the XF and Audi have the A6. Traditionally you bought the BMW for the handling, the Jaguar for the luxury and the Audi for the technology and brand reliability. This time Audi want to take on both BMW, Jaguar and seemingly, themselves.
The new A6 is billed as a new direction for Audi in this segment. In the refreshingly concise press briefing Audi gave us (adjacent to the beautiful Douro Valley – more about that later), Audi kept referring to their new car as ‘Sporty’ and they took great effort to point out how they had achieved this (again, more about this later). They also took time to point out how luxurious the new A6 is. The old car was hardly a paupers paradise but the new car, Audi say, has taken the segment to the next level and is even stepping on the toes of their top executive saloon.
Design. Will it look good on my driveway?
Up front the new A6 doesn’t mess about. It has the latest ‘my grille is bigger than your grille’ front that works surprisingly well. The sides have lines and sculpture missing from previous A6s. This car is sleek and stylish from most angles but colour is quite important. Avoid dark blues and blacks, they hide the new lines that work oh so well. Silver and grey work much better and show off those sculpted haunches. It shares much of its design with the new A8 but where that car can look slab sided and bulky from some angles, the A6 looks carved and dynamic. It especially looks good from behind thanks to some nice rear lights and that chrome strip that runs right across the width of the boot. Overall I think they have done very well with the styling and it might just be my favourite looking car in the segment. Surprising, given I rarely like Audi’s normal ‘play it safe’ design language. More of this please Audi.
The great design continues inside. Nobody makes interiors like Audi but they can feel a little boring, a little efficient. The new A6 (and A7 with whom it shares its interior) manages to blend the exceptional Audi build quality with a design that make the A6 feel special. Special in a way a Jaguar used to feel but no longer does. Special in the way the latest Mercedes E-Class does but in a more modern way. Overall it is a lovely place to be for both driver and passengers.
What about that technology then?
The A6 shows off, even before you’ve opened the door. Click the unlock button on the key fob and the LED lights front and rear wave at you in a rhythmic motion. Lock the car and it does the same in reverse. Not an essential motoring feature but it more than helps to give this uber-saloon some character. Once inside the new A6, you are treated to a feast of tech and toys that’ll keep most happy for years to come. Our test car was fitted with the full Technology Pack which features not one, not two but three large screens (lesser models get this too but some screens are smaller and less impressive to use). As with most Audis you get the virtual cockpit where the traditional dials would live. You can customise this screen to show a detailed Google Map, night vision or simply just the standard dials and media options. The main centre screen controls sat-nav, media etc and a smaller screen below controls the climate functions. It also changes to a handy keyboard when having to input anything on the main screen. It is very easy to use and after a while you wonder why all cars aren’t like this.
The A6 is also packed with plenty of safety tech. Hidden around the car are an assortment of sensors including Radar and Lasers. These not only allow the car to sense dangers and provide assistance or intervention to avoid an accident but they also aid in making your journey that bit easier. We have become accustomed to many cars having some form of Radar-guided cruise control allowing the car to speed up and slow down independently based on the traffic ahead. Now the new A6 will not only sense vehicles ahead and match the speed but it can judge gaps too. Lets say your lane on the motorway is free ahead but a lorry is weaving a little and just edges into your lane. The A6 will see this and can see if the gap left is safe to pass through. If not it will keep its speed low until it is safe to pass. These are skills we should all have as drivers but this car will be aimed at people who do a lot of miles each year and features like this can make long tiring journeys just that little bit easier. We tried it out in the real world and it works flawlessly.
As well as sensors, the A6 also has many camera hidden about its svelte lines. When reversing or making tight manoeuvres they can can really come into play. The A6 has a 360 degree view of its surroundings allowing the standard top-down view for parking and judging blindspots. Audi though, has gone one stage further and used the cameras together to create a 3D world on the screen. Simply tap the 3D button and a digital version of your A6 appears on screen. Use the touch screen to rotate the car in real time and see everything thing around you. It’s like looking around a car in a computer game except what you are seeing is all real. I’ll be honest, it probably has few useful applications but its so cool to use that you’ll find ways to make use of it.
What’s it like to drive?
So Audi say the new A6 is ‘sporty’. Personally I think they are selling themselves short. A sporty car is not something you should expect from this kind fo vehicle. Sporty implies it is slightly harsh and ultimately compromised. The new A6 is anything but compromised. Select the comfy mode on the screen and the A6 is smooth, compliant and just what you’d want from a big luxury saloon. Select a more aggressive mode and the A6 becomes surprisingly dynamic.
Our test route started in the stunning city of Porto and led us to the winding hillside roads of the Douro Valley. The roads are tight, twisty and winding plus you have to avoid the local drivers who seem to negotiate the hillsides faster than a Finnish rally driver. Despite all this, the A6 managed it all with surprising agility without sacrificing comfort or control. It isn’t sporty but it can be dynamic when it wants to be. This is partly down to the stiff, aluminium platform but it is also greatly helped buy the new rear-wheel steering system. At low speed the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts which effectively shortens the car and gives a tighter turning circle. Not only doe this aid manoeuvring but also makes it feel must livelier on tight roads. At higher speeds the rear wheels turn with the front wheels to aid stability and make the car feel more relaxed at speed. All this is largely imperceptible to the driver, you just notice the breadth of ability that has been lacking from previous A6s.
The petrol V6 of our test car had more than enough shove to help make the drive up the hillside quite fun. Actually I’d go as far as to say it is rather rapid. Despite this it remains refined and on a long motorway is a great cruising engine. The A6 also features a mild-hybrid set-up that helps run the vast array of electric gadgetry and the trick air-suspension. This all helps to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.
Should you buy one?
The new A6 faces stiff competition from Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar but they have managed to come out on top with this car. I think it looks better inside and out than anything else in its class and it drives better too. I always try to find flaws with cars when I test them but the A6 has almost none. It is, for me, the best of its breed. I just cannot wait to see the RS version of the A6. It is sure to be something very special indeed.