New high-efficiency, low-cost diesel Audi A6 doesn't leave you feeling like you've bought the 'budget' model

What is it?

The new Audi A6 ultra is a fleet-focused version of the manufacturer's BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-class rival.

Audi's ultra variant of its luxury saloon benefits from both a comparatively inexpensive purchase price and low emissions, offering company car operators significantly more appealing monthly costs.

In fact, the new ultra variant is the least costly model in the A6 range, with prices starting at £32,515. Key upgrades include a new 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel and the adoption of a revised seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which replaces the eight-speed CVT found in four-cylinder diesel A6s.

Both help reduce its emissions and boost economy, with Audi claiming 64.2mpg and 114g/km of CO2, compared to the outgoing 175bhp diesel's 56.5mpg and 132g/km of CO2.

We tested the more costly £34,365 S line variant – which features xenon headlights, LED rear lights, sports suspension and larger 18-inch wheels compared to the standard SE model – but, even so, those in the 40 per cent tax band will pay a sensible £2470 per annum in company car tax.

For comparison, that's some £400 a year less than a Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Titanium X and almost £550 less than the previous 175bhp diesel Audi A6 – while private buyers will only have to stump up £30 a year in road tax.

For a 1735kg saloon, that's an impressive feat – even more so when you consider that it's capable of sprinting from 0-62mph in a more-than-adequate 8.2sec and reputed to hit a top speed of 144mph.

Audi hasn't skimped on the niceties either, despite the model's entry-level pretensions. Even the least expensive SE edition gets automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone air-con, cruise control, a DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6.5-inch display for the media system.

The Audi even receives premium touches like leather trim, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and 8-piston front calipers; the net effect is very much a feeling of a high-end product for a mid-specification price.

What's it like?

Surprisingly likeable. Despite its four-cylinder configuration the Audi’s diesel engine is relatively quiet on cold start-up and becomes even less audible as it warms. Compared to Mercedes’ 2.1-litre diesel it’s much more refined, and those who commute long distances will appreciate its smoothness.

It's hardly lacking in punch either, with the diesel's 187bhp and 292lb ft proving more than capable of accelerating the Audi A6 with suitable – and occasionally surprising – verve. The new S tronic transmission rifles through the available ratios in a smooth, swift fashion too. In fact the only real gripe with the ultra's powertrain is an occasional hesitancy off the line but once it's moving progress is swift.

The Audi impresses elsewhere on the road. It's easy to manoeuvre, despite its substantial size, while good visibility and standard-fit parking sensors means slotting into a space isn't a chore.

Braking performance is more than adequate, with plenty of bite and an easily modulated pedal, although stopping in low-speed traffic can occasionally cause the A6 to lurch slightly as it assumes a parked position.

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As you might expect, however, the Audi's dynamic qualities could do with a little improvement. Occasionally the A6's steering – which lacks the tactile feedback of a 5-series' – feels like it has too large a deadzone, so requires excess lock for what should otherwise be minor steering inputs.

It remains precise and responsive enough to avoid becoming an annoyance, though, and its weighting is ideal for those who just want an effortless drive from A to B.

The Audi's ride quality may irk some, as it borders on the overly firm and has a tendency to thud over cracks and through potholes, but the tradeoff is reduced body movement in high speed corners.

Opting for the more softly sprung and smaller-wheeled SE variant may bring back some of the pliancy that would be better suited to a car of its class. Nevertheless, in short, the Audi A6 ultra is an easy and hassle-free car to drive in either specification.

There are also hidden depths to the car's suitability as a business saloon. For example it has a large 73-litre fuel tank, granting it a potential range of 1030 miles.

That's similar to BMW's 5-series 520d. Mercedes' E-class E220 CDI, on the other hand, has just a 59-litre tank, resulting in a maximum range of around 800 miles.

Of course it's difficult to imagine that you'll ever get the Audi to hit that 1000-mile mark – but it's not unreasonable to expect it to return around or in excess of 50mpg, granting a long-legged 800-mile range.

Elsewhere, it's the same as the standard A6. The cabin is beautifully designed and that materials used throughout feel of a good quality, while four adults can be accommodated in comfort with ease. A fifth can sit in the central rear position but will have to straddle the A6's central tunnel and suffer reduced headroom.

On-road refinement is good – although road noise does intrude on some surfaces – and the A6's vast battery of standard kit works to reduce both driver strain and boredom. It's quick and easy to establish a Bluetooth connection and the Audi's media and navigation systems work well, although as always it's worth checking that the sat-nav's suggested route resembles a sensible approximation of your desired journey.

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The Audi offers up a large boot as well and many buyers will appreciate the fitment of a standard space-saver spare wheel.

Should I buy one?

If you're in the market for an economical, well equipped and modern large saloon then it's definitely worth taking a long look at the new Audi A6 ultra.

What's interesting is the genuine feel-good factor that its superbly designed interior, smart presentation, comprehensive equipment levels and ease of use instils.

This, combined with its excellent diesel powerplant, make it immensely more gratifying to live than what could have simply been another run-of-the-mill executive saloon.

It may also be the cheapest model available, in SE specification, but it over-delivers in terms of what you might expect for the price, which is an endearing trait.

Yes, it does admittedly lack the outright dynamic capability – and potentially entertaining rear-drive nature – of the likes of the BMW 5-seriesMost buyers, however, will no doubt be more interested in the quality and behaviour of the complete package rather than its on-the-limit nature.

Overall appeal, in the case of the Audi A6 ultra, is one of its best selling points – and precisely why it should command a high-ranking position on your shopping list.

Audi A6 saloon 2.0 TDI ultra S tronic S line

Price £34,365; 0-62mph 8.2sec; Top speed 144mph; Economy 64.2mpg; CO2 114g/km; Kerb weight 1735kg; Engine  4 cyls, 1968cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 187bhp at 3800-4200rpm; Torque 292lb ft at 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic

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SirSidneyRuffdiamond 23 May 2014

Why no Jaguar reference again?

I don't understand why British motoring magazines commonly fail to mention Jaguar models when comparing premium German brands, as is the case once again in this article.
rickerby 23 May 2014

SirSidneyRuffdiamond wrote:I

SirSidneyRuffdiamond wrote:

I don't understand why British motoring magazines commonly fail to mention Jaguar models when comparing premium German brands, as is the case once again in this article.

Patriotic as I am I think the XF is something of an also ran. A very old car that must be up for replacement once the XE launch is out of the way. I do also suspect that even if the lunatics do take over the asylum and Britain isolates itself as a nation of semi-educated Daily Express readers outside the EU that we will still be able to buy Audis. After all the biggest Audi market now is China and as far as I know that's not Europe. Whether we can still by UK built Jaguars as Tata along with every other manufacturer rushes to divest itself of its UK manufacturing base is another matter.