From £43,490
Much to recommend for quality, value and economy - it just lacks dynamic polish

What is it?

One of about a dozen all-new or improved models that Audi will introduce during 2010, and probably the most important: this is the new A6. And it represents a concerted effort on behalf of Ingolstadt to get serious about succeeding in the European executive saloon market.

The new A6 hits UK showrooms in April. It has been designed, engineered and specified to deliver class-leading quality, comfort and refinement; outstanding spaciousness and efficiency; generous equipment levels, and remarkably low costs of ownership. And all in order to win greater success in the practicality-minded fleet market.

That’s because, although the A6 may already be the world’s biggest-selling mid-sized executive car, it has been consistently outsold in key mature markets like the UK by bitter rival the BMW 5-series.

Take a browse through our photo gallery and you’ll soon see that Audi’s designers haven’t exactly started with a fresh sheet of paper as far as the A6’s styling is concerned. According to Audi, the majority of this car’s customer base values its understated exterior design above almost everything else. Which explains why Audi has created an updated-yet-conservative exterior for the new car. It looks smart, contemporary and easily-recognisable, but will ruffle few feathers with Audi’s rivals.

What that does suggest, however, is that Audi must have invested the majority of its effort into the engineering detail of the new A6 – and so it proves. The wider use of aluminium in the car’s aluminium and steel hybrid construction has made this new A6 the lightest car in its class, and 80kg lighter than the last one. It’s 12mm shorter overall than the outgoing car, but better packaged so that it grants occupants more leg-, shoulder- and head-room.

From launch, UK buyers will be offered the choice of 175bhp 2.0-litre, 201bhp 3.0-litre and 242bhp 3.0-litre TDI commonrail diesel engines, alongside only one range-topping petrol option: the 296bhp 3.0-litre TFSI. The powerplants come with efficiency-boosting technolgies such as electromechanical power steering, intelligent on-demand ancilliaries and automatic start-stop, contributing to fuel economy and CO2 improvements of more than 20 per cent in some cases versus outgoing versions of the car.

What’s it like?

Depends which options you choose – and there’s a lot of choice. Our test car was a 3.0-litre TDi Quattro S-Line on steel ‘Sports’ springs, so it rode 30mm lower than a standard SE-spec car, and ran higher spring and damper rates selected by Quattro GmbH.

Like all A6s, our car had Drive Select as standard, which allows you to tailor throttle map, gearbox response and steering assistance to suit your whim. And just as all 3.0-litre TDi Quattros will, it came with Audi’s seven-speed ‘S-Tronic’ twin clutch gearbox. Air suspension with variable ride height and damping will be available to those who want it, as will varible-ratio ‘dynamic’ steering – but our test car had neither. Our car did have Audi’s optional Sport Differential on the rear axle, which promises enhanced traction and handling precision during cornering.

And what it also had was a cabin of quite breathtaking richness and quality. Audi’s surpassed even its own lofty standards in this department: materials feel robust yet tactile, fit-and-finish is apparently flawless. Even the sports seats are generously comfortable, while the MMI controls and instruments are easy to make sense of.

Back to top

The car’s V6 engine starts with a gentle shudder; once you’re cruising you’ll barely hear it. That’s partly because Audi’s twin-clutch gearbox is quick to change up, keeping rpm low whenever possible, but mainly because Audi’s done a stunning job of insulating this car’s powertrain. Wind insulation’s very well suppressed too, thanks to a low drag co-efficient of just 0.26.

Road noise was the biggest disturbance in our test car, and in an S-Line spec car with 18in wheels and 245-profile tyres, that’s to be expected. In all other ways it seemed, to these ears, even quieter than our recently-departed A8 long-termer, and significantly more mechanically refined than a BMW 530d or Mercedes E350 CDi.

Poor rolling refinement was a criticism often made of the last A6 and, although it seems slightly unreasonable grounds on which to fault an S-Line-spec car, I suspect we’ll be lamenting the same problem when the new A6 comes to the UK. That’s because our test car rode sharp motorway expansion joints noisily, and fidgeted over minor surface imperfections that equally focussed rivals might have ironed out.

The trade-off, however, was the commendable body control and handling composure the A6 showed on testing roads. Wider tracks front and rear and Audi’s latest Quattro drivetrain (equipped with that fast-acting crown gear centre differential) give the new A6 deep reserves of traction and handling precision, and that revised V6 diesel engine certainly serves up more than enough mid-range torque to explore it. You’ll rarely catch its gearbox in the wrong gear, and rarely be wanting for more performance.

And yet the A6 remains a remote device that’s hard to gel with, and harder still to get real driver satisfaction from. It never truly feels agile, athletic or ready to entertain, and its act isn’t enhanced by a power steering system than lacks fluency in ‘dynamic’ mode.

Should I buy one?

Probably not his particular one. On this evidence, both BMW’s 530d and Jaguar’s XF 3.0d S are much more engaging driver’s cars – and if driver thrills weren’t on your list of priorities, you wouldn’t be buying the gutsiest diesel model with S-Line suspension.

Back to top

But don’t discount other examples of Audi’s new A6. Air springs may well answer many of our criticisms of this car’s ride, and even if they don’t, lesser versions of this car have much to recommend them.

Practicality, economy, quality, refinement and value-for-money considered, the new A6 is, after all, an expertly conceived and very well-executed product. But, as a car, it seems to lack character and dynamic polish.

Audi A6 3.0 TDi Quattro S-Line

Price: £41,450; Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 6.1sec; Economy: 47.1mpg; CO2: 158g/km; Kerb weight: 1715kg; Engine: V6, 2967cc, turbodiesel; Power: 242bhp at 4000-4500rpm; Torque: 369lb ft at 1400–3250rpm; Gearbox: 7-speed twin clutch

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
autounionDI 5 February 2011

Re: Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro

bomb wrote:

autounionDI wrote:
humm.. sorry its ture audi AG sold more cars in china then both bmw and merc

bomb wrote:
taking GB only

Audi is ambitious and aggressive. The brand with the four rings wants to overtake both BMW and Mercedes by 2015 to be the world’s leading luxury carmaker with sales of 1.5 million per annum. With the revelation of first quarter figures, Audi is right on track as it has surpassed Mercedes-Benz to take the No.2 spot in the premium sector for the very first time.

Ingolstadt’s sold 264,100 vehicles in Q1, up 26% compared with the same period last year. At the same time Daimler sold 248,500 Mercedes-Benz cars, while leader BMW is expected to release its numbers before the end of April.

Cruicially for Audi, which is the VW Group’s fattest cash cow, the improved numbers are due to success in rapidly growing markets such as China. Audi sold 51,449 cars in China in the first quarter compared to 34,179 for BMW and 24,100 for Mercedes, a fact that any visitor to cities such as Shanghai won’t be surprised to hear – it’s apparent from the eye. Audi is targeting 200,000 units in China for 2010, up from over 150,000 last year.

Although it won’t be smart to bet against Audi’s continued rise, the brand still lags behind BMW and Mercedes in another key market – USA. It does however have the baby A1 as a major weapon this year. Audi has high hopes for its MINI rival and expects 80% of buyers to be Audi virgins. The A1 is expected to contribute 100,000 units to annual sales in the future.

“With these sales results, we have even surpassed the comparative figures from our record year in 2008,” said Audi sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer, adding that Ingolstadt expects “continued growth compared to last year” in Q2. Audi sold about 256,000 cars in the second quarter of 2009. Next target, BMW.

bomb 4 February 2011

Re: Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro

autounionDI wrote:
humm.. sorry its ture audi AG sold more cars in china then both bmw and merc

bomb wrote:
taking GB only

autounionDI 31 January 2011

Re: Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro

bomb wrote:

jerry99 wrote:
Until quite recently it was a minority choice but now the sales keep on increasing.

Yep, taking GB only, the figures show Audi's annual sales are a smidge under 100,000 units (YTD Dec 2010).

jerry99 wrote:
That the originally more prestigious competitors are losing sales to Audi is an interesting paradox.

I'm not sure this is true, I'm presuming you mean BMW and Mercedes? BMW sales increased year on year, roughly 110k, and Audi overtook Mercedes sales quite some time ago. They sold roughly 25k more cars last year but Mercedes sales also rose.

Perhaps the other German brands would sell more cars if Audi weren't there but that's not really an argument. Only Jaguar managed to reduce their annual sales by 10% in a rising market - ending up somewhere between Chevrolet and Suzuki.

humm.. sorry its ture audi AG sold more cars in china then both bmw and merc....