What is it?
Audi’s entry-level, front-driven diesel version of the new A6 executive saloon. This car is predicted to account for seventy-five per cent of all A6 sales in the UK, and entry-level ‘SE’ specification sixty per cent of that seventy-five. Which means that, even more than the 3.0-litre TDi S Line example reviewed last week, the performance of this car really matters.
Powered by a 175bhp, 280lb ft four-cylinder diesel engine, this car will be offered only with a six-speed manual gearbox from launch, although a ‘Multitronic’ CVT version will come later.
Suspended by a double-wishbone apeing ‘five-link’ chassis at the front, and a more conventional multilink arrangement at the rear, the basic A6 rides on steel springs and conventional passive dampers. S Line specification brings firmer chassis settings, bigger alloy wheels, enhanced specification, meatier steering feel and more purposeful styling inside and out, at a £2350 premium. And although air suspension and quattro four-wheel drive are offered as options higher up in the A6 range, they’re not available here.
What’s it like?
With volume-defining fleet popularity set as top priority, Audi placed unswerving focus on improving this version of the A6 in particular in practical and value-enhancing ways. As a result, this A6 is the lightest and most aerodynamically efficient car in its class, as well as the most economical. Its carbon emissions equal those of BMW’s 520d, and thanks to class-leading residual values, its cost as a company car via monthly contract hire should be even lower than the BMW’s.
Standard equipment levels on the cheapest A6 are generous too, including leather upholstery, cruise and climate control, parking sensors all round, SD-based sat nav, Bluetooth ‘phone preparation and automatic headlights and wipers.
During everyday use, the A6’s distinguishing characteristics complement each other perfectly. Excellent mechanical refinement and cabin isolation combine with a superbly comfortable and immaculately appointed interior to make this Audi feel a cut above its rivals on sheer quality. The car’s cockpit is richer and more upmarket than that of a 5-series, more contemporary than that of an E-class, and more robust and expensive than that of a XF. An E-class probably grants marginally more headroom in the rear, but not much.
Whether you’re driving or a passenger, this A6 is a genuinely comfortable, relaxing and unintrusive way to travel. A well-insulated chassis with plenty of wheel travel gives the cheapest A6 a compliant, gently wafting ride even on steel springs. At times it lacks a little vertical body control, but most of the time provides ride comfort that’s well above average.
An abundance of electromechanical power assistance for the car’s steering contributes to the A6’s easy-to-drive character. However, it also neatly encapsulates the car’s major shortcoming. An almost total lack of feedback and natural road feel through the steering wheel rim seems to symbolise a wider failure, throughout this entry-level Audi, to make the driver feel at all involved in the driving experience, on connected to the road.
While, by contrast, a BMW 520d has a surprisingly agile dynamic character and fairly deep reserves of grip and body composure when you stretch it, the A6 is hiding absolutely nothing. It’s an almost entirely one-dimensional device.