How less is more in new diesel A6

Life is becoming too complicated. Take the heated seats (a modest £250 option) on this Audi A6. Hitting the illuminated switch is only the beginning of the bum-warming process. A quick prod and a colour graphic appears on the dash screen offering a virtual 10-stage warming selector. Twist the MMI command dial on the centre console and select your ideal backside-basting temperature. Then press the MMI dial to confirm. Easy.

Or is it? I’m not sure how long I had my eyes off the road when performing this simple task, but probably too long. And what’s wrong with a simple roller switch?There was nothing much wrong with the 3.0-litre V6 diesel, but Audi has decided to add a smaller 2.7-litre version to the A6 range. The 2.7 offers 178bhp and 280lb ft to the 3.0’s 222bhp and 332lb ft, and hits 62mph 0.8sec slower at 8.1sec, but counters with average fuel consumption of 41.5mpg (34.0) and CO2 emissions of just 181g/km (223g/km). And, at £26,330, the front-drive 2.7 diesel is £5600 cheaper than the (four-wheel-drive only) 3.0.

This car is vast. Not unmanageably vast, but seriously limo-level commodious. Shoulder room is extraordinary and rear legroom of the same order. But I reserve my greatest admiration for the A6’s huge 546-litre boot. Executed with the same care Audi lavishes on the cabin, it’s beautifully trimmed and square-sided. And unfathomably deep. On a gloomy day it’s hard to see the bulkhead.True, if this was a BMW I’d probably have spent less time staring into the boot admiring the fit and finish and more time appreciating the driving experience. And this has long been Audi’s problem: inspiring build and design seemingly traded for poor dynamics.

But this car shows the effort being made by Audi: a multi-link rear axle (even on this front-driver), four-link front suspension is moved forward by 83mm over the old model’s and much of the suspension is made from aluminium to reduce unsprung weight. It’s a text-book approach, but still not enough to overcome the dynamic problems caused by an engine overhanging the front wheels.

It’s a good engine, though. Cranked up in near-freezing conditions there’s no clatter, just a vibrant background hum. But as soon as you pull away (both the clutch and gearshift action are rather long in stroke) the wheel rim alerts you to steering that’s overly light and completely lacks feel for the first quarter of a turn. The ride, too, is more knobbly than it should be and typically rough and ragged UK motorway surfaces kick up noticeable road noise. But then perhaps the ride problems and tyre noise were caused by the optional (£950) wide and low 225/50 tyres mounted on 17-inch wheels.

Under full steam, the engine has impressive pulling power – and it remains refined even under hard acceleration. It’s in this mode – with the long-striding sixth gear engaged – that the A6 comes together. This is clearly a mighty high-speed long-distance cruiser. The southern German roots shine through: it’s a car that wants to get to Berlin before sundown.

But that’s not to say there’s no fun to be had from the A6: the car can be made to snake through roundabouts and sweeping bends with some enthusiasm and engagement.So the 2.7 loses little performance to the 3.0-litre A6, has the same excellent refinement and will be considerably cheaper to run. Best A6? I’d say so.

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