Audi A6

Tech smorgasbord doesn’t get in the way of a fine drive

CAMERON KIRBY

Model Audi A6 50 TDI

Engine 2967cc V6 (90°), dohc, 24v, turbo-diesel

Max Power 210kW @ 3500-4000rpm

Max Torque 620Nm @ 2250-3000rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Weight 1825kg

0-100km/h 5.5sec (claimed)

Fuel economy 5.6L/100km (EU)

Price $125,000 (estimated)

On sale Q1 2019

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

TECHNOLOGY has advanced more rapidly over the last five years than in any five-year period in the history of the car, so the fact that Audi’s new C8-generation A6 represents the model’s biggest advance yet is no great surprise.

Significantly, the A6 has caught up and is ready to play ball with traditional rivals the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which both underwent generational leaps in the past two years.

Underpinning the A6 is a revised version of the previous chassis, built using the same MLB Evo modular matrix. Growth has been kept to a minimum, with the 2018 A6 measuring just 7mm longer (4939mm), 12mm wider (1886mm), and 2mm taller (1457mm) than the previous generation. There is a more significant expansion inside, with 21mm added to the overall cabin length, 12mm of which is an increase to rear legroom. Headroom and shoulder room increase for all occupants.

As well as significantly improved dynamics, an influx of new infotainment and safety technology catapults the new A6 up to date.

In Europe and the US, where BMW offers xDrive all-wheel-drive in mainstream 5 Series models, and Mercedes its 4Matic system in the E-Class, Audi’s quattro no longer gives the A6 a USP. Yet in Australia, the availability of all-paw mid-range versions should still give Audi an edge.

The A6 introduces ‘Dynamic All-Wheel Steering’, a four-wheelsteer system like that offered by BMW in the 5 Series. At speeds up to 60km/h, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts by up to five degrees, decreasing the turning circle by a metre to 11.1m and improving low-speed manoeuvrability.

Above 60km/h the rear wheels now turn in phase with the fronts, by up to two degrees for increased highway stability.

Even without the all-wheel-steer system, the A6 is a dynamically engaging car that rewards a driver who is prepared to hustle the big sedan. And while the Audi may continue to struggle to match the rear-drive dynamic flavour of its rivals, it’s a much closer fight now, with the front-drive-esque feel of previous A6 quattros banished. The car feels taut and eager to turn in.

A6s without the all-wheel steering get a direct-ratio electric rack, which is smooth and wellweighted, providing a good sense of how the front tyres are behaving while keeping kickback at arm’s length. Tick the all-wheel-steer box, and you get a variable ratio set-up, which attempts to optimise weight and response based on speed and steering angle.

The driving position is surprisingly low and sporty, with front passengers seemingly pushed outward in the cabin. It’s easy to establish a real sense of connection with the A6. There’s a sensation that the chassis is pivoting somewhere under your knees, so quick and keen is turn-in. A bonnet that slopes out of sight from the driver provides the uninterrupted view needed to get into a maximum attack mode, despite the car’s substantial proportions and the very narrow Portuguese roads on the launch.

Four suspension set-ups exist for the A6; three with steel springs, and one on air. The entry-level steel configuration without adaptive dampers wasn’t available at our preview drive, nor was the ‘sport’ steel set-up, leaving us with the steel-sprung, adaptive damper combo and the air suspension, which are most likely for Oz.

Spacious, tech-laden cabin; plush ride on air suspension; dynamics Petrol engine choice; dual-clutch calibration lacks low-speed polish

Spacious, tech-laden cabin; plush ride on air suspension; dynamics

PLUS & MINUS

Petrol engine choice; dual-clutch calibration lacks low-speed polish

Every A6 variant supplements its engine with a mild-hybrid system

Rolling on 19-inch rims, the steel-sprung A6 delivers ride suppleness, yet without the lateral lean you would associate with a soft suspension calibration. However, increasing rim diameter on this suspension begins eating away at the A6’s ability to iron out a bumpy surface.

The air suspension delivers predictably the best ride, even on 20-inch alloys. The level of absorbency felt broadly similar in both comfort and dynamic modes, the difference being a reduction in bodyroll in the sportier setting. However, on the largest 21-inch wheels, in dynamic mode, the air suspension can’t entirely mitigate the effects of the slim sidewalls.

The most powerful engine we drove was the 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6, now badged 55 TFSI under Audi’s new naming convention.

It produces 250kW/500Nm and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6, badged 50 TDI is less powerful than the petrol at 210kW, but ups torque to 620Nm. This engine is also available in 45 TDI tune, with 170kW/500Nm. Both deliver drive through an eight-speed automatic.

Sitting at the entry-level is the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 40 TDI four, with 150kW/400Nm, paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box.

Every variant supplements its internal combustion engine with a mild-hybrid system. The four-cylinder employs a 12-volt system, while the diesel and petrol V6s get a heavy duty 48-volt system.

The mild-hybrid is essentially a heavy-duty stop-start system that can supplement engine torque to propel the car (above 22km/h), and the A6 also gains the ability to disengage the transmission and coast for up to 40 seconds between 55km/h and 160km/h. Audi claims that this combination of tactics can improve fuel economy by as much as 0.7L/100km.

Of the engines at launch, the 50 TDI seemd the sweet spot. While the 55 TFSI makes 40kW more than the diesel, that advantage isn’t as noticeable as the extra 120Nm from the oiler. Both V6 engines are refined, their synthesised throaty note surprisingly pleasing.

Audi says the 2.0-litre’s aluminium crankcase helps minimise the engine’s noise (and saves 20kg in the process), however the smaller capacity engine is more aurally intrusive.

Its turbocharger is rather vocal throughout most of the revrange, and diesel clatter is more prominent than with the V6 units.

Every car sampled overseas had Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive, with an electronic centre diff. Christian König, project manager for A6, told Australian media the lower-spec 2.0-litre four-cylinder will be available in front-drive form in certain markets, just as the current A6 is in local showrooms.

Audi Australia has not confirmed a local engine line-up, though it has said the diesels are a high priority, and that the 55 TFSI petrol may not make our shores. If that is the case, anticipation will be high for the eventual arrival of a (likely twin-turbo) S6.

The cabin is generously trimmed in leather and suede and finished with brushed metal.

But the real centrepieces are the digital touchscreen displays. The two centrally mounted screens are a tech delight. Up top is a 10.1inch unit for all your infotainment, navigation and phone-pairing needs, while the main duties of the 8.6-inch unit in the lower console are climate control and providing a keyboard for text inputs.

Local specification remains in the works as well, though it would be fair to say that Australian A6s will be generously equipped.

Likewise, Audi wouldn’t be drawn on local pricing but did confirm that the A6, originally expected in Q4, won’t be arriving until 2019.

With advances in efficiency, technology and dynamics, garnished with Ingolstadt’s nowsignature interior class, this new model represents a significant step up, positioning the A6 to properly turn the heat up on its rivals.

CAMERON KIRBY

02 STOP THE CLOCKS

Conventional analogue instruments are replaced by a 12.3-inch LCD display running an updated version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system.

01 SEEING DOUBLE

Real centrepieces of the beautifully crafted cabin are the two digital touchscreen displays. Up top is a 10.1-inch unit, paired with a lower supplementary 8.6-inch screen.

FIRSTDRIVES

03 BASS INSTINCT

Bang & Olufsen continue as Audi’s premium audio supplier, fitting the A6 with a chestthumping 1820-watt, 19-speaker sound system.

Auto pilot

New A6 features Audi’s ‘Predictive Efficiency Assist’ system – essentially a more advanced adaptive cruise control which utilises ‘Car-to-X’ communications technology. The system uses the car’s cameras and sat-nav information to read road signs, adjusting cruise control speeds accordingly, as well as lowering speeds appropriately for corners.

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