Audi has gone from strength to strength, seemingly immune from the ravages of worldwide recession
2011 Audi A6 3.0 TFSI, supercharged six-cylinder, petrol, seven-speed S-tronic transmission - Australian pricing not yet finalised for the new model Audi A6. Prices above reflect the model range for the current A6 model.
Funny, isn’t it, how we get used to certain things? What appears shocking at first eventually becomes the norm and Audi’s trademark radiator grille was, for me, a step too far when I first saw it a few years ago. I thought, at the time, that an angry farmer had taken a shotgun to it and blasted a huge hole in the front of what was once an attractive nose. But now? Hell, that huge orifice looks totally fine. Even good looking.
You can’t knock Audi’s brand image. Up against rivals in the shape of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the company has gone from strength to strength, seemingly immune from the ravages of worldwide recession. And it isn’t just down to the way Audis look, either, because they’re flawlessly engineered inside and out. Their cabins are glorious, intuitive places to spend time in and while the ‘normal’ cars in the various ranges might not be particularly exciting to drive, there’s a pervasive sense of quality and craftsmanship that puts them high on the lists of buyers in the market for a prestige car.
And the Audi A6 was (still is) a brilliant car so you have to feel for the design team charged with replacing a model that had very little – if anything – wrong with it. But replace it they have and you’d need to be a forensic scientist to spot it from the outgoing A6. There are differences, of course, but they’re subtle enough for you to blink and miss them. So the new Audi A6 is simply an exercise in making the best just a little bit better in every respect. Evolution, not revolution – that’s the Audi A6 mantra.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that, during the press conference for the launch of the ‘all new’ Audi A6 in Sicily, Audi’s boffins shy away from talking about advances in chassis design and driver involvement. Instead, what the assembled hacks are educated in is the technology contained within.
The Audi A6, let’s remember, can trace its lineage back to 1968 when the 100 was first launched. Since then it has come to define what the medium sized German car should be about by marrying cutting-edge tech with quality build and looks that rule in the company car park. Put an A6 next to a BMW 5-Series and see where your eye is drawn.
Standing outside the press conference venue, I mention to a journalist from a technology and gadget magazine (who has never been on a car launch before), what to expect: a load of nonsense about how it looks muscular, like an athlete at the starting blocks ready to sprint; how the LED lights are unique; how the grille of the new Audi A6 is slightly different from the rest of the Audi range; how it’s a mobile internet café. Half an hour later, in the depths of the corporate spiel, I shoot him a glance and his look says it all: bulls-eye.
I love driving. I love interacting with a car, pushing it and myself to the limits and enjoying that indescribable connection between man and machine. So, when faced with a plethora of Audi A6 models the following morning, I jump for the one I know should provide the most enjoyment behind the wheel: the range-topping (for the time being, at least) 3.0 TFSI.
And boy is it handsome. Yes, it looks just like the last one, except for a few subtle differences, but that’s really no bad thing and even though BMW has toned down the looks of the new 5-Series, this is still the leader of the pack when it comes to visual satisfaction. Inside the Audi A6, the improvements are more manifest with utterly gorgeous materials, design and ergonomics. This is exquisite – of that there is no doubt.
However, the technology contained within really needs to make the ownership experience more beneficial and there’s only one way to discover the truth: drive the thing. The weather in Sicily is shocking during my time on the island. Rain, howling wind and all-round general misery. Just like the UK, in fact. Sicily, though, also provides the double whammy of having terrible country roads thanks to the awful flooding and mudslides that occurred in 2009, when the roads were practically washed away and more than 20 lives were lost. There’s no sign of them being repaired so at least the Audi A6’s suspension should get a proper workout.
Press the starter button and the V6 lump rumbles into life and all is good in the world.
The TFSI generates 220kW and 440Nm of twist between 2900 and 4500rpm, which is plenty. It’s supercharged and is mated to Audi’s S-tronic seven speed transmission, cracks 100km/h from rest in 5.5 seconds and is limited to 250km/h. So, on paper at least, the TFSI offers performance you wouldn’t have found on anything other than a supercar just a few years ago. And, just in case we haven’t got the message yet, Audi points out that, with an average thirst of 8.2 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 190g per km, it’s an improvement of 13 percent over the outgoing model, which happened to deliver 7kW less power.
That improved fuel consumption is no doubt helped by the fact that the new Audi A6 is lighter than before, built as it is using advanced aluminium and steel construction processes (the 2.0 diesel weighs a whopping 120kg less than BMW’s 520d). It’s also shorter than before but has a longer wheelbase which affords greater room inside – it might look the same as it ever was but the new A6 is seemingly better than its predecessor in every respect.
Wherever I drive, unless it’s on the main arterial routes, tarmac gives way to rubble at any given moment and potholes threaten to engulf the entire car. Yet this A6 on its adaptive air suspension soaks up the bumps and thumps like a big Jag, smothering them into oblivion. Yet, when the roads clear and get twisty, it feels poised, sharp and focused – it’s brilliantly set up.
There’s plenty of punch from the engine but the 3.0 diesel I try later feels even more urgent thanks to its massive 500Nm of torque. It’s the one I’d go for. But while I may choose an oil burner over a petrol A6, one thing I wouldn’t do is go mad ticking the options list because I find most of the technology Audi is packing into its cars is a complete waste of time and money.
Granted, the Google Maps display on the sat-nav is fabulous and it’s useful to see the surrounding terrain like it actually is – it’s like having a helicopter permanently above you, relaying live images to your car. But the rest? Active Lane Assist keeps you within your lane on a motorway at speeds over 60km/h, taking over steering duties if you haven’t got your appropriate indicator flashing. Side Assist tells the driver when it isn’t safe to pull out by blinding him or her with a light in the mirror. Park Assist spots spaces big enough to park in and, when you’ve decided which space to use, carries out steering manoeuvres to squeeze you in and Night Vision Assist tells you when a pedestrian is in danger of being flattened.
If you’re thinking, as I am, that we drivers won’t be required at all in the future, just consider that if you engage the active cruise control on a motorway (along with Lane Assist and Side Assist) you can take your hands off the wheel and your feet from the pedals. Sit back, get a bit of shut-eye and switch on the seat massage function while the A6 does everything for you except wipe your nose and have an argument with the wife.
Pretty soon Audis will be equipped with Waistline Assist – a system that measures your BMI when you’re sat behind the wheel and feeds vital information via the head-up display about how many calories you’re allowed for lunch.
I jest, of course, but all this nannying is quite sinister and, when you discover that the LED headlamps are actively working in conjunction with the sat-nav to adjust their operation as you approach built up areas, tunnels etc., it’s natural to wonder where all this will end. One thing’s for sure and that is I wouldn’t fancy owning a used one of these in twenty years’ time.
The Audi A6 is a fine car by anyone’s standards – the best in its class. But it’s also becoming a four-wheeled gadget show that almost treats the driver with disdain. Yes, you can get online via your A6 these days but blimey, a car used to be an oasis of calm, away from all that day-to-day nonsense. Now there’s no escape. This Audi, however, provides a lesson for all in exquisite build quality and refined elegance. It’s also fast, frugal, comfortable and quiet. If only it was more fun to drive…
The 2011 Audi A6 will be launched on July 1 at the Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne with a choice of three engines: 150 kW/280 Nm 2.8 FSI, 220 kW/440 Nm 3.0 TSFI, 180 kW/500 Nm 3.0 TDI