The all-new Audi A6 is a huge step forward in the luxury executive class. With a lighter chassis, a range of technological updates and a much sportier driving feel, Audi is expecting big things from its new A6.
Although Audi A6 sales in Australia have historically not matched its German rivals, globally more than seven million A6s have been sold since the model was introduced in 1968.
The seventh generation Audi A6 comes at a time when Audi is reinventing itself to be the ultimate in German luxury motoring. From the recently launched Audi A1, Audi A7 and Audi A8 to the revitalised model line-up, the German company is determined to topple BMW and Mercedes-Benz’s local market position.
To launch the new A6, Audi Australia brought CarAdvice to Queenstown in New Zealand, where we set off to review and road test diesel and petrol A6s at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground (SHPG).
From the outside, the new A6 exudes a sophisticated, modern design without forgetting its heritage. It’s elegant, yet aggressive enough to stand out. It’s not all that different from the outgoing model but has changed enough to be noticed.
Apart from the sporty profile (thanks to its short overhangs), the layout of the A6’s daytime running lamps (DRLs) ensures there is no mistaking it for anything but an Audi.
As with most modern Audis, the glasshouse makes up one-third of the height and the sheet metal makes up the rest.
Although the entry model Audi A6s (due here before year’s end) will be driven via the front wheels only, the higher-spec six-cylinder petrol and diesel models (tested here) all come with the company’s famous quattro all-wheel drive system.
With the outside temperature a freezing -8 degrees and snow covering the facility, the point was to test the A6’s new 'crown' gearing centre differential in the harshest of conditions.
Audi is arguably the champion of all-wheel drive technology in passenger cars, with the Audi Quattro starting a revolution in 1980. So it came as no surprise that we were testing quattro A6s in the snow, where many other manufacturers would dare not allow journalists behind the wheel.
While the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have stuck with rear-wheel drive, the Audi A6 quattro is the only car in its class (apart from some low-volume cars from the Swedes) that offers power and torque to all four wheels.
During normal driving conditions the new crown centre differential pushes 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels and 40 per cent to the front. The new system allows torque distribution to be adjusted for up to 85 per cent to the rear (the highest amount ever possible in an A6) and up to 70 per cent to the front.
If you were thinking all of this happens thanks to a computer, you’d be wrong. The entire centre differentials works mechanically without any electronic aids. The crown system automatically works out which axle requires traction and pushes torque accordingly. Not only is this method faster, it’s also much less likely to make an error or misjudge torque requirements. The updated centre differential is also 2.5kg lighter than the one found in the previous A6.
Speaking of being lighter, more than 20 per cent of the A6’s body is made of aluminium, which means it’s at least 15 per cent lighter than if it was made from steel only.
You can spend an entire day learning all the technological and engineering features in the A6, but it’s how a car feels behind the wheel that makes the biggest difference.
Before we were let loose on snow, Audi’s team of driving instructors gave us a basic run down of what we should expect: super slippery conditions. With all traction and stability controls turned off, it was left entirely to Audi’s quattro system to guide us through the snow course.
Perhaps some thought we were mad for taking ‘everyday’ family sedans on snow, but all-wheel drive is a wonderful thing and the A6 makes driving on snow a very enjoyable experience.
The quattro system will quickly kick in to distribute torque to whichever axle needs it the most. This meant our A6 could manoeuvre around the makeshift snow course with ease. When the time came to have a little fun, we found the A6 capable of instantly transforming from an executive sedan to a snow rally car.
It was with relative ease (and much needed patience in learning from our instructors) that we piloted our 3.0-litre supercharged A6 in sliding from one corner to another. In theory, one would get the steering angle right, tap on the accelerator to get the back to slide then use the brakes and the quattro system to link the slides together. It took most of us just a few goes to get the basics right and although others may have attributed that to driver skill, in reality, it was a credit to the A6’s sporty dynamics.
The quattro system has come a very long way in the past three decades, to a point where it can now keep a car as large as an A6 in full control on the slipperiest of surfaces.
Of course, it’s not all about traction and quattro with the A6. The majority of Australian Audi A6 owners are unlikely to ever find themselves driving on snow (but if you do, you’ll know that it can), so it was with that thought it mind that we set out to conquer the surrounding mountains of Queenstown.
The A6 is about as stable as a car its size can get. You can power into a corner and keep your foot almost flat on the accelerator pedal, experiencing little to no hint of understeer or oversteer. The quattro power distribution system is not only effective in slippery conditions, but also brilliant on a normal road. While the BMW 5 Series is generally seen as the sportiest of the lot, the new A6 quattro is certainly a contender for the crown.
Engage dynamic mode (you can choose between standard, auto, comfort, efficiency or dynamic modes) and the A6 stiffens its throttle and steering response for a more engaging drive.
Around Queenstown’s gorgeous scenery the A6 proved to be a perfect cruiser, with the ability to become an engaging sports sedan at the press of a button. We tested the supercharged 3.0-litre petrol (220kW/440Nm) and the turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel (180kW/500Nm). Both models benefit from smooth shifts offered by the standard seven-speed S tronic transmission. If you’re not inherently biased towards petrol or diesel, it’s hard to pick between the two.
If you plan on doing a lot of driving, the diesel makes perfect sense. It’s incredibly quiet and provides more than enough pull for pretty much everything you can throw at it. In fact, it’s so quiet that you genuinely will not hear the 'diesel rattle' even under full acceleration.
Although the petrol is faster (0-100km/h in just 5.5 seconds vs 6.1 seconds) and produces a nicer soundtrack during acceleration, we found that it doesn’t feel as smooth as the diesel. The diesel also happens to drink less fuel (6L/100km vs 8.2L/100km).
Sit inside and the Audi A6 is a gorgeous place to be. From the plush seats (more so if you tick the comfort seat option) to the sporty steering wheel and the seven-inch full colour satellite navigation screen, the A6 is not short on creature comforts. The six-cylinder models come standard with the S line exterior package, MMI navigation plus with full Bluetooth and media support (taken from the A8), engine start-stop button, two monitors, cruise control and much more. Audi’s pre sense system, which can detect certain driving situations as critical or as an impending collision and helps in preparing the vehicle and its occupants as thoroughly as possible, is also standard.
Measuring 4.92m long, 1.87m wide and 1.46m high, the Audi A6 offers generous amounts of legroom and headroom for the front passengers with two adults comfortably sitting in the back for long distance drives (it can carry three adults for short to medium drives as well).
A plethora of gadgets are available as options. From a head-up display, adaptive cruise control (maintains the speed to the car in front up to a set speed), active lane assist (helps pull the car back in its lane if it drifts off accidently) and side assist (blind sport warning), to thermal imaging infrared system (to detect pedestrians and animals at night) and park assist (self parking), the Audi A6 can almost drive itself.
If you’re into your audio, the optional Bang & Olufsen 15-speaker sound system is a treat as it’s pretty much as good as it gets.
Overall, it’s hard to fault the Audi A6 for what it is, a sporty yet comfortable and classy luxury sedan. We would recommend the comfort seats option as a must if you plan on long distance drives. If you can afford the rest of the options list, the A6 can become one of the most sophisticated and technological advanced cars on the road today, but even if you tick nothing it’s still a great drive and a pleasant car to own.
It goes head to head with the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and to a lesser extent, the Jaguar XF. Prices start from $93,900 for the 2.8-litre petrol (not tested) and top out at $121,500 for the 3.0-litre supercharged petrol. Audi Australia is expected to start the range at about $80,000 with the arrival of the front-wheel drive A6s before year’s end. A wagon (Avant) is also on the cards for next year.