Audi remains convinced wagons like its new Audi A6 Avant can be cool in Australia, despite sales statistics showing the nation’s general aversion to them in favour of SUVs.
The German car makers are clearly hoping that avoiding the use of the word 'wagon' will help.
While Audi uses Avant, BMW has Touring, and Mercedes-Benz has the surprisingly anglophilic Estate.
The Audi A6 is already closing the sales gap to traditional segment front-runners, the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the wagon – sorry, Avant – should help.
Audi, like BMW and Mercedes, is importing limited variants of its largest wagon (it also offers the A4 Avant). Buyers have a simple choice of either a four-cylinder petrol or a four-cylinder diesel. (A six-cylinder will be offered with the higher-riding Audi A6 Allroad due later this year.)
The Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TFSI petrol costs from $81,800, with just a tiny premium for the diesel Audi A6 Avant TDI that’s priced from $82,900.
Both models undercut competitors from BMW and Mercedes – with a price advantage over the $89,900 BMW 520d Touring and a major gap to the most affordable Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon, the $108,150 E250 CDI Estate that’s powered by a four-cylinder turbo diesel.
The Audi A6 Avant twins cost about $4000 extra over their equivalent sedan siblings, bring more practicality as compensation.
Boot space increases by 35 litres to 565, while folding the rear seats thumps the sedan for overall capacity by 1680 litres to 995 litres.
That’s comparable to the BMW 5-Series Touring but still well short of the Kennards Storage-like 1950 litres (with 695L boot) offered by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate.
There’s a neat trick to opening the Audi A6 Avant’s tailgate, though (even if also offered on the upcoming Ford Kuga/Escape). With the car’s key fob on your person, the hatch can be opened automatically by aiming a subtle kicking motion with your leg under the rear bumper, where a sensor lurks to detect the hands-free opening command.
It’s handy – if that’s the right word – if your arms are already being taxed by boxes or bags, though it took us a few practice leg swings to get the action the sensor would register.
Audi has bolstered the A6 Avant’s practicality with extra standard features. There are telescopic holding bars that can be slotted into the cargo rails to create separate compartments, sliding rail hooks with luggage net, and a cargo blind that, when in use, lifts and lowers in unison with the tailgate.
There’s further electronic help with levers in the rear that release the spring-loaded rear seats into a folded position (though not entirely flat).
For family members or friends jumping into the back seat, there’s wide access through the rear doors followed by plenty of legroom and good headroom for two taller passengers. (The middle seat is best for kids only.)
Moulded door bins and a centre armrest with twin push-out cupholders and a shallow tray compartment offer storage areas.
As with the sedan, the Audi A6 Avant offers a sensational interior beyond practicality.
The exquisite cabin is quite simply the benchmark in the segment, standing out against the rival BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class for style and in both tangible and perceived quality. The German compatriots are in danger of becoming staid in comparison.
There’s a fine mix of smooth and textured surfaces, and every button and dial feels tactile and looks high-brow without forgoing function.
Buyers can further adorn the immaculate interior with optional trim inserts, such as the $1360 fine grain ash that looks like it has been carved into the doors by a Swiss carpenter.
A touchpad, which debuted on the Audi A8 limo and allows the driver or front passenger to scrawl letters for data entries such as sat-nav addresses, is standards with the MMI (multimedia) system.
There’s also Bluetooth with audio streaming, an Audi-branded audio with 10 speakers and 180 watts, electronically adjustable front seats, and parking aid technology.
Both the Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TFSI and Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI models we tested featured an optional, $3360 Technik pack that adds brighter (xenon) headlights, four-zone air-conditioning, sports steering wheel and Top View technology that, as with BMW’s same-name system, uses multiple mini cameras to provide a useful birds-eye look at the car’s surroundings.
Parking aid technology that includes a reverse-view camera is a new option on the Audi A6 and costs $1720.
And S-Line packages are again available to give the Audi A6 Avant a sportier look and feel, bringing exterior body kit, sports steering wheel, brushed-aluminium inlays, xenon headlights with daytime running lights, sports seats made of Valcona leather and firmer suspension.
Neither of the test cars we drove on the launch featured S-Line, though neither of the two 2.0-litre engine options are particularly sporty. They are refined, though.
The Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TFSI’s four-cylinder petrol has 132kW and 320Nm, directed – unlike its rear-drive BMW and Mercedes rivals - to the front wheels via the company’s continuously variable transmission it dubs Multitronic. (Buyers after an all-wheel-drive wagon will have to wait until later this year for the more expensive Audi A6 Allroad.)
Audi’s CVT is one of the more agreeable versions of this stepless gearbox, with limited droning and feux gearchanges possible by selecting Dynamic mode from the Audi Drive Select that allows drivers to choose different response settings for the steering, throttle and auto.
The belt-pulley CVT system still takes some time to wind up, making initial acceleration quite lethargic – and most noticeably in the petrol.
Peak torque in the quiet and clean-revving 2.0-litre turbo petrol actually arrives sooner than the 2.0-litre turbo diesel – at 1500rpm rather than 1750rpm – yet the oil-burner makes its extra 60Nm of torque count by feeling the stronger at lower and middling revs and generally the more driveable unit.
Audi’s official acceleration figures have the diesel edging the petrol by 8.5 seconds to 8.6 in the 0-100km/h sprint.
There’s a bigger gap in fuel efficiency, though it’s hardly a gulf – with the 2.0 TDI rated at 5.1L/100km versus 6.5L/100km for the 2.0 TFSI. Corresponding CO2 emissions are 135g/km and 152g/km.
Those figures are also superior to the 135kW/380Nm 520d Touring (5.3L/100km) and E250 CDI Estate (5.6L/100km), though the Mercedes has more power and torque - 150kW/500Nm.
Audi’s four-cylinder diesel is also noticeably more refined than the rival 2.1-litre unit found in the Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI, if only the equal of the BMW 520d’s compression-ignition four.
The BMW and Mercedes are better to drive overall, though the Audi A6 is much improved over previous generations.
Steering remains a dynamic weakness for Audi’s luxury models, with familiar negative traits of aloofness and inconsistent weighting just off centre also present in the A6.
Become more enthusiastic with the throttle pedal and the Audi A6 Avant will understeer sooner than a 5-Series or E-Class wagon, though otherwise it is still a capable of handling corners with sufficient composure.
The Audi A6’s suspension is also less jiggly than the smaller A4’s, though the ride still becomes busier on uneven surfaces than it should for what should be a comfort-focused family luxury car.
But as that type of vehicle the Audi A6 Avant very much succeeds. It’s big, roomy, equipped with thoughtful practical extras, attractively priced compared to direct rivals, and in terms of luxuriant interiors the A6 is peerless.