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Gone are the days when family-size luxury sedans required a V6 or even a V8 engine to generate respectable pace, because the Audi A6 TSFI is another example from the new wave of four-cylinder grunt out there.
Audi’s $77,900 (plus on-road costs) entry-level A6 may only be armed with a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, direct injection four-cylinder petrol engine, but it still makes 132kW of power as well as 320Nm of torque between 1500 and 3900rpm.
That’s good enough to sprint from zero to 100km/h in a decent 8.3 seconds, with a top speed of 226km/h (that’s not very relevant in Australia).
For just $1000 more, you can have the diesel-powered A6 2.0 TDI, which despite producing less power than its petrol sibling (only 2kW) gains a meaty 60Nm of hill-crushing torque.
It also shaves a tenth-of-a-second off the sprint time, needing just 8.2 seconds.
The Audi’s German rivals include the $79,900 BMW 520i, which makes 135kW/270Nm and will reach 100km/h in 8.0 seconds flat, while the equivalently priced Mercedes-Benz E200 produces 135kW and 300Nm and needs 8.2 seconds.
Jaguar’s entry-level contender in the luxury mid-size segment is the significantly less expensive (and quicker) XF 2.0T Luxury priced from $68,900 with 177kW/340Nm for 7.9 seconds, while Japanese luxury brand Lexus steps up with its GS250 Luxury (154kW/252Nm) wearing a $77,400 price tag and needing 8.6 seconds.
The obvious benefits of engine downsizing are reduced fuel consumption and fewer emissions, and in the Audi’s case it’s a claimed 6.4L/100km and 149g/km of CO2, which is impressive for a sedan this size that tips the scales at 1640kg.
By comparison, the naturally aspirated Audi A6 2.8-litre FSI quattro consumes an average of 8.0L/100km and makes less torque (280Nm) than the A6 turbo fours.
For rivals, the 520i and E200 sedans have identical fuel figures, and the XF 2.0L is a relatively thirsty 8.9L/100km.
Audi has done a good job in minimising engine noise inside the A6’s cabin, though noise-cancelling measures are less effective (though not annoying) with full throttle applications – something of a requirement for quick off-the-line getaways and steep hill climbs.
For more performance there’s a Sport Mode, but unlike the V6 models, which employ either an eight-speed torque converter automatic or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the four-cylinder engines are matched to a less inspiring continuously variable transmission.
The CVT isn’t as refined as Audi’s silky-smooth conventional autos, or as dynamic as the twin-clutch units, but at least the paddleshifters (part of the Technic pack) do their best to simulate proper gear changes and provide a semblance of driver involvement.
Audi Drive Select also allows individual tweaks to throttle response and transmission for greater economy.
While outright straight-line performance isn’t the number one priority, there’s still sufficient punch for safe overtaking and quick off-the-line getaways.
Handling is also reasonably well sorted for a car of this size, with limited body roll. There’s also decent grip from the 18-inch alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone tyres and, importantly, the A6 feels composed and solid.
However, push on in a more spirited manner and typically there’s a tendency for the front-wheel-drive A6 to want to understeer.
There’s still a lack of steering feel from the electromechanical system on board the A6, but at least it’s comfortably weighted and quick to respond.
The ride is good. The big Audi deals with imperfect road surfaces with ease, even if sharp edges and larger potholes can unsettle the car at slower speeds.
And the A6 certainly looks the part, with the 2014 edition benefiting from a recent update that added the S line exterior package (complete with sportier-looking front and rear bumpers, side sills and rear diffuser) as standard, along with xenon headlights and Audi’s signature LED daytime running lights.
Inside, you’ll find the German marque’s benchmark quality fit out. Beautifully styled switchgear and high-end level materials are blended with metallic accents to make it a first-class cabin and a great place to spend some time.
There’s also plenty of standard kit, with highlights including the sensational 8-inch infotainment screen that slides in and out of the dash on start-up, as well as the 10-speaker audio system that produces excellent depth and clarity.
For audiophiles who demand the highest in audio clarity, there’s the optional $12,340 Bang & Olufsen system packing 1200-Watts, a 10-channel amplifier and 15 high-performance speakers.
Digital TV reception is also available across the A6 range at an additional cost of $2300.
Audi’s standard MMI Navigation Plus is excellent and includes a unique touchpad that can be used to write letters and numbers with your finger, but just like the Audi A3 we recently tested, we (at least this reviewer) still can’t quite get the gist of this novel feature.
Our A6 was also fitted with the optional Technik package, which adds four-zone climate control, 360-degree top-view camera and a superb-to-hold multifunctional sports steering wheel.
Extra safety features including Active Lane and side assist with pre-sense rear are also part of the package.
The leather-trimmed seats are superbly cushioned with generous width, though the front buckets are only moderately bolstered.
There’s a stack of rear legroom too, and headroom is comfortable even for taller passengers due to the relatively sunken nature and angle of the rear pews.
There’s plenty of space in the boot, with a deep-set floor and decent length, but its relatively narrow aperture could restrict the loading of larger boxes and other more bulky items.
With all the usual Audi traits, including smart styling and best in class interior, the latest Audi A6 2.0 TSFI is further proof a small-displacement engine can work well in a big luxury car.
For those wanting slightly more performance and even better fuel economy, the A6 2.0 TDI is also well worth a test drive.