Australians know first-hand that sales of sedans are declining dramatically. We have three closed car factories – Ford, Holden and Toyota – to prove it.
But what many may not realise is that the shift away from conventional vehicles to SUVs is also happening in the luxury class. German mainstays such as the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series and Audi A6 sedans are also finding the going tough – globally and locally.
In Australia, their fortunes have ebbed and flowed in recent years. The few spikes in sales have largely been driven by the arrival of all-new models.
Which is why there is a lot riding on the new 2019 Audi A6. This is the first completely new Audi A6 since 2011, and it has quite a job ahead of it.
The Mercedes E-Class outsells the Audi A6 in Australia by more than three-to-one, and the BMW 5 Series outsells it by more than two-to-one. Sales of the Audi A6 have declined sharply for the past five years in a row, while Mercedes and BMW have had recovery spurts in that time.
When they’re on the ropes, car companies do one of two things: double-down and dig deeper to build a better car, or spend as little as they can and let the vehicle die a natural death. Fortunately, if the new A6 is a guide, it appears Audi has not given up on the sedan market just yet.
There are initially three models in the new range, with a new naming system to better identify engine outputs – and to disguise the fact most models are powered by a smallish 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, as Audi downsizes its engines with the rest of the car world.
The A6 45 TFSI starts from $95,500 plus on-road costs, and is powered by a 180kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive.
The next model up is the A6 45 TFSI S-Line from $105,200 plus on-road costs. It gets the same engine but a more sporty appearance, a head-up display reflected onto the windscreen, sports suspension, and 20-inch alloy wheels rather than 19s.
The flagship – until the high-performance models arrive in 2020 – is the A6 55 TFSI S-Line from $116,000 plus on-road costs, powered by a 250kW/500Nm turbo V6 matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive.
Putting its best foot forward, Audi put an A6 55 TFSI on its test fleet, although a quick look at the specification sheet shows the price can blow out to $137,850 plus on-road costs once a few options are ticked.
The example of the Audi A6 we tested had a Premium Plus package ($11,100) that added a Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, Matrix LED headlights (that mask oncoming cars while still on high beam), a panoramic glass sunroof, LED ambient lighting for the interior, a power opening and closing boot, powered column adjustment for the steering wheel, and 21-inch alloy wheels and super-low-profile tyres, among other extras.
Air suspension ($2000), a dynamic steering package ($4200), pearl paint ($2200), a gloss-black package ($1600), and new dash inserts ($750) rounded out the options list.
Standard fare on all models is the full suite of Audi’s latest safety tech: radar cruise control with traffic jam assistance; 360-degree camera; front and rear parking sensors; lane-keeping assistance; rear cross-traffic alert; and blind-zone warning.
The A6 also has 'exit warning' tech – which detects cyclists or passing cars before the driver opens the door – that debuted on the smaller A4 sedan in 2016.
Occupants are protected by eight airbags (including seat-mounted side airbags in the outboard rear seats), and the A6 earns a five-star safety rating.
The dashboard is dominated by two large touchscreens (10.1- and 8.6-inch) that control infotainment and air-conditioning systems. Both have haptic and acoustic feedback. A wireless phone charging pad is also standard, although the space is too small for large phones in bulky cases.
In front of the driver is Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display that can be viewed in several modes.
The A6 is also the first Audi in Australia with the company’s new smartphone connectivity technology. Audi calls it Connect Plus. In simple terms, it brings some of the functionality found in electric cars to conventional petrol-powered vehicles.
After quite an invasive vetting process (to identify your bona fides and the car), your phone is paired wirelessly to the vehicle, even when it is parked and switched off.
Thanks to a permanent phone connection via an embedded SIM card installed at the factory (separate from the optional onboard WiFi hotspot), via an Audi app on your phone you can pinpoint the car to within 1m of its actual location, see how much fuel is left in the tank, sound the horn, flash the hazard lights, and lock and unlock the doors.
The flashing lights and the sounding of the horn are designed to help you find it in a large car park. Locking and unlocking the doors is designed to enable parcels to be delivered to your car while you’re not there.
It can also show petrol prices, monitor traffic, and check to see how many spots are available in certain car park stations. In an emergency, the car can connect to an Audi call centre that then, in turn, contacts authorities.
In case you let your kids drive it, you can set a perimeter that sounds an alert if the car is driven beyond a geo-fenced area, or exceeds a predetermined speed limit.
Up to five people can have this level of access to the same car, but the primary owner of the vehicle can disconnect others at the press of a button. We downloaded the app and had a thorough demonstration, but other than to check it worked, we never used it in a practical sense.
Audi spent five years developing this technology and making sure it worked in Australian conditions. Perhaps it’s something that will be in demand in the future (Audi plans to roll out the tech on all future models), but it was more of a novelty than a necessity for me.
Those with privacy concerns might be spooked by it, given the amount of personal data it requires. Audi says its connectivity systems are secure.
The complete level of connectivity is free for the first three years, beyond which there is a subscription fee. The price is yet to be determined, but an Audi representative indicated it would cost about $400 per year to renew the subscription once the initial three-year period expires. Emergency service backup is included for 10 years.
Warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres versus five-, six- and seven-year coverage among mainstream brands – and four- and five-year coverage offered by rival luxury brands Lexus and Genesis respectively.
Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Individual capped-price services are not available, but you can bundle the first three services for a lump sum of $1700 at the time of purchase. The five-year service plan is $2630.
At an average of more than $500 per service, it’s not exactly cheap, but is par for the course in the luxury class.
On the road
The optional 21-inch wheels may look good, but their low-profile tyres could be viewed as a risky move on Australian roads.
They are so low in profile, in fact, that you can feel when you drive over painted lines on the road. And I’m not talking about the reflective markers. I’m talking literally about the paint. I even have a witness (who felt it from the passenger seat) to prove it wasn’t my imagination.
So, it was with some trepidation that I pointed the A6 towards winding and bumpy back roads. To my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There are a few caveats, however.
Firstly, the car tested had optional air suspension, so we can’t vouch for the standard set-up. It was also equipped with 'dynamic' and rear-wheel steering, also an option.
But on most surfaces, including lumpy country roads, the A6 on 21s held up okay and dealt with the conditions reasonably well. It wasn’t nauseatingly stiff, and nor did it jar. It only really got upset on the occasional freeway expansion join. That said, given the plushness of the interior and the car itself, I wouldn’t say no to a slightly more comfortable ride and suspension setting.
Most impressive was the acceleration for what is effectively a middle-of-the-range car. The turbo V6 engine responds instantly to light throttle inputs. It takes some getting used to, but it’s great to know you have power on tap.
We tested Audi’s 0–100km/h acceleration claim of 5.1 seconds on our precision timing equipment – and matched it. In layman’s terms, this is as quick as a Holden Commodore SS or Kia Stinger (I’ve previously recorded identical 5.1-second times in both cars on the same strip of road).
The brakes are equally impressive, with a sharp and precise pedal feel.
Audi says both A6 models have “mild hybrid” tech, with a 48-volt main electrical system for the 55 TFSI and a 12-volt system for the 45 TFSI. In practice, though, it’s more of an advanced idle stop-start system than a hybrid.It can recuperate up to 12kW of energy when braking or coasting, and has stop-start functionality up to 22km/h.
However, during our test, at no point did the A6 drive on battery power alone or move from rest on battery power – unlike hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla, and indeed the original Toyota Prius released 22 years ago.
The new A6 is reasonably economical, although not as frugal as the real hybrid Lexus ES300h I tested the week earlier. In that vehicle I got a real-world 5.1–5.6L/100km on a mix of city and highway driving. In the Audi A6, despite its 'mild hybrid' tech, I averaged between 8.9 and 9.9L/100km. This figure would increase if you plan to do mostly urban driving.
To help balance the new Audi A6, most of the bodywork is made from lightweight aluminium. The bonnet, front fenders, all four doors and the boot lid are aluminium – only the roof and rear fenders are steel.
The boot is the same size as before (530L), which is par for the class. The BMW 5 Series also has a 530L boot, while the Mercedes E-Class’s cargo capacity is 540L. If you’re wondering how big that is, a Toyota Corolla sedan has a 470L boot.
The A6 sits flat in corners and the steering is eerily responsive and precise. However, it’s worth noting the test car was equipped with optional all-wheel steering and dynamic steering. We can’t vouch for how the standard steering feels as we are yet to test it.
The Matrix headlights (which mask oncoming cars from the high beam by blanking individual LED cells – they look like piano keys when a car approaches around a corner) worked remarkably well, and are a godsend on country back roads where wildlife can be a danger at night.
Overall, the new Audi A6 is an impressive car, and it’s great to see Audi has doubled-down in its attempt to reverse its sales slide and close the gap with BMW and Mercedes.
However, I do wonder how the standard car drives, as the cost of the options dents the A6’s appeal. It’s already on the high side with prices ranging from $95,500 to $116,000. At close to $140,000, as this vehicle was, there is pause for thought.