The Audi A6 executive saloon and its ilk are under fire from the enemy outside and within. Not only forced to wrestle with similar products from rival premium brands, they also have to fight for the attention of buyers eyeing increasingly popular, more versatile SUVs. And in the case of the A6's competition, some of these XXL SUV chunkers wear an Audi badge.
Yep, they’re proliferating – these big units taking the kids to school and to sports, mum to the mall and to tennis, and dad to work.
Is the movement unstoppable? What began as a tentative step by manufacturers into the big luxury SUVs has evolved quickly into a mass love-in. Just about every upmarket brand has a swisho truck in its catalogue – a reflection of their growing sales here and around the globe, commensurate with a waning demand for traditional four-door sedans. Damned SUVs are everywhere. The only place you don’t see them is in the bush.
Mid-sizer exec sedans are suffering to varying degrees, with their sales graph generally trending in a south-easterly direction, and the occasional spikes coming courtesy of a new model.
While pumping out large SUVs, Audi hasn’t given up hope there is still a premium sedan market should it dangle the right consumer bait.
Asking the nice chap from Audi how the brand intends to combat the drift away from sedans to the big SUVs, is like asking a parent to choose a favourite among children, though one is slim and attractive, and the other overweight and clumsy. He doesn’t want to play favourites.
The A6’s appeal is its position as the technological flagship, he says, but with the versatile Q7 and Q8 SUVs on the scene, the task of finding homes for the traditional executive car has become tougher. “With the A6 we are looking for sales growth and intend having a greater share of the segment.”
This shouldn’t be hard. In recent times, the aging last-gen A6 has been showing its age, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series have been kicking its butt in the sales charts. The resurgence in sales of the new 2020 Audi A6 should come from various sources. Past A6 buyers who may have looked elsewhere, but are drawn back by design, tech, driving experience, and worth, and those who no longer need to tow.
Conquest sales, too, the Audi man believes. “There’s more competition than there’s ever been, so we’ve concentrated on improving value. People can make an individual choice. That’s why Audi has a range of body shapes in each segment.”
The latest A6 has its antecedents going back to the aero wunderkind Audi 100 launched in 1968. The 2020 model maintains the hi-tech adventure with a brace of safety and security systems and connectivity.
The motive power for Australian customers is from two turbocharged petrol combustion engines: the 180kW/370Nm variant (badged 45) from the popular 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI family joining the 250kW/500Nm V6 (badged 55) and already reviewed here.
Pricing kicks off at $95,500 (plus on-road costs) for the 45 TFSI with leather-appointed cabin and riding on 19-inch alloys. All A6s are equipped with Audi’s all-wheel-drive quattro system hooked up to a dual-clutch seven-speed S tronic transmission. The 45 TFSI also scores Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Plus display, heated front seats, three-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless charging, loose wheel detection, illuminated seatbelt buckles, and LED headlights are standard, too.
The current variants come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, front and rear parking sensors, lane assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree camera. Cyclists are protected by 'exit warning' systems that identify passing cyclists or overtaking cars before the A6 driver opens the door.
Moving up the luxury ladder, next is the $105,200 (plus on-roads) 45 TFSI S line with the same engine, but also with S line exterior package, 20-inch alloys, adaptive damper suspension, Valcona leather front sports seats, and head-up display. Then there is the $116,000 3.0-litre 55 TFSI V6 offered standard with S line inclusions.
In the second quarter of next year, the range will be expanded by the arrival of a front-drive entry level with a less powerful 140kW/320Nm version of the same 2.0-litre TFSI four-pot engine and priced from $85,500.
With the recent Dieselgate unpleasantness still raw at the VW Group, Audi is avoiding oilers where possible. The A6 won’t have diesel engines, although the related Allroad quattro arriving next year certainly will, a 3.0-litre 45 TDI.
Audi is hell-bent on electrifying all of its range, so there is a plug-in model of the 2020 A6 available in other markets. The best we could elicit from Oz HQ is that the e quattro A6 is under consideration, but no A6 hybrid or electric versions here at launch. Elon, Greta, Richard, parts of inner Sydney and Melbourne, and all of Norway will be appalled. Nimbin hippies are dropping their bongs in dismay. There may be protesting in the streets.
Not to worry. The gal across the street has bought a new old-style push mower from Bunnings to do her lawns, convinced she is single-handedly reversing global warming.
But in the real motoring world of carbon-emitting anachronisms, the 2.0-litre 45 TFSI will snare about half of the sales of the new A6, with the 55 and 40 models each accounting for about a quarter of the volume.
The A6 is bought predominantly by males, 45–64 years old, with a high education level and a household income of $300K plus. They like travel, social engagement and are active. Or so the spiel goes. And the rear climate control and USB points. They are besotted by technology, but to combat info overload at the time of purchase, there is an extensive handover process.
You enter a world of serenity and class when you slide your backside into the A6. The Shades of Grey cabin is smart and tasteful, its horizontal lines adding to the impression of space, with real aluminium and timber highlights. The familiar 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit in front of the driver grabs attention with its clarity and colours, and can switch between several 'looks'.
The design approach with the new all-digital MMI operating system includes de-cluttering; knobs and switches have been banished in favour of minimalism. Gone is the old console controller knob. Two centrally mounted touchscreens (10.1- and 8.6-inch) integrated into the dashboard take care of infotainment and air-conditioning.
There’s so much potential to inform, entertain, communicate, keep you comfortable and possibly distract. The screen clarity is wonderful. Google Earth mapping for the nav is a bonus. Voice recognition and multi-function steering wheel provide the driver with even more ways of getting into the A6 sedan’s many functions.
Touchscreens are intended to mirror much of what we are familiar with using smartphones, but some of us prefer knobs, at least on audio systems. Car touchscreens are often awkward to use when motoring on less-than-perfect road surfaces, when your fingers jump about erratically.
The all-new A6 is also an early adopter of the advanced smartphone infotainment, connectivity and security technology called Audi connect plus, which includes real-time traffic information, hazard alerts and avoidance options, servo fuel prices of the preferred 95 PULP, parking station info (prices and spaces), remote signal, remote lock and unlock, emergency call and online roadside assistance. Connect plus is free for three years, after which you’ll pay a few hundred bucks a year.
Both A6 models have 'mild hybrid' technology, using a 48-volt main electrical system for the 55 TFSI and a 12-volt system for the 45 TFSI. Really, though, they’re not hybrids in the manner of a Prius, but do allow modest energy recuperation when braking or coasting to give an extra power boost at different times, as well as fuel savings.
Settling in, the seats adjust every which way, as does the steering. You get supremely comfortable. You feel rather swanky. Only when you get moving and incorporate enthusiasm into your driving technique, do you realise that the torso support lacks a little.
Audi tells us owners tend to use the nicely shaped rear seat of A6s, making use of the big openings, that generous head room and extra 17mm of leg room. Plus, the USB slots and climate control.
All A6s have the Audi staple of drive-select modes affecting the usual preferences of throttle response, weighting of steering, transmission mapping and even adaptive cruise reaction – efficiency, comfort, auto, dynamic and individual.
The default setting for the upgraded ultra quattro AWD is 'on', using four-wheeled grip. It only switches off in low-torque-demand situations when it senses the front wheels provide enough adhesion.
The standard suspension offers smooth, silent progress over the usual bumps and patches de rigueur on Australian highways, riding delightfully on the 245/45R19s and even the optional 20s. Better than the pricier 55 model on 21s offered with the Premium Plus package, which isn’t quite as unruffled when it confronts sharper edges in the tarmac.
The Premium Plus gear is available on the S line models, and adds higher-spec HD Matrix LED headlights, S-line interior package, privacy glass, panoramic glass sunroof, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound, electric steering column adjustment, electrically opening and closing boot lid, as well as a colour interior lighting package. A mere $9800.
Audi has come such a long way with its steering. Where it was once as vague as a distracted shop assistant at Spotlight, the A6’s standard progressive steering now sends firm, clear messages from the front tyres to the driver’s hands. The brakes are powerful, with the pedal letting your soles know what it’s doing. They’re spectacularly efficient.
The A6 45 TFSI quattro, with its 180kW of power and peak 370Nm of torque between 1600 and 4500rpm, is flexible and responsive enough, and good for the burst from rest to 100km/h in 6.0sec, or 0.9sec slower than the V6 version. While it lacks the snappiness of the bigger sibling's engine, it never feels inadequate, though downshifting for overtaking is a little leisurely.
With a low centre of gravity, the generous use of aluminium, delightful body control, and excellent insulation from the outside world, the A6 gobbles up the distance in such an easy way. A slippery aerodynamic shape of 0.26 also contributes to the overall fuel efficiency of 7.2 litres/100km.
Under warranty for three years, the new A6 matches BMW and Mercedes, but not Lexus (four years) and Genesis (five years). The A6 is offered with a solid service offer – a three-year service plan priced at $1700 or a five-year service plan priced at $2630. Not cheap, but nor are its rivals. Many buyers roll the servicing into financing contracts.
The 2020 A6 45 TFSI is a most appealing package in the executive mid-sizer segment, with refinement, pleasing dynamics, and no obvious deficiencies. Value is up for debate, but Audi says the price is $4000 sharper compared with the equivalent outgoing A6, plus there’s $13,000 of added equipment.