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The Audi A6 goes from strength to strength in fifth generation form. Can it make a bid for the crown in the full-Executive segment? Jonathan Crouch reports.
'A first class journey with a business class ticket': that's how Audi describes the travelling experience you'll get in this fifth generation A6 model. Basically, what the Ingolstadt brand has done here is to democratise much of the technology of its larger A8 and enveloped it into smartly proportioned new bodywork. There's certainly lots to admire here, with advanced mild hybrid drivetrains, sharper yet more comfortable suspension options, sublime cabin comfort and a high-tech all-digital MMI touch response interface. But then then exceptional technology will be needed if his Audi is to be able to face down rivals of the quality of BMW's 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class.
Audi offers this A6 with a wide range of engines, mostly with the brand's latest mild hybrid tech. The range kicks off with a couple of 2.0-litre four cylinder models, the first of them being the 40 TDI diesel (with 204PS). From that point on in the range, all A6 derivatives get quattro 4WD, starting with the other four cylinder model, the petrol-powered 45 TFSI quattro (which offers 245PS). Alternatively, there's a plug-in hybrid petrol model, the A6 50 TFSIe, with a combined output of 299PS and an electric driving range when fully charged of up to 34 miles. Next up lie a couple of conventional 3.0-litre six cylinder models with mild hybrid tech, the 50 TDI quattro diesel (286PS) and the 55 TFSI quattro petrol (340PS). If you're happy with the Avant estate body shape, there's also the allroad A6 Avant model with its air suspension and raised ride height. The allroad quattro model offers buyers three engine choices; a slightly de-tuned 231PS version of the six cylinder 3.0-litre TDI diesel unit, badged '45 TDI'. And the two aforementioned six cylinder units, the 50 TDI and the 55 TFSI. At the top of the range sit two bespoke sporting models. The S6 quattro uses the 3.0-litre six cylinder TDI diesel engine in an uprated 350PS state of tune. And the top RS 6 quattro (another Avant-only variant) has a 4.0-litre TFSI twin turbo V8 with 600PS, the result being 600PS, 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds, 124mph in 12 seconds and one queasy looking Labrador. As you'd expect in this segment, all A6 models are exclusively equipped with automatic transmission. That'll be a seven-speed S tronic gearbox, unless you've opted for a 3.0-litre six cylinder diesel or the RS 6 (in which case the transmission will be an 8-speed tiptronic set-up to handle the extra torque). In conjunction with the tiptronic transmission, the quattro configuration is based on the familiar self-locking centre differential format, while the S tronic transmission works with more efficient 'ultra' technology, which is capable of engaging the rear axle instantly whenever needed but decouples it during cruising to maximise efficiency. The driver can select various driving profiles via the Audi drive select system - with 'efficiency, 'comfort', 'dynamic' options, plus 'auto' if you can't make up your mind and 'individual' if you want to set your own throttle, steering and gearshift parameters.
The styling of this fifth generation model borrows much from its A7 Sportback and A8 executive and luxury segment stablemates. So there are taut surfaces, sharp edges and striking lines, plus a long bonnet, a long wheelbase and short overhangs. The wide, low-slung Singleframe grille, the flat headlights and the powerfully contoured air inlets lend a suitably purposeful air. In profile, three striking lines reduce the car's visual height. The powerfully taut contours, which are drawn over the wheels, are testimony to Audi's quattro genes. This shape is certainly very sleek: thanks to advanced aerodynamics, a class-leadingly-slippery drag coefficient of as little as 0.24Cd has been achieved. The interior is larger than the outgoing model. Legroom in the rear exceeds not only that predecessor design but also the space you'll get in core competitors, while headroom and shoulder room measurements in both front and rear are also more generous than previously. Up front, the dash features the black-panel design we first saw on the current A8. You're going to need to like screens because this car's classy interior can incorporate no fewer than three of them, the two you'll notice first powering up as soon as the door is opened and dominating the upper and lower parts of the piano black-trimmed centre stack. There's comfortable room for a couple of adults in the back and a 530-litre boot. If you need more, the alternative Avant estate variant offers 565-litres.
Prices start at around £39,000, which gets you the 2.0 TDI diesel '40 TDI' saloon; there's a £2,100 premium if you want the Avant estate bodystyle. As before, this car's three key rivals will be the Mercedes E-Class, the BMW 5 Series and the Jaguar XF. You'll need to get your A6's spec right. There are four suspension set-ups: the conventional steel spring suspension, the sport suspension, the suspension with damper control and the adaptive air suspension, also with controlled damping. 'Progressive steering', which becomes even quicker and more direct as the steering angle increases, is standard. And dynamic all-wheel steering can also be added to further enhance this agility. Plus you can add in various autonomous driving features. And even specify Audi's 'parking pilot' and 'garage pilot' systems that will allow you to stand outside of your A6 and remotely park it: brilliant. A sophisticated MMI navigation system comes as standard - or you can add the optional 'MMI navigation plus' set-up. This has a media hub with high speed data transfer using the LTE Advanced standard. With this more advanced infotainment package, you can further add optional modules, including two sound systems headed by the Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System delivering 3D sound. Audi connect online services also provide clever 'car-to-X services' traffic sign and hazard information. They use the swarm intelligence from the Audi fleet and network the Audi A6 with its environment.
All engines in this fifth generation new A6 feature the brand's latest mild-hybrid technology. Here a belt alternator starter (BAS) works together with a lithium-ion battery, enabling the A6 to coast at speeds of between 34mph and 99mph in the interest of fuel economy and to initiate its start-stop function earlier - at speeds of 13mph and below. The engine is restarted from standstill predictively as soon as the vehicle in front starts moving. During deceleration, the BAS recovers up to 12 kW of energy. Let's get to the WLTP figures. The volume 2.0-litre 40 TDI diesel saloon version manages 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and 146g/km of CO2. The 45 TFSI quattro petrol saloon variant delivers combined fuel economy of up to 45.3mpg (depending on wheel size and trim choice) and CO2 emissions of up to 182g/km. The 50 TDI quattro saloon delivers combined fuel economy of up to 40.4mpg, plus combined CO2 emissions of up to 183g/km. Go for the A6 50 TFSIe plug-in hybrid petrol variant and, thanks to this derivative's 29 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range, you can enjoy a tax-beating CO2 return that's WLTP-rated at 35g/km. We'll finish by covering the warranty. All cars in this class get three years of cover, but whereas BMW and Mercedes don't limit your mileage in this period, Audi rather meanly restricts you to 60,000 miles. Optional extra-cost packages can extend the cover to either four or five years.
Has Audi done enough with the fifth generation version of this car? Many thousands of managers who'll put many more thousands of miles under the wheels of their new A6s every month will feel so. As before, they'll value this car for its quiet, understated professionalism, further marvelling in this guise at its mind-boggling technology and rather wonderful cabin. Yes, there are perhaps more characterful cars than this smart, efficient and perfectly mannered business conveyance - perhaps even some that feel sharper at the wheel. But it's hard to think of a more complete or cost-effective choice in this sector. It's all very vorsprung durch tecknik. And at the end of a very long day, you're likely to feel that that's what really matters.