Audi A6 review
The A6 is Audi's classy compact executive car rival for the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class
In the past, the Audi A6 has struggled to match its biggest rival, the BMW 5 Series. However, the latest version is different. When launched, we named it Best Executive Saloon in our 2011 New Car Awards, but it then missed out on the top spot in 2012 and 2013. As of 2014, the A6 is back at the top of the class.
Thanks to the introduction of the new Ultra spec which boosts performance and efficiency, the A6 has set the class standard even higher. It's a great all-rounder with handsome looks, style and class to match that of the Jaguar XF, with few compromises in the way it drives.
The A6 is available in 4-door saloon and 5-door Avant body styles - the latter offering 565 litres of boot space with the seats up and 1,680 litres with them down. That's more than a 5-Series Touring, but less than a Mercedes E-Class Estate. Based on the A6 Avant is the Allroad version, offering rugged styling, raised ride height, special body cladding and quattro four-wheel drive to rival the likes of the Volvo XC70.
The A6 trim level range consists of SE, S line, Black Edition and Hybrid versions, with six-speed manual or 7-speed S tronic auto gearboxes on hand.
The A6 was facelifted in late 2014 with new lights, wheel designs and some trim tweaks. While you won't spot the visual revisions easily, the improvements also made to fuel efficiency will appeal to both fleet and private buyers.
A high-powered four-wheel drive S6 model joined the line-up in 2012, and is powered by the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 as used in the brilliant Bentley Continental GT V8, with 444bhp and a muscular 550Nm of torque for a 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds.
Sitting at the top of the range is the RS6 Avant, which boasts the practicality of an estate with the performance of a supercar. Its 4.0-litre bi-turbo engine produces 552bhp and 700Nm of torque – enough to get it from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds.
Our choice: A6 Ultra 2.0 TDI S Line
Engines, performance and drive
The A6 feels agile on the move thanks to its extensive use of aluminium in its structure. The steering can't match that of the BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF, but it remains a precise and good car to drive. As it's front or all-wheel drive, it does lack the absolute balance of its BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar rivals.
The ride is on the firm side, though, especially on S line models which feature stiffer, lowered sports suspension and larger wheels. In these versions, the A6 really thumps and jars over potholes. Buyers wanting smoother progress can select SE-spec's softer Dynamic setup as a no-cost option on S-Line models, while adaptive air suspension is an eye-watering £2,000 extra.
In the corners, the A6 feels agile, with direct, responsive steering and decent body control when changing direction.
The addition of the Ultra spec boosts power from the 2.0-litre TDI to 187bhp and torque to 400Nm. There is a range of petrol and diesel engines available but the 2.0-litre diesel offers the best compromise in terms of performance and efficiency. The Ultra is actually more efficienct with the S-tronic gearbox, which suits the driving experience far better, so if you can afford the £1530 extra outlay, definitely go for the auto.
It's effortlessly smooth in its changes and for a four-cylinder diesel engine it is incredibly refined with very little engine noise intruding into the cabin unless the transmission kicks down for maximum acceleration.. If you want something with a little more grunt, the 296bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and two 3.0 TDI diesels are rapid and get the company's quattro four-wheel-drive system. A BMW 535d has more outright pace and sounds nicer through.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The engine line-up includes 2.0 and 3.0 TDI diesel units with a range of power outputs and a TFSI petrol hybrid. Our pick is the A6 Ultra, fitted with the 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI motor. Returning an impressive 67.3mpg and emitting just 109g/km, it’s the most efficient executive saloon in its class – enough to make it free to tax for the first year of ownership.
That makes it an excellent choice for business and private buyers. Other engine options include the 3.0-litre diesel available in three states of tune: 215bhp (60.1mpg and 122g/km CO2), 268bhp (55.4mpg and 133g/km CO2) and 312bhp (47.1mpg and 159g/km CO2).
As with most Audis, residual values should be very strong, with a range of fixed-price servicing packages available to help reduce costs.
Interior, design and technology
The Audi A6 may not be the most exciting car to look at, but it remains one of the most elegant and appealing designs in the executive car class. Sharp lines and stylish touches give the A6 a classy feel. Some might find it a bit too staid, and you could be forgiven for mistaking the A6 for the larger A8 or smaller A4.
SE models can look a bit uniform and bland on standard 17-inch alloy wheels but moving up to S line trim adds 18-inch wheels, lowered and stiffened suspension and a mild bodykit. All versions get cool-looking xenon lights with LED running lights, and full Matrix LEDs with scrolling idicators are optional.
The class-leading interior is largely shared with the Audi A7 and takes styling and quality characteristics from the flagship A8. Upmarket instruments, Audi's intuitive MMI control system and a perfect driving position combine to create a functional and comfortable cabin.
Audi allows you to upgrade just about every aspect of the A6's cabin, including high-quality leather and wooden dashboard inserts, but you don't need to plump for expensive options for it to feel like a quality product. We would recommend the £1,625 Technology Pack, though. Among other things, it adds a seven-inch colour TFT display between the dials, similar to the one seen in the latest TT.
Entry-level SE cars come fitted with stop-start technology, cruise control, park assist, automatic lights and wipers, leather upholstery and a Google-powered sat-nav. S line trim adds special interior trim, sports seats and Xenon lights.
Black Edition models are marked out by 20-inch titanium-look alloy wheels, a Bose audio system, privacy glass and a grille finished in polished black. S6 and RS6 models get sporty but subtle bodykits and upgraded spec lists. All versions have dual-zone climate control as standard.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The latest A6 is shorter than its predecessor, but it's also wider and more spacious than this version. There's plenty of room to get comfortable - with heaps of head, leg and shoulder room in the rear for even tall adults. It doesn't feel as claustrophobic as some of its rivals, either, thanks to lots of glass.
The 530-litre boot is vast and compares well to the A6’s rivals - it’s bigger than that of a BMW 5 Series and only slightly smaller than the Mercedes E-Class saloon. But as with every saloon, it is hampered by the small opening. Folding the rear seats create a 995-litre load area.
There's plenty of useful storage throughout the cabin, with large door bins and a deep-lided cubby between the front seats. The A6 benefits from a handy 60:40 split/fold arrangement, while a £900 Convenience Pack adds a reversible boot mat and ski-hatch for long loads, plus sinblinds for the rear passengers.
However, if you really want more space, you'll be better off with the A6 Avant.
Reliability and Safety
The A6 has been in production since 2011, and last year’s facelift will have hopefully ironed out any gremlins that may have arisen over that time. Euro NCAP tested the A6 in 2011 and gave it a five-star rating, and while the current test is tougher than before, Audi’s latest safety tech should help the A6 maintain that performance. However, if you want advanced kit such as night vision and head-up display, they’re costly options.
While Audi’s dealers look as slick as the cars they sell, according to our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, owners aren’t very impressed with the service they’ve received. As a result, the company placed 26th out of 32 in last year’s poll.