Audi A6 review

Our Rating: 
5
5.0/5.0
2011 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The A6 is Audi's classy compact executive car rival for the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class

For: 
Great all-rounder, fantastic interior, fast and frugal diesels
Against: 
Not as fun as rivals, firm S line models, steering lacks feel

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Along with the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class, the Audi A6 is one of the most established models in the executive car sector. It’s available as a four-door saloon and as an estate, known as the Avant.

As with all Audis, the A6 has a smart, well built interior, while under the bonnet there’s a strong line-up of engines. This kicks off with the frugal 2.0-litre TDI diesel in the Ultra model – which is aimed at company car drivers with its 109g/km CO2 emissions and 67.3mpg claimed fuel economy – while topping the range is the sizzling 552bhp RS6 Avant. 

Sharp looks and the appeal of the Audi badge on the bonnet add to the A6’s desirability and, as you’d expect in this sector and at this price, there’s a generous level of equipment as standard. It isn’t quite as much fun to drive as the 5 Series or a Jaguar XF, but it’s more enjoyable than the E-Class – although the Mercedes has the edge on comfort.

Our Choice: 
Audi A6 Ultra TDI S line S tronic

In the past, the Audi A6 has struggled to match its biggest rival in the executive car class, the BMW 5 Series. However, the latest version is different. Soon after it launched, we named the A6 Best Executive Car at the Auto Express 2011 New Car Awards 2011, and although it missed out on the top spot in 2012 and 2013, the car won the crown again in 2014 and 2015.

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 its Jaguar XF arch rival. There are few compromises in the way it drives, and it’s a lot more entertaining than the Mercedes E-Class.

The A6 is available in four-door saloon and five-door Avant bodystyles – the latter offers 565 litres of boot space with the seats up and 1,680 litres when they’re folded. That's more than a BMW 5 Series Touring, but less than a Mercedes E-Class Estate

Best executive cars

Audi also sells an A6 Allroad, based on the Avant. This features rugged styling, a raised ride height, special body cladding and quattro four-wheel drive, and competes with the likes of the Volvo XC70.

In the standard A6 range, buyers get a choice of SE, S line and Black Edition trim levels, with six-speed manual or seven-speed S tronic automatic gearboxes. The regular model comes with diesel power only – only the high-performance S6 and RS6 feature petrol engines – and the entry point to the range is a 2.0-litre TDI. From there, customers can move up to a 3.0-litre TDI or a twin-turbo 3.0-litre BiTDI, both of which feature Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system. 

The A6 was facelifted in late 2014 with new lights, wheel designs and some trim tweaks. While you won't spot the visual tweaks easily, the improvements Audi made to fuel efficiency at the same time will appeal to company car drivers and private buyers alike.

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 petrol V8 used in the brilliant Bentley Continental GT V8. This delivers 444bhp and a muscular 550Nm of torque to all four wheels, and takes the car from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds. 

Sitting at the top of the range is the RS6. It’s only available in Avant guise, so it combines the practicality of an estate with the performance of a supercar. Its 4.0-litre bi-turbo petrol engine produces 552bhp and 700Nm of torque – enough for 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds.

Engines, performance and drive

4.2
The A6 is a good all-rounder on the road, but it isn’t quite as sharp to drive as some rivals

Audi has used lightweight metals in the A6, so even though it’s a big car, it’s agile on the road. The steering doesn’t give you as much feedback as you get with the BMW 5 Series or the Jaguar XF, but it’s precise and more involving than the set-up in the Mercedes E-Class.

The Audi is agile through corners, with direct, responsive steering and decent body control when changing direction. Plus, the cabin is very quiet and refined, so this is a great motorway car.

While its three main rivals are rear-wheel drive, the A6 sends power to the front axle or to all four wheels. As a rule, that makes the Audi safer and leaves it with more grip in slippery conditions (particularly quattro four-wheel-drive models). However, rear-wheel-drive cars are usually more poised and fun to drive, so the A6 loses out as far as enthusiasts are concerned. 

Jaguar XF vs Audi A6 vs BMW 5 Series

Entry-level models get a six-speed manual gearbox, but Audi’s seven-speed S tronic automatic is widely available throughout the range. The top-end 3.0-litre BiTDI models come with eight-speed automatic transmissions, which are super smooth.

The ride is on the firm side, especially on S line models, which have stiffer, lowered sports suspension and larger wheels. These versions really thump and jar over potholes. Buyers wanting smoother progress can select the softer Dynamic suspension from the SE as a no-cost option on S line models. Alternatively, adaptive air-suspension is an expensive £2,000 extra.

Engines

The entry-level 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI Ultra model offers the best compromise in terms of performance and efficiency. Surprisingly, it’s more economical with the S tronic gearbox than the manual – and a large executive car like this is naturally better suited to an auto anyway – so if you can afford the £1,500 or so extra, it’s well worth it. 

The S tronic gearbox is effortlessly smooth in its changes and the 2.0-litre diesel is incredibly refined, with very little engine noise unless you’re driving it hard. The auto version is also 0.2 seconds quicker from 0-62mph than the manual A6, taking 8.2 seconds.

If you want something with a little more grunt, consider the 215bhp or 268bhp 3.0 TDI diesels; both come with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system as standard and deliver impressive performance. Go for the twin-turbo BiTDI, and you get a whopping 316bhp and vast amounts of mid-range power – this gives the saloon a 0-62mph time of five seconds flat.

Even more extreme performance can be found with the four-wheel-drive S and RS models, which are the only petrol-powered cars in the A6 range. The S6 comes with a 444bhp 4.0-litre TFSI engine, and claims 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, while the flagship RS6 Avant has a 552bhp version of the same engine and completes the benchmark sprint half a second faster.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.2
The 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine in the A6 Ultra is highly economical, claiming as much as 67.3mpg

The engine line-up of the standard A6 is limited to 2.0 and 3.0-litre TDI diesels. Our pick is the entry-level A6 Ultra, which has a 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI. This claims impressive 67.3mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of just 109g/km when it’s hooked up to the S tronic automatic gearbox. It’s the most efficient model in the executive saloon class and sits in road tax band B, which means an annual bill of £20 for private owners.

That also makes the car an excellent choice for company drivers as it gives an incredibly low Benefit in Kind rate for this class, at 19 per cent. Other engine options include the 3.0-litre diesel, available in three states of tune: 215bhp (60.1mpg and 122g/km), 268bhp (55.4mpg and 133g/km) and 312bhp (47.1mpg and 159g/km). All models come with stop/start and a brake energy recovery system as standard. 

Running costs are obviously much higher for the petrol-powered performance models: expect 30.7mpg economy and 214g/km CO2 emissions from the S6 and 29.4mpg and 223g/km from the RS6. 

Insurance groups

The 2.0-litre TDI models start at group 33 – slightly higher than the entry-level BMW 5 Series, but marginally less than a basic Mercedes E-Class. The 3.0-litre TDI versions range from group 35 to group 44 for the BiTDI, which is broadly similar to rivals. Meanwhile, the high-performance S6 sits in group 47 and the flagship RS6, perhaps unsurprisingly, in group 50, which is as high as it gets.

Depreciation

Large executive cars don’t traditionally hold on to their price that well. Yet conversely, anything wearing an Audi badge on the bonnet tends to have strong residual values – so the A6 is likely to stand up comparatively well against its rivals. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel versions are predicted to lose less money than more expensive models with larger engines thanks to their lower list prices and impressive economy.

Interior, design and technology

4.4
It looks sharp on the outside, and the Audi A6 is plush and exceptionally well built inside, too

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 it a classy feel. Some people might find it a bit too staid, and you could be forgiven for mistaking the car for the larger A8 or smaller A4 from Audi’s range

SE models can look a bit uniform and bland on standard 17-inch alloy wheels, but move up to S line trim and you get 18-inch wheels, lowered and stiffened suspension and a mild bodykit. All versions feature cool-looking Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, while upgraded full Matrix LED lamps with scrolling indicators are optional.

The class-leading interior is largely shared with the coupe/fastback Audi A7 and takes styling cues and quality hints from the top-of-the range A8 luxury car. Upmarket instruments, Audi's MMI infotainment system and a perfect driving position combine to create a functional, comfortable and premium-feeling cabin.

Audi allows you to upgrade just about everything inside the A6, adding higher-grade leather and wooden dashboard inserts, but it feels like a top-quality product even if you don't plump for expensive options. We would recommend the £1,625 Technology Pack, though. Among other things, it brings a seven-inch colour TFT display between the dials, similar to the one seen in the latest Audi TT sports car.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Entry-level SE versions of the A6 come fitted with cruise control, as well as USB and auxiliary inputs, and Bluetooth. They also feature park assist, automatic lights and wipers, leather upholstery and a Google-powered sat-nav system. S line spec 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 polished black grille. The S6 and RS6 get sporty but subtle bodykits and upgraded spec lists. All versions have dual-zone climate control as standard.

The sat-nav system itself is quite swish as you can upgrade to a Google Maps street view version, although the standard set-up works just fine. 

Practicality, comfort and boot space

4.4
Even the A6 saloon has a big boot, while the Avant and Allroad versions are impressively spacious and practical choices

The latest Audi A6 is shorter than its predecessor, but it's also wider and more spacious. There's plenty of useful storage throughout the cabin, with large door bins and a deep cubbyhole with a lid between the front seats. A £900 Convenience Pack adds a reversible boot mat and ski hatch for long loads, plus sun blinds for rear passengers.

The five-seater A6 saloon isn’t a small car, but four-door saloons aren’t the most practical choices by their very nature. If you need more space, particularly in the boot, then the A6 Avant estate is worth a look. Equally, if you plan on using the car for towing or live down a rugged country track, for example, then the A6 Allroad has a raised ride height and is better able to cope with mild off-roading thanks to its exterior cladding and underbody protection.

Size

Even though it’s shorter than the old A6, the current model is still the longest car in its class. It measures 4,933mm in length, compared to 4,899mm and 4,879mm for the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class respectively. The Audi is also 1,864mm wide and 1,468mm tall.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The A6 is a big car and there's plenty of space to get comfortable inside, with heaps of head, leg and shoulder room in the rear, even for tall adults. Plus, it doesn't feel as claustrophobic as some of its rivals, as the big windows let in a lot of light.

Boot

The vast 530-litre boot in the Audi compares well to those of its competitors. The A6 has a bigger load bay than the BMW 5 Series, which offers 520 litres, but it’s slightly smaller than the Mercedes E-Class saloon’s 540-litre capacity. As with every four-door, it’s hampered by the small opening and can’t match a hatchback for practicality. Folding the rear seats creates a 995-litre luggage area and they drop in a conventional 60:40 configuration.

Reliability and Safety

4.4
The Audi A6 comes with plenty of safety equipment as standard, and owners rate its build quality highly

The current 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 gave the car a five-star rating when it crash tested it in 2011, and while the current test is tougher than before, Audi’s latest safety tech should help the A6 maintain that performance.

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, electronic stability control, automatic lights and wipers, hill hold assist and park assist. However, if you want advanced kit such as night vision and head-up display, they’re costly options.

The A6 finished in 56th place in the top 200 of our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey. Owners rated build quality as a particular highlight – the car ranked fifth overall in that category. Meanwhile, Audi finished 13th in the manufacturers chart in Driver Power 2015, which is well within the top half.

Warranty

These days, Audi is a little behind the pack when it comes to warranties. It offers a three year/60,000-mile warranty, which is about average for the car industry. Its main rivals – BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar – have similar three-year packages, but they all throw in unlimited mileage cover. So if you plan to cover big distances – as many of the business users executive cars like this are aimed at will – you may be better off with a model from one of those brands.

Servicing

Audi recommends that the A6 undergoes a minor service every 10,000 miles or 12 months and a major service every two years and 20,000 miles. Exact maintenance prices for new cars depend on the dealer, but fixed-price interim servicing for models over three years old starts at £159 for entry-level A6s fitted with 2.0-litre engines, with a major check-up costing £309. That rises to £199 and £399 respectively for cars with bigger engines, which covers most of the A6 range.

Last updated: 7 Jan, 2016