Audi A6 Ultra review
The Audi A6 Ultra is one of the top company car choices on the executive car market
The Audi A6 has been facelifted since we crowned it 2014 Executive Car of the Year, but besides smart new lights and wheel designs, Audi has also squeezed yet more efficiency out of the 2.0-litre TDI engine. Best of all, the S-tronic automatic is now substantially more economical according to the official figures, which is great news for fleet buyers who can spec this car with the gearbox which suits its character best guilt-free.
Despite only being on sale for a year, Audi has revised the A6 Ultra because of the stiff competition it faces from the UK, Germany and Japan. The army of high-mpg, tax-friendly rivals it must beat includes the Lexus GS300h hybrid as well as diesel versions of the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Jaguar XF.
The A6 Ultra range includes saloon and Avant estate variants with an advanced 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine and a choice of dual-clutch S tronic automatic or manual gearboxes. The standard A6 trim levels are offered too and that means a further choice of SE, S line or Black Edition specifications. On the combined cycle, Audi claims the S-tronic saloon will acheive 67.3mpg and 109g/km, while the manual scores a marginally worse 65.7mpg. The Avant is not quite as green as the lighter saloon, but with best figures of 64.2mpg and 114g/km (62.8 and 118g/km for the manual) it's still a remarkably green big saloon.
Otherwise, the Audi A6 Ultra is largely unchanged from the standard A6 with a quality feel permeating the interior and a classily understated exterior look. It's not quite as sharp on the road as the rear-wheel-drive BMW 5 Series but Audi has managed to achieve its efficiency gains without significant drawbacks in terms of performance or driving experience. It's a neat trick that deserves to pay dividends in the sales charts.
With an elegant and appealing design, the A6 is an unassuming but classy saloon. Taut lines and smart design touches are matched to Audi’s trademark grille, which is larger in the facelifted car. Techy LED headlights with scrolling indicators are also now available as an option, but xenons with LED running lights are standard.
While S line models get a mild bodykit, chrome-plated tailpipe, plus a platinum spoiler lip and diffuser insert. Standard sports suspension means it sits 20mm lower, too, which combined with 18-inch wheels gives it a purposeful stance.
Yet it’s the Audi’s interior that’s the real star of the show, as it borrows much of its style and quality from the brand’s flagship A8. The upmarket instruments blend with Audi’s intuitive MMI control system to create a cohesive driving environment that’s complemented by top-drawer switchgear and a perfect driving position. The MMI's processor trip has been upgraded in an Apple-style update for the facelifted car, so it should be even snappier to rattle through the menus.
In S line trim, the functional and comfortable cabin feels really upmarket thanks to standard leather upholstery, sat-nav, brushed aluminium inlays and dual-zone climate control.
Racey touches, like the perforated leather multifunction wheel and S line sill trims, give the eco-optimised Ultra a sporty edge, too.
Low emissions and frugal economy are one thing, but these days buyers demand cost benefits without having their driving experience compromised. Fortunately, the Ultra is nothing short of superb – it’s like a low-fat dinner that has so much flavour you’d never guess it’s actually good for you.
The improvements have been achieved without sluggish long gearing, grip-reducing low-rolling resistance tyres or ride-ruining eco-optimised suspension settings. Audi’s smooth seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox replaces the old eight-speed Multitronic CVT. Engine and exhaust upgrades mean the Ultra not only has more power than the existing 2.0-litre TDI – 187bhp compared to 175bhp – but torque is up from 380Nm to 400Nm, too. Most impressive of all, emissions are down by 14 per cent.
Peak torque arrives from just 1,750rpm, ensuring that the Audi feels punchy and responsive whenever you press the throttle. Leave the transmission in auto and it shifts smoothly through the gears, while the steering wheel-mounted paddles give you the manual control to enjoy the torque and feel a bit more engaged with the engine.
There’s a slight diesel clatter at idle, but you’ll only notice it outside, as inside the TDI is hushed and very refined. If you pin the throttle at motorway speeds then the refinement can deteriorate as the gearbox kicks down and engine revs rise, but it's no worse than any other (less frugal 2.0 turbodiesel.
The steering could do with a little more feel and the A6 lacks the extra handling sparkle of the rear-wheel-drive BMW 5 Series, but it’s a well sorted front-wheel-drive saloon that has a sharper turn-in and more grip than the Lexus GS.
The S line suspension gives a firm edge to the ride – so we’d add the standard set-up, which is a no-cost option and better suits the A6’s superb refinement. Comfortable and good to drive, you’d never know the Ultra was an eco-optimised model.
The A6 was 26th in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, with a strong rating for reliability. Even more impressive was its 12th place finish for build quality.
In terms of safety, the A6 has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, with an impressive 91 per cent for adult occupant protection. Standard safety kit includes six airbags, but you can also specify optional extras such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and a blind spot monitoring system.
A big transmission tunnel means you’ll need to stick to the outer seats, but with plenty of head, leg and shoulder room, even tall adults will be comfortable in the back of the A6. The 530-litre boot is excellent, and you can fold the rear seats, giving a 995-litre load area.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard, plus the Ultra also comes with a space saver spare wheel, towbar preparation and Isofix for the front seat and outer rear chairs. Up front, a big glovebox, decent sized door bins and a central cubby ensure there’s a decent amount of cabin storage, as well.
It's the cleanest non-hybrid in the sector, and the A6 Ultra is a strong company car choice, but it will cost a higher band taxpayer £224 a year more than the Lexus GS 300h. However, both business users purchasing the car on a monthly lease and private buyers will appreciate the A6’s predicted 47.5 per cent retained value – it loses £4,867 less than the Lexus after three years.
Fixed price servicing helps with maintenance and Audi offers optional warranty extensions. As well as being cheaper to insure than the Lexus, it’s also more efficient, returning 64.2mpg and emitting 114g/km of CO2.