Audi A6 2.0 TDI SE

Entry diesel blends class of higher-spec models with tempting costs

After a string of near misses, Audi is hoping to take the top step of the podium with its new A6. The luxury A8 and A7 premium hatch have both been second-placed finishers in Auto Express road tests in recent weeks, so does this car succeed where its stablemates have failed?

Depending upon the spec of your A6, the exterior will provoke mixed reactions. The first example we saw was finished in silver and wore optional alloys, and it looked great. In contrast, our test car was painted a more sombre shade and sported standard wheels, and it barely merited a second glance.

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Either way, the A6 follows the firm’s tried-and-tested approach, looking like a miniature A8 or big A4, depending on your point of view. The trademark trapezoidal grille and LED daytime running lamps give it a purposeful appearance, but we think the rear end is a bit bland for a car in this class.

Interior quality is typically first-rate. The A6 cabin borrows heavily from its larger stablemates, with the firm’s beautifully clear and simple instruments, plus intuitive MMI control system, taking centre stage. High-grade plastics, reassuringly solid switchgear and classy aluminium trim ensure the new A6 has the premium edge over its rivals. In SE spec, you’ll also find plenty of kit, including Bluetooth and leather, while the display screen for the standard-fit sat-nav emerges electronically from the dash, as it does in the A7 and A8.

The driving position provides plenty of adjustability, and from behind the wheel the A6 feels much more compact than the gigantic 5-Series. Despite this, there is more space in the back than in either rival. The boot also measures in at 530 litres, which places the load area directly between the bigger Mercedes’ and smaller BMW’s. 

Interior space and quality are both traditional A6 strengths, but where the newcomer really needs to score is on the road. The rear-wheel-drive BMW has set the dynamic standard in this class for years, and also boasts some of the cleanest engines around. Has the Audi got what it takes to compete?

A quick check of the tax discs is enough to ascertain that the firm has caught up when it comes to efficiency. The new 2.0-litre model emits 129g/km of CO2, which places the A6 in precisely the same tax bracket as its blue propeller rival, and ahead of the dirtier Mercedes. 

Stop-start technology, brake-energy recuperation and lightweight construction all help to keep emissions in check. The 175bhp A6 is punchy, too, with 380Nm of torque from only 1,750rpm. Although the BMW produces more power and the Mercedes boasts superior torque, the A6 doesn’t feel outgunned.

At our track the Audi covered 0-60mph in nine seconds flat –that’s nine-tenths slower than the BMW – but its performance during our in-gear tests was far stronger. Here, it out-accelerated the more powerful 520d in every discipline. That low-down punch is allied to supreme refinement, and the A6 proved the quietest and most comfortable car here at motorway cruising speeds, making it a more restful long-distance companion than the 520d and a match for the Mercedes.

This is partly down to the spec of our test machine. Standard SE models do without the sporty suspension set-up fitted to more costly S line variants, and while the ordinary alloys do nothing 

for the car’s styling, you reap the rewards on the move as the Audi copes with big bumps and smaller ruts more effectively than its rivals.

Purists will argue that the BMW’s rear-drive chassis is more engaging, and they have a point. The A6 doesn’t provide much feedback through the well weighted steering, and the light gearshift lacks the mechanical feel of the 5-Series. Yet on dual carriageways, the Audi makes a better fist of things. 

Through bends you will discover tightly controlled body roll and huge grip, although the A6 is neither as communicative nor as much fun as the 520d. And on uneven roads you can detect steering wheel squirm when you nail the throttle exiting slow corners, as the front tyres fight for grip. This isn’t something you’ll experience in the car’s rear-wheel-drive rivals, but the impression 

is still of a thoroughly composed and very capable saloon. 

The firm has also improved the Drive Select system, so the changes the different modes make to the steering are more subtle than in previous Audis we have tested. This gives the set-up a more sophisticated feel.

With understated looks, a classy cabin and polished dynamics, the new A6 will give BMW plenty to think about – and that’s before you consider its 39.5mpg fuel return. This underlines the success of the car’s lightweight construction – and Audi deserves a pat on the back. The A6 has gone from also-ran to class contender in one fell swoop.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: Audi is on the offensive, and hopes its A6 will succeed where the A7 and A8 have failed by securing a road test victory.

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