The A6 saloon took top honours in the executive category at our New Car Awards this year, but is the Avant version set to follow in its wheel tracks?
From a styling perspective, the estate looks clean, simple and elegant. Its extended roof line has been seamlessly integrated, although the angled rear screen suggests it’s more of a lifestyle vehicle than a serious estate. Our test car was fitted with optional £1,240 xenon headlights with LED running lamps and £730 upgraded 18-inch alloys (17-inch rims are standard), and these extras give a definite visual lift.
Get behind the wheel and you’ll instantly be impressed with the cabin layout. The view forwards is the same as in the A6 saloon, so owners can relish the superb fit and finish of the clutter-free dash. The colour multifunction screen between the speedo and rev counter adds to the high-class feel, and it puts a huge amount of useful data just where you want it.
It’s simple to get comfortable, and the high centre console and dash, which wraps around the driver, give a sporty feel. A large central display screen glides out from the dashboard, with its various operations controlled using the rotary MMI dial located on the centre console. We find it more user-friendly and intuitive than the BMW iDrive and Mercedes COMAND systems.
Things aren’t so good in the back, though, where the large transmission tunnel eats into the middle passenger’s foot space. Still, there’s plenty of head, leg and shoulder room, and the A6 feels spacious. As with any estate, boot storage is extremely important, and the Avant doesn’t disappoint. There is 565 litres of room with the seats in place; five litres more than in the BMW.
However, this is no match for the boxy Mercedes when it comes to ultimate capacity. The E220 CDI can’t rival the A6 Avant for the quality and quantity of fixings, though, as the Audi comes with everything you need to hold things in place.
Lashing eyes, a handy elasticated strap on the left-hand side of the boot, bag hooks, a double cargo floor and a wipe-clean under-floor tray all come as standard. For an extra £135 you can add the useful luggage-retaining strap and bar combination, which slide along runners in the floor to hold objects of any size or shape in place.
Under the bonnet, Audi’s familiar 2.0-litre TDI engine is perfectly suited to the demanding routine of a typical executive estate. With 175bhp and 380Nm of torque on tap, performance is brisk rather than breathtaking. The 0-60mph sprint takes 9.3 seconds, but while the A6 trailed the automatic gearbox-equipped BMW and Mercedes against the clock during our in-gear tests, the difference is barely noticeable on the road. In reality, the six-speed manual gearbox is no hardship. Its light and positive action makes changing gear easy, and at 70mph the engine revs at only 2,000rpm.
On our test car’s standard suspension set-up the Audi runs the Mercedes very close for comfort. While it doesn’t glide over lumps and bumps at high speed quite as effortlessly as the E-Class, it does smother most imperfections. And when you arrive at a corner, the A6 generates more grip and resists body roll more effectively than the cosseting E-Class.
It’s not as engaging as the BMW, but the A6’s chassis strikes a far better everyday balance between comfort and fun than the M Sport-equipped 520d.
Even without the optional adaptive air-suspension (£2,000), drivers can alter the steering and throttle response using the Audi Drive Select system on the MMI. The differences
are subtle, so we preferred to leave it in Auto mode, where it determines the optimum set-up for you.
The Audi also scores highly at the pumps, as it returned test-winning economy of 39mpg – nearly 2mpg more than the BMW and Mercedes. Low CO2 emissions and fuel consumption go hand-in-hand, and the A6 is predictably efficient at the tailpipe. Its 132g/km output makes it the cleanest machine in our trio.
The BMW is in the same tax bracket for company car drivers, but the more polluting Mercedes is in a higher banding, which is sure to make it less popular with business users.
So the Audi has broad appeal. It is competitively priced, looks good and has a high-quality and spacious interior. And while the boot isn’t the biggest in the class, the A6 Avant has the best range of hooks, cubbies and hidden compartments.
Factor in a generous helping of standard equipment, which includes satellite navigation, and you have a very talented and desirable executive estate.