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First drive: 2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.

First drive: 2018 Audi A6
Audi goes techno-crazy with the fifth-generation A6 executive saloon.

 



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2018 Audi A6

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The all-new, fifth-generation Audi A6, sitting on the MLB Evo platform that it shares with the recently launched A7 Sportback and A8 saloon models, gains much of those cars' tech too. That means it's the first A6 to pack the Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, while it also gets the twin-screen centre console of the A7/A8 and much of their most impressive equipment as well. So can this A6 knock the smug smiles off the faces of its BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class rivals in this hotly contested sector?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi A6 50 TDI
Pricing: expected to start from c.37,000
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 146-150g/km* (VED 205 first 12 months, 450 per annum next five years, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 48.7-50.4mpg*
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Power: 286hp at 3,500-4,000rpm
Torque: 620Nm at 2,250-3,000rpm
* depends on wheel size (18-20-inch)

What's this?

Another big-hitter from Audi, this is the fifth-generation A6, internally codenamed the 'C8' (but we won't reference that again, because C8 A6 sounds weird and a bit like a robot from the Star Wars universe). It sits on a platform called MLB Evo, which is used in a lot of bigger Volkswagen Group products, but - more specifically for Audi - it's what lies beneath two of its most recent releases, the Mk2 A7 Sportback and the Mk4 A8 luxury limo. The reason we reference those two is that the A6 debuts much of those cars' technology in the mid-sized executive class.

That means we've got Audi's gorgeous three-screen interior that does away with the physical MMI rotary controller, in favour of two touchscreens and the exquisite Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster. This system looks superb, as you'd expect of Audi's most advanced digital presentations, and it operates beautifully too, although there's still a slight unfamiliarity as to where everything is at first.

Nevertheless, once you've re-acclimatised to it, the layout of this dashboard is marvellous and it also leads to that 'shelf' feature on the passenger-side fascia that breaks up the monotony of what would otherwise be a flat-faced expanse of leather. So not only are Audi's latest cabins as wonderfully well screwed together as they ever were, they're now also visually eye-catching, rather than a bit sober and sedate. There's another clever trick to the 'MMI touch response operating concept' set-up, too, which is that it does away with potentially embarrassing blanking buttons on lower-spec models. Haven't got the cooled seats in your new A6? Instead of having to look, with eternally burning shame, at a lozenge of plain black plastic that tells everyone you couldn't afford that tick-box on the ordering sheet, instead the graphic for the cooled seats is removed from the touchscreen and then the heated seats 'button' gets a little bit wider to compensate. Clever, clever... especially in an image-conscious market like this.

Audi is going to launch the A6 with much the same strategy as the A7 and A8 lines. Thus, there will be two 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged engines, a 50 TDI diesel with 286hp and 620Nm, and a 55 TFSI petrol with 340hp and 500Nm. All A6s will be mild-hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV), using a belt-alternator starter and a lithium-ion battery to enable the car to coast 'engineless' at high speeds and operate its start-stop system earlier in traffic, in an effort to improve overall fuel economy. Almost all A6s will have quattro four-wheel drive (more on this in a second) and they will all lack for a clutch pedal, because take-up of the manual transmission in the old A6 was so farcically low that there's simply no point offering such a gearbox at this level any more.

There will also be the same four steps of suspension provided as seen in A7/A8, running from standard steel springs and fixed-rate dampers, through a Sport derivation of this passive set-up that's 10mm lower and a bit stiffer for S line models, to conventional springs teamed with adaptive dampers and culminating in fully adaptive air suspension on both axles. Variable-ratio Progressive Steering, dynamic all-wheel steering, fiendishly complicated LED Matrix headlights and an array of semi-autonomous driver assist safety systems (some of which lie dormant within the A6's software for now, as the car is more advanced than the required global legislation for self-driving vehicles on public highways) will all be on the equipment list, mainly as options. As will 20- and 21-inch alloy wheels, 18s and 19s forming the starting points. Audi UK is going to sell the A6 in just two trims, Sport and S line.

Right, so let's get onto the interesting bit. The A6 gets a piece of technology that is emphatically not in the A7 or A8, and is indeed making its debut in this Audi ahead of it arriving throughout the giant automotive landscape of the wider Volkswagen Group in the months and years to come. It's the EA288 Evo TDI engine. This is an alloy-block, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, single-turbo diesel, which replaces the old EA288 (190hp/400Nm) that had a steel block and which saw service in practically everything the German conglomerate makes. So new is the EA288 Evo that much of its data - torque, economy, emissions, the performance it will bestow on the A6 and so on - is not yet homologated, but Audi was happy to say it delivers 204hp (150kW), which means it gains 40 TDI badging.

That allows us to just tie up a few more details on what we've already outlined. Following on from the 40 TDI, 50 TDI and 55 TFSI will be an as-yet-unspecified 2.0-litre petrol model, but here are the general rules of what the engine means to the rest of the car's hardware: if an A6 is a four cylinder, its MHEV system is 12-volt, rather than the 48-volt set-up in the six-pot cars; all versions bar the 50 TDI, as tested here, use a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, while the 3.0-litre diesel's torque means it runs an eight-speed Tiptronic torque-converter auto; this, in turn, affects the quattro system - anything with an S tronic gearbox has the fancy 'ultra' quattro fuel-saving all-wheel drive, which can disconnect the rear axle as required to reduce consumption (and some front-wheel-drive A6s are on the cards, likely to be versions of the 2.0-litre variants), while the Tiptronic has to be paired with permanent quattro with a self-locking centre diff; and, in terms of suspension, there are still some details to be finalised, but the standard set-up is on the Sport cars, the Sport suspension is on the S line models, you can't interchange those (Sport suspension won't be an option on Sport models, soft suspension won't be a no-cost-option delete on S line cars) and all versions should be available with the adaptive dampers or the air suspension, although it might be possible the 2.0-litre cars won't be offered with air in right-hand-drive markets.

Oh, and with the stunning Avant already confirmed, then further derivations will include a plush allroad quattro and storming S/RS 6 performance motors. All of these can't come soon enough.

How does it drive?

We tried all three engines already confirmed, we tried versions with all the suspension types bar S line Sport passive springs and dampers and we tried cars with and without four-wheel steering. And our summary is this: keep the A6 simple.

The 50 TDI with air suspension and four-wheel steering was the first car we drove, so we're going to focus on that. The A6, which has more torsional rigidity than its predecessor and an aerodynamic bodyshell (0.25 coefficient of drag) and is incredibly refined, but air suspension seems a little redundant. There's no doubting the A6 on 20s and air rides better than its big brother (an air-sprung, 20-inch-shod A7 Sportback) did when we tried that for the first time earlier this year. But there's still a secondary-ride, low-level patter from the rear of the Audi saloon that shouldn't be present at all; the ride quality is eight-out-of-ten, when you're expecting the air springs to be top marks. And as it will likely be a four-figure option when UK prices are confirmed, we can't conscionably recommend air springs without hesitation - also, at the back of your mind, you remember that both Volvo and Mercedes-Benz do air suspension better than this.

The same can be said for the four-wheel-steering system. It does seem to help on the bigger A7 and A8 models, making them notably nimbler than their two-wheel-steer analogues, but the A6 is so well-sorted as it is that 4WS doesn't add anything of great note to the driving experience. Again, it's probably going to be hundreds of pounds to equip it, maybe even more, once the prices are set in stone and we don't think you should bother.

Because the standardised A6s are rather excellent. The basic passive suspension is well-judged, offering a lovely ride quality without too much excessive lean in the corners, yet it's the adaptively damped car that wins the crown. It offers a firm-edged but beautifully controlled ride, coupled with exceptional body control as well, to make the A6 decently invigorating to drive. Not class-leading; it's still a quattro Audi, still prefers to offer up coolly competent, sure-footed stolidity rather than any sort of delicate, throttle-adjustable chassis balance, but with lovely, light steering, masses of grip and the advantages of AWD traction, you can get the A6 into a sweet, flowing groove on twisting roads and it doesn't feel out of its depth in the slightest. It's even quite enjoyable. This is good news indeed, especially for the impending S and RS creations.

Of course, the A6 in general is also tremendously refined, with magnificent noise suppression and a variety of typically superb Volkswagen Group drivetrains. There's not a weak one among them, to be honest, but if anything is going to convince diesel-haters that the fuel isn't quite dead yet, it's the new EA288 Evo engine. Cor blimey, is it sweet and punchy! It still doesn't like to rev much beyond 4,000rpm, as no 2.0-litre turbodiesels do, but it is turbine-smooth below there and has a monster mid-range for a four-pot. It's another cracking mill from an organisation renowned for the things.

So much so that it kind of renders this 50 TDI stuck between two stools. It remains a fantastic big-six diesel, and we actually think the Tiptronic is the superior gearbox to the occasionally hesitant S tronic twin-clutch unit. But the 55 TFSI is the better bet for those who like the fastest performance (how a 340hp A6 isn't wearing an 'S' badge is beyond us, although the delivery of its pace isn't terribly dramatic) and the 40 TDI is definitely the slicker motor, while likely to be usefully cheaper too (by about ten grand, according to Audi UK sources). Our advice, then, with the Audi A6 would be to avoid air suspension, avoid four-wheel steering, pick the 40 TDI engine and perhaps treat yourself to adaptive dampers. Do so, and thus specified it's very easy to see why Audi reckons the new A6 is the 'greatest all-rounder' in its class. We find it hard to disagree.

Verdict

Tech-laden, featuring an interior that is unsurpassed by anything in this market sector and also possessed of typically chiselled and handsome yet reserved Audi saloon styling, the new A6 is sure to be a great success for the company. It's incredibly assured in all departments, now even adding a dash of driving delight to its long-time strengths of epic refinement and quattro reassurance. Keep it simple and this Audi is a fine alternative to a default BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class selection in this class.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 May 2018









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2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A6. Image by Audi.

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