Audi plays a safe shot with the new A6, but neatly pots the black
It’s not exactly brimming with personality, but neither was snooker legend Steve Davis
It would be so easy to dismiss the Audi A6 based solely on its styling, but spend a bit more time with it and the subtleties emerge
Date Reviewed: October 22, 2018
The thing is, Steve Davis really is interesting. I know he was hardly Mr Personality during all those dominant years at the Crucible, but in the years since he was No 1 with a cue, he’s proved to be funny (he has a genuinely hilarious sense of self-deprecation), talented at things other than snooker (he’s a DJ and a soul music collector), and something of a car nut (a former Porsche 928 owner). So forget the dreary, inscrutable face as he gently nudged another red into the corner pocket – Davis’s talents run deeper than you think.
Here’s where I should have some sort of clever, witty segue between Davis and the new Audi A6, but come on, you’ve worked it out for yourself by now, right? You think it looks a bit boring but it turns out to be way better than you thought. Book, cover, judge, never etc.
The thing is it would be so easy to dismiss the A6 based solely on its styling. A quick glance tells you nothing other than that it is clearly a relative of the A4 and the A8. In fact, it might actually be an A4 or an A8 . . . hang on (peers closer) . . . no, it definitely says A6 on the boot, I’m fairly sure that’s right.
Actually, the styling is much, much better than it first looks. Spend a bit more time with it and the subtleties emerge. Such as the way that the undercut of the headlamps and the shape of the front bumper makes it look almost – almost – as if it’s a narrow single-seater with outrigger wheels. Well, a bit, anyway. That massive, broad grille also has more than a hint of the gorgeous Prologue concept car about it too, and frankly I’ll take the A6’s crisp, clean, simple styling over some of the messier, more OTT work of some rivals any day.
Slip inside and it’s familiar, both in the sense that it’s all very Audi, and in the sense that the whole cabin is basically lifted from the new A7 and A8, with the now-expected “Virtual Cockpit” 12.3in digital instrument screen behind a skeletal, but rather gorgeous (and thankfully perfectly round) steering wheel.
The twin-screen, upper-decker/lower-decker layout of the centre console takes a little getting used to. It’s clever, no doubt. It has haptic feedback so that it does feel as if you’re pressing real buttons. Plus, Audi has used some common sense and kept a physical stereo volume knob which is far easier to use than stabbing at or trying to slide animations on a screen.
But . . . but even though there’s clever tech a-plenty, including sat nav that learns your regular routes and can offer traffic and diversion advice without you having to key in a destination, plus built-in connectivity that will, eventually, offer hazard warnings transmitted from other Audis and even parking space alerts, it can be a bit fiddly. I’m as much a smartphone addict as the teenager sat next to you on the bus, but I still have a sneaking feeling that physical buttons are just easier to manipulate, especially when you’re on the move. The screens look great, yes, but I’d happily sacrifice a little of the aesthetics for a touch more ease of use.
Happily, in some other areas, the A6 simply excels and, equally happily, it’s down to tech that’s rather less than digital. Let’s talk refinement, or rather, let’s whisper it, as the 2.0-litre TDI diesel is exceptionally hushed from within the cabin. How? Because the A6 has double-glazed glass all around. See? Told you it was simple.
Great seats too, and, combined with the aural refinement and the general sense of high-quality fit and finish (bar one or two, thankfully not constant, fizzy rattles from somewhere deep within the dashboard), the A6 presents a remarkably relaxed environment for a long, or even short, journey.
It’s a journey that you’ll be able to complete briskly, but not expensively, as once again diesel power shows that in spite of all the poor publicity, it’s down but not out just yet. The A6’s 2.0-litre TDI is actually a hybrid, using a mild-hybrid assist system (running a simpler, cheaper, 12-volt system rather than the 48-volt setup of the A8 and Q7) which means that it can activate its stop-start before the car has come to a total halt in traffic, and which also means that it can disengage the clutches of the seven-speed DSG gearbox at motorway speeds, when the conditions are right, and let the car coast along for a few seconds at a time, saving yet more fuel. Audi claims you’ll get 4.7-litres per 100km (60mpg) on average, and, pleasingly, we got very close to that for much of our time with the car. With 204hp and 400Nm of torque, we were also not short of thrust when it was needed.
Ah, but there is an issue here. 400Nm is a lot to put through just the front wheels, and our test car did not have the optional quattro four-wheel drive system. So, pulling out of tight junctions too often meant the front tyres were scrabbling and hunting for traction. It’s not just the torque, either. It’s the way this engine responds to step-off throttle, especially if you’re coming off a stop-start cycle. The problem is that, below 1,500rpm, the engine is really quite somnambulant, taking whole seconds to wake up and deliver power properly. While that sounds like a minor complaint, try experiencing it when trying to nose out across a busy junction with the word “Scania” looming large in your side window.
This aside, the A6 is delightful to drive. Fun? No, not really. You can feel that there’s a sense of precision and ability to the chassis, but the steering – even when you’ve selected Dynamic mode – is over-light and lacking in feel.
The A6 understeers early in a corner, but manages to avoid the old heavy-footed feeling of previous models. Instead, it feels stable, pleasant, safe, but never quite rewarding. Again, I’ll forgive that – it’s so comfortable, so smooth, such a pleasurable thing in which to simply be, that it sidesteps your driving enthusiast wiring finds other neural pathways by which to appeal.
Just like watching Steve Davis clinically destroy yet another opponent with an unbeatable, if carefully unspectacular, break, the A6 is such an accomplished smoothie that you can’t help but love it.
The lowdown:Audi A6 2.0 TDI 204hp S-Line
Price €61,567 as tested; A6 starts at €50,800
0-100km/h 8.1 sec
Top speed 247km/h
Claimed economy 60.1mpg (4.7 litres/100km)
CO2 emissions 117g/km
Motor tax €280
Verdict Not fun, per se, but classy, comfortable, and capable. Hugely appealing