Car today | 2019 Audi A6 review, test drive

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EXCLUSIVE!

If you’re thinking you haven’t seen an all-new Audi model launch in a very long time, you’re not alone. Sure, there have been new variants, the odd performance derivative and several special editions, but the last all-new Audi was the Q5, launched in January 2018! The truth is, Audi HQ was busy upgrading its engines in core markets like Europe to meet new emission standards and test procedures (WLTP), and is still battling with the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal. These issues have severely affected the rollout of several new models to various markets, ours included. That’s all about to change though, as we’re about to see a slew of new models headed our way in quick succession from Ingolstadt, starting with this one here – the new A6. And, as you might’ve guessed, it will launch with a petrol engine.

Broadened Bauhaus

The first thing to get out of the way is that the A6 for India is the standard-wheelbase version. Audi won’t do a long-wheelbase version for India as Mercedes did with the E-class, nor does it have another, more spacious model to fill the gap between it and the A8, like the BMW 6 Series GT. The idea is to offer one balanced car that suits both, the driver and the driven. Size-wise, its grown in every dimension and is now 7mm longer, 12mm wider, 2mm taller, with a 12mm longer wheelbase, but, visually, it doesn’t seem much bigger.

First, however, let’s take a look at how the design has evolved. The silhouette has stayed virtually identical, and that’s a good thing. It has an almost-cab-rearward shape, with a long bonnet and
a stretched, curved glasshouse pulled far back, ending in a relatively short boot. Softer, smoother design elements are replaced by sharper, squarer, more in-your-face details. If you thought the new BMW grilles were big, you should get a load of Audi’s latest single-frame ‘Bulgarian Beard’. It’s wider than ever and all chrome, with more of the shiny stuff down in the bumper. The full-LED headlamps are a lot more angular now and feature a new DRL signature instead of the one we’re used to. At the back too, the impression you get is ‘familiar, but more’. The tail-lamps are larger and feature cool, intricate LED detailing, and are joined by a thin chrome strip. You’ll find more chrome in the bumper, including what looks like a pair of dual exhaust tips but are actually just a design element. There are many new creases – several on the bonnet and some on the fenders, while the shoulder crease has now been split in two, to independently accentuate the front and rear wheel arches (a nod to the Ur-quattro rally car of the 1980s).

Mammoth new single-frame grille highlights A6’s width.

Another thing that stands out is the wheels and tyres. In this segment, 18-inch wheels are usually offered as the larger, premium option, and as such, they come with wider, lower-profile tyres, even on the outgoing A6 (245/45 R18). On this new car, globally, the largest available wheel size has shot up to 22 inches, and naturally, the wheel arches have grown to match. The Indian A6 has been fitted with 225/55 R18 tyres, which is significantly narrower and taller rubber than the outgoing model. They fill out the arches nicely, and no doubt have a bearing on ride, handling and fuel economy.

Tall-profile tyres fill arches nicely; help soften the ride.

Futurama

Understated is perhaps a word you could’ve used to describe some older Audi interiors, but certainly not this one. The dashboard is full of layers and protruding slabs, made of brushed aluminium, art-leather, piano black trim and some very nice-looking open-pore wood veneer. There are even thick bands of brushed metal across the doors, which really drive that premium point home; most players in the luxury sedan game are at this standard of quality at the moment, but the A6 makes an effort to put it right where you can see and touch it.

The new steering wheel, too, looks very futuristic and behind that sits the latest version of the Virtual Cockpit digital dials, first seen on the Q7. There’s a wireless phone charger under the central armrest, and Audi’s even fitted the car with a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi audio system, which sounds exquisite.

Quality, as ever, is exquisite. New layered dash, dual screens and metallic wheel add a futuristic touch.

And then there’s the dual-touchscreen MMI infotainment system, making the A6 the first Audi in India to get this new interface. Ironically, though it was introduced globally by Audi, the first car in India to use the system was the Lamborghini Urus. It looks amazing, encased in its frame of brushed metal and piano black, blending seamlessly into the black of the dashboard when it’s switched off. The graphics are good-looking, silky smooth and logically laid out, and it packs in a lot of functions, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But, as popular as touchscreens are today, we wish Audi had kept some form of physical control as a redundancy (as Mercedes and BMW have done); it would have made for easier use on the move. You can’t avoid taking your eyes off the road to use the system, and the lower screen especially requires a shift of focus. There is haptic feedback – a click that you hear and feel when you successfully use the buttons on the screen – but this only means you have to press the screen harder to make it work, which results in a lot more fingerprints on the screen. The front seats are powered – although it would be nice if they were heated and/or ventilated – and only the driver’s side has a memory function. There is, however, driver comfort access, which moves the seat and powered steering wheel away from each other once you’ve switched the car off, for easier egress and ingress. Finally, though you don’t get 360-degree cameras, you do get the now-popular hands-free parking assistant feature.

Dual touchscreens need hard presses; can be distracting.

Though the A6 aims to balance out the driver-and-passenger experience, in India, in this segment, it’s all about the back seat. Right off the bat, no, there isn’t as much space back here as a long-wheelbase E-class or a 6 Series GT, obviously. However, it feels significantly more spacious than the previous A6 and compares well to standard-wheelbase rivals like the 5 Series, S90 and XF (Audi says it’s the best in class). The trick, as we saw in the latest A4, seems to have been moving the seat’s hip-point lower and further back to free up more room. So you sit a bit lower and the backrest feels a touch upright, but there’s a lot more room for even two tall people to stretch out. The two will sit snug in the heavily contoured seats, with excellent lateral and under-thigh support, while a third passenger would have to bear with a narrow seat and a wide centre tunnel running down the middle. Rear passengers are treated to manual sun blinds on the windows, their own separate sets of climate control (it’s a four-zone system), USB ports for charging and media, and a sunroof that, though not quite as large as the one on the 6 GT or E-class, lets in a lot of light.

More space and greater comfort than before, but not quite in LWB E-class territory.

A special mention has to be made of the boot. Though its 530 litres is on par with the class on paper, the actual space on offer seems like far more than advertised. It helps that, unlike the 5 Series, 6 GT and E-class, the A6 was designed to house a space-saver spare tyre from the word go, so it doesn’t impede the luggage area at all.

530-litre boot feels larger than the number would suggest.

Motor functions

The launch engine for the new A6 is the 45 TFSI – which translates to a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with front-wheel drive and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. If that sounds confusing, know that the number represents the car’s performance and not the engine’s capacity; all luxury carmakers do it in this age of downsizing, it’s just that Audi’s numbering system is not as familiar. And I’m glad it’s called a 45 TFSI and not a 35 TFSI like the old A6, because that means it’s not an entry-level engine, but at least a mid-range one. Its power and torque outputs of 245hp and 370Nm are far more than you get on an E 200 and are on par with a 530i and XF petrol.

245hp, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol is incredibly refined, with ample performance, but prefers a gentle foot.

The first impression of this engine is of impeccable refinement. You can barely hear it fire up, it idles very quietly and even at low to cruising speeds, it remains barely audible. It’s only when you wring it past around 4,000rpm that you’ll start to hear a bit of a buzz from under the bonnet. The 7-speed  S-Tronic (Audi-speak for DSG) is smoother than usual under light loads, and there’s no sign of that slight shunt you’d sometimes get with older dual-clutch gearboxes.

Ease onto the throttle and the A6 45 TFSI will reward you with a smooth yet brisk power build-up, which is perfect for most everyday driving situations this car will likely find itself in. The gearbox isn’t the quickest to react to driver inputs, and, overall, the powertrain feels more relaxed than alert.

And this is something you’ll notice when you have a play with the Drive Select driving modes too. Dynamic mode feels only mildly more aggressive than Comfort mode; it’s not the sea change you’d find in some other cars. This time around, however, Drive Select only affects the steering and engine responses, as there are no adaptive dampers. This brings us to another big change on the new A6.

Air to the throne

A huge USP of the previous two generations of A6 was standard-fit air suspension across the range – irrespective of whether you chose the four-cylinder or six-cylinder version. Not only did that allow for adaptive damping that let you switch the car from limousine to sporty cruiser with the touch of a button, it even let you raise the entire car to traverse a broken road or a pod of potholes. It was a huge boon in India.

But it’s also very expensive and adds a lot to the price of a car, so now it’s gone. Most rivals do just fine on steel springs, so maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. The A6 certainly feels like it has enough ground clearance, comfortably sailing over even some nightmarish speed humps in rural Maharashtra without incident. Driving further reveals that it’s well-calibrated too, and not overly soft and bouncy like the A4. There is a little bit of float at seriously high speeds, but it can maintain a good composure for the most part.

Ride quality is a big highlight of this car, and bump absorption is first-rate, whether it’s at low speeds or high. Apart from the good suspension tuning, you can also thank those tall-profile tyres we mentioned earlier – they do a great job of taking the edge off bumps. There is a bit of road noise though, which is accentuated due to the refinement of the engine. The new variable-ratio steering is surprisingly quick on the A6. No, it’s not the most feelsome, again as you’d expect from an Audi, but it allows for quick direction changes, making manoeuvring this big sedan an absolute breeze.

Scoring another six

It’s come to India a tad later than expected, and some rivals may have a little more time in the sun as a result, but the new A6 has come to the fight well prepared. It carries forward almost all the strengths of its predecessors and the values people appreciate from Audi, all updated to meet the needs of today’s mid-size luxury sedan buyers. The abandonment of adaptive air suspension is a big change, but Audi has done a great job with the passive dampers and steel springs, serving up a good blend of comfort and stability. It’s not a flat-out driver’s car, but serves up enough performance for most owners. Part of the Audi formula has always been tech, and it’s got that front covered with its fancy new dual-touchscreen system, which is cutting edge though it takes a little getting used to. The new A6 doesn’t take any major risks like some rivals did in this segment, but has Audi played it too safe this time? Perhaps, but in this case, that might just be a good thing. This is a car they just have to get right; so sticking with the tried and tested formula might just be the better course of action. Plus, there’s always room to change things up for variants introduced later on.

For now, the new Audi A6 is available in two variants – Premium Plus and Technology – with prices starting at Rs 54.20 lakh and going up to Rs 59.20 lakh (ex-showroom, pan-India), which means that it undercuts its petrol-powered competition comfortably.

So, a late entrant it may be, but the A6 may just be able to make up the lost ground quicker than you think.

Photography: Gaurav Thombre

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Credits: https://www.autocarindia.com

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