Audi has traditionally held a reputation for building large saloon cars that do comfort, cruising and tech well, but disappoint on open roads thanks to feeling nose heavy and riding firmly. The new A6 consigns that reputation largely to the history books.
The optional four-wheel steering system is responsible for some of the new A6’s handling deftness. At low speeds the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts, reducing the turning circle, while at high speed all four wheels turn in the same direction, improving stability and cornering. The net effect is this system seems to shrink the A6’s wheelbase at low speeds, while contributing to a sense of nimbleness at higher ones.
Ride quality is another area where the new A6 is worthy of praise. The previous-generation A6 felt almost wooden and uncomfortable over bumps, jarring occupants over potholes. Audi has obviously taken this criticism on board with the latest model, which rides with a new-found elegance and refinement.
One area where compliments are harder to find is the A6’s steering. It’s accurate enough, but its synthetic character is almost entirely devoid of feel. It’s here that the A6 loses out to the 5 Series, which provides far greater levels of feedback through the wheel making the driver feel better connected to the car.
Elsewhere, almost all the news is positive. The brakes are effective, the two gearboxes shift seamlessly, and wind noise is all but absent; it’s here that Audi’s work with aerodynamics and sound insulation pay dividends, but it’s likely the A6’s roofline and wing mirrors – low and small respectively when compared to an SUV’s – come into play here as well.
The new A6 gets closer than ever to the handling benchmark laid down by the BMW 5 Series – though the 5 Series’ steering and rear-wheel drive setup mean it still has the edge. If you’re toying between the A6 and the Mercedes E-Class, on the other hand, the A6 has a better-built interior, but arguably can’t match the cohesiveness and effortless character offered by the three-pointed star.
These decisions, though, come down more to subjective impressions rather than cold hard facts. If the A6’s blend of cutting edge tech, magisterial build quality and effortless cool sway you over the E-Class’ supremely relaxing nature, or the 5 Series’ pin-sharp handling, nobody could accuse you of making the incorrect choice.
We’ll start at the bottom of the range, with the front-wheel drive 201bhp 2.0-litre 40 TDI. This engine propels the A6 from 0-62mph in a decent 8.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 153mph. While it can’t match the effortless surge of its six-cylinder counterparts, the weight advantage the four-cylinder block brings means it delivers a purer, lighter-feeling driving experience. The 40 TDI we sampled was fitted with conventional steel suspension, which undoubtedly contributed to this sense of deftness.
Audi provides three other suspension choices. The sports setup, likely to be bundled with S line trim, will stiffen the ride and lower the ride height; conventional suspension with adjustable dampers is also be offered, as is a full air suspension set-up.
Switching to petrol, the A6 55 TFSI (due in the UK in autumn) features a 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged V6. The A6 55 TFSI we drove was also fitted with air suspension, which allowed it to absorb bumps and road imperfections with serenity, while contributing to the overall sense of composure. With a 0-62mph time of just 5.1 seconds, the 55 TFSI closely matches the BMW 540i’s 4.8-second effort, and the big Audi drives with a responsiveness and refinement that closely matches the 5 Series’ dynamism.
The third engine option is the 50 TDI diesel. Like the 55 TFSI, this is a 3.0-litre V6 engine with quattro 4×4 as standard. With 282bhp on tap, the 50 TDI propels the A6 from 0-62mph with similar speed to the 55 TFSI (taking 5.5 seconds) but does so while feeling slightly heavier – though it’s almost 20 per cent more fuel efficient.