The new base Audi A6 is a car with a lot to prove.
To date, we have yet to drive one that got anywhere near class rival offerings from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Still, Audi claims this one is different, but traditionally some things never change. Unlike its best rivals, the base A6 tested here remains stoically front-wheel drive, a configuration that has traditionally been considered inferior to having driven wheels at the rear. Is this really the A6 to break the habit of its lifetime? Or is it just another in a long line of mid-size Audis that talks a good game but ultimately fails to deliver on the road?
Let's get the suspense out of the way and unfortunately for Audi, and apologies for being blunt, it's more of the latter. The fact is, while it rides and handles with solid and assured competence, the A6 is still a little short of some rivals in terms of rolling refinement and driver involvement. It's not quite as cosseting as an E-Class or as dynamically deft as a BMW 5 Series.
This latest A6 is a more competent handler than its predecessor, and at normal road speeds it feels quite crisp and connected, with strong front-end grip. Under very hard cornering though it inevitably drifts into strong understeer and might try to spin the inside front wheel, and though lifting the accelerator quells this, traction will be the limiting factor when really pushing on.
Progress is fluent rather than incisive, and it doesn't like to be rushed. The electric power steering has little feel but credible weighting in Auto mode. In Comfort or Efficiency it's too light; in Dynamic it's firm but not glutinous. It's not alone in having treacly handling as the BMW 5 Series is held back by its electric power steering too, but there's still more fun to be had than in the Audi.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is rather quiet by class standards, which is good, but suffers with poor throttle response at low speeds. It's willing enough higher up in the rev range, but be gentle with the pedal and you have to patiently wait for the action to start. Not that it's slow, but you'd have to work the engine hard to avoid showing up late to meetings.
Most Audi buyers specify S-Line suspension and big wheels, suggesting ride comfort isn't their priority. This base A6 with standard 17-inch wheels however is pretty comfortable most of the time, without being class leading. The body's major movements are controlled inherently well, and on a cruise you'd struggle to find a better car to be driven in.
The credit though needs to go to the A6's superbly finished cabin. Nearly every surface is textured for maximum tactile pleasure, so if you've ever wondered about the mainstream/premium divide, as mainstream brands get ever plusher, this Audi shows how premium should be done.
During everyday use, the A6's distinguishing characteristics complement each other perfectly. Excellent mechanical refinement and cabin isolation combine with a superbly comfortable and immaculately appointed interior to make it feel a cut above its rivals on sheer quality. The cockpit is richer and more upmarket than a 5 Series and more contemporary than an E-Class.
The sweeping dashboard contains ultra-clear instruments, while the Multimedia Interface (MMI) is now a wholly effective and intuitive system. Unfortunately in base spec, the pop-up central display is not as crisp as we've come to expect from an Audi and satellite navigation is a cost option.
While we can't pretend petrol heads will have their fires lit by the A6 2.0T, it's a capable and desirable object. The elegant cabin is beautifully designed and made, and from the outside it's a handsome car of similarly impeccable quality, plus it also works very well as a chauffeured car too.
In this base form the A6 is sufficiently quick and is definitely a stress-busting mode of transport. It's frugal for the pace it offers, roomy enough for five people over a big distance, and this model's lack of four-wheel drive won't really matter unless you're called Walter and your last name is Rohrl.
There's every reason to put it on your buying list. It scores for styling and interior design appeal and if you value style, quality, comfort and fuel-efficiency rather than on-the-limit dynamic excellence then this is the car for you. An enthusiast might prefer something more engaging, but in the real world, driven within its limits, the Audi A6 2.0 TFSI gets our vote of confidence and approval.
Verdict: Smart looks and sumptuous interior but the ride could be better
Impeccable build quality
Not a mainstream choice
WE DON"T LIKE
Not dynamic to drive
Options cost a lot
0-100km/h: 8.3 secs
Top speed: 226km/h
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline-4, petrol, turbo
Installation: Front, longitudinal, FWD
Power: 180bhp at 4000-6000rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1500-3900rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Brakes (f/r): Ventilated disc / solid disc
Suspension (f): Double Wishbones
Suspension (r): Multi-link