Car reviews - Audi - A6 - and A7 range
Quality, design, space, drivetrain, safety, engineering, quattro reassurance, broad choice
Room for improvement
Nose-heavy handling in V6 and V8 models, some performance hesitation in 1.8 TFSI, dull steering, firm ride with bigger wheels
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13 Mar 2015
SPEAK to the boss of any luxury car-maker and every one of them will tell you that their company’s reputation lives or dies on the back of what we know as the BMW 5 Series class.
Simply put, it is the abilities of the large executive sedan (and wagon) that reflects what the brand can or cannot do. Sure, more people will buy the smaller 3 Series-sized model, while something like the 7 Series remains the high-tech flagship, but respect starts and ends at 5. Or E. Or A6, as the case may be.
Lately, Mercedes has lead with the E-Class, and the ageing BMW alternative has sat firmly in second place. But the Audi A6 has challenged that long-time German duopoly lately. In 2014 sales have risen 25 per cent against the Benz’s eight per cent, while the BMW's are down 20 per cent.
Now things might finally go Ingolstadt’s way with the release of the facelifted A6 as well as its prettier – if $20,000 more expensive model-for-model – A7 Sportback sibling.
Frankly, even Audi obsessives will struggle to pick these Series II pairs apart from their respective 2011-era predecessors, so you’ll just have to believe us when we say that the grille is fatter, the headlights fancier, the bumper air intakes squarer and the tail-lights more high-tech.
We love their newly optional directional indicators, by the way.
Inside, the biggest advance is the massive sat-nav mapping display between the tacho and speedo, making for a widescreen multimedia interface to keep the car and driver better connected.
All are welcome upgrades, but everybody would agree that there was nothing wrong with the Audi’s design or ergonomic layout, for the brand is famous as a paragon of quality and aesthetics. Even the most basic variant looks, feels, and smells like a truly premium product. By the time you’re sampling the S6 or A7 Sportback ranges the experience is a million dollar one.
Interestingly, Audi has dropped the A6 Avant wagon versions in all but the red-hot RS6 rocket and Allroad crossover guises, while the entry-level A6 1.8 TFSI – from a tenner under $80K – has had a 200cc smaller engine transplant.
Boo, you might say, but the old Multitronic CVT gearbox has also given way to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic on this sole (for now – the 2.0 TDI diesel’s six months away) front-driver. So, at last, we might be able to discern some real changes to the range.
On the move, the 140kW/320Nm 1.8 TFSI certainly does not drive like a base variant, thanks to an arrestingly sweet yet determined power delivery from the newly minted drivetrain. The four-pot petrol turbo sings like its voice box is creamed with warm runny honey.
However, at lower speeds, if you need a quick getaway, forget it. The delay from urgent pedal pressing to forward thrust can seem eternal, but clearly the impressive 7.9-second 0-100km/h time is all down to the fast responses in the upper-end of the rev ranges.
About the only other observation is the curiously artificial steering feel, despite the helm itself responding quickly and with well-modulated effort.
There isn’t any real connection between the rim and the road, which is sure to disappoint keener drivers.
Other than that it’s clear that the 1.8 TFSI is right up there for class honours even the ride on the standard 18-inch wheel and tyre set-up felt sufficiently supple over the lovely Yarra Valley roads north-east of Melbourne.
Next up during our two-day drive program was the $115,400 A7 Sportback powered by the 160kW/500Nm 3.0 TDI V6 turbo-diesel with quattro and a seven-speed S tronic transmission combo.
After the treacly-smooth, if at times languid sensations of the 1.8 TFSI four-pot petrol siren, this one felt like it was driven by a distant power station, working away tirelessly to provide instant muscle as required.
Flex the right foot, and the torque just envelopes the car, sweeping it along quickly and quietly. Add the extra surety of quattro all-wheel drive, and the chassis is incredibly planted, backed up by more natural steering than in the front-driver.
Flipsides? Going quattro and V6 diesel equals nearly 200kg of extra ballast (more in the A7 Sportback version), making it feel quite nose heavy. Still, as nobody is expecting Mini Cooper runabout levels of handling, the 3.0 TDI quattro makes for a fine grand tourer in every sense.
Back in the A6, the $124,900 235kW/650Nm 3.0 TDI Biturbo quattro Tiptronic makes the single-turbo V6 diesel version seem anaemic, due to a torrent of torque with enough thrust to tilt the world on its axis.
Along with the extra blower, this magnificent motor gains the services of an eight-speed auto, and together they clear the way for the Audi to power along like a star ship in warp drive.
Plus, the optional fake exhaust note’s baritone lull – rising to a thunderous roar when pushing on – is lusty.
A word of warning though: At nearly two tonnes all up, we’d be wary of this car’s cornering capabilities in the wet despite the grippy quattro gear. Still, the Biturbo V6 diesel is a tremendously effortless cross-country driving experience.
Finally, with the RS6/RS7 models still a couple of months away, the $169,900 S6 quattro sedan was the last new A6 we sampled, brandishing a 331kW/550Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 and seven-speed S-tronic drivetrain for cyclonic acceleration (4.4 seconds) backed up by instant braking and towering levels of body control.
Great sports seats, a firm yet disciplined ride on adaptive air suspension and a frenzied exhaust note make the magnetised-to-the-tarmac S6 quattro the quintessential lairy GT, reeling in motorways with stupendous speed and ease.
However, and again with nearly 2000kg to contend with, through a tight turn these Audis do feel a little like lead bullets.
To sum up, then, the handsome, large, spacious and incredibly well-built A6 and A7 Sportback provide quick and compelling competition to the equivalently sized BMW and Benz.
There is enough of the Vorsprung durch Technik nous in these cars to make Audi proud. We’d skip the front-drive 1.8 TFSI for any of the quattro models instead, and probably settle for the tumultuously torquey Biturbo V6 diesel to really savour the efficiency fruits that go hand-in-hand with this German powerhouse. Reputation intact.
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