A new Audi A6? Didn't they only recently bring out the 'new' Audi A6 2.0 TDI Ultra? Yup. Anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the executive class recently will know that a more refined and efficient A6 has been keeping the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class on their toes since it arrived in the spring.
This round of upgrades applies to the whole A6 range – saloon and Avant estate models – and brings with it tweaked styling, more equipment and an infotainment system brimming with yet more gadgetry. Mind you, this refresh also introduces higher pricing of roughly £1000 more across the board, so the entry-level manual 2.0 TDI Ultra costs £31,955 for the saloon or £33,955 for the Avant – still very competitive against both of those aforementioned rivals.
That A6 2.0 TDI Ultra model will be the big seller for both private and company car buyers. It gets even lower emissions than before, dropping to 109g/km for the saloon and 114g/km for the estate tested here, provided you opt for seven-speed dual-clutch automatic S Tronic gearbox. The Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra models also get new, lighter suspension components, although air suspension is a £2000 option across the range.
Other engine options include a 3.0-litre V6 diesel in 215 or 268bhp output, and a 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6 diesel, all of which have more power and lower emissions than before. The two higher-powered V6 diesels come with Quattro four-wheel drive and an automatic 'box as standard.
What's the 2015 Audi A6 Avant like to drive?
A key change across the range of the A6 is a new ‘coast’ function on the S Tronic gearbox, which de-couples the engine when you come off the throttle, allowing momentum to roll the car down the road unhindered by engine braking. It’s thoroughly effective on both the 2.0 TDI Ultra and 268bhp 3.0 TDI Quattro models we drove, allowing the car to maintain a decent pace for useful distances even if you’re only coasting from normal town speeds, and there’s no ungainly shunt from the gearbox as it re-engages.
A new engine stop-start system, which switches off the engine below 4mph (rather than only at a standstill, as was the case with the pre-face-lift car) is similarly effective. Brake pedal feel is good, and the engine fires up again with only a distant hum and very little vibration on both variants we drove.
Ultimately the 2.0 TDI Ultra engine launched earlier this year remains unchanged, and that’s no bad thing. It pulls smoothly and with satisfying vigour from low revs, so it’s just as easy to make laid-back progress in town as it is on the motorway.
The 3.0 TDI is sports-car fast. It’s gained an extra 26bhp despite emitting 7g/km less CO2, and it builds speed smoothly and relentlessly, offering effortless overtaking speed.
The seven-speed automatic (standard on the 3.0 TDI and a £1490 option that was fitted to our 2.0 TDI test car) only enhances the ease with which the A6 motors on, shifting smoothly but quickly in standard automatic mode, with only a subtle jerkiness on the occasional downshift. Sports mode can be a bit slow to kick-down, but the standard wheel-mounted paddles have the gearbox flipping through the gears smartly and without fuss.
The suspension on the Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra is decent, but not flawless. Our S line test car rode on 18-inch alloys and had the standard Sports suspension (which includes a 20mm lower ride height). Although we haven’t tried it yet, experience in the previous A6 suggests that the softer Dynamic set-up – standard on SE, or now a no-cost option on S line – will be the better bet. The standard set-up on S line settles over most surfaces, and doesn't prevent the A6 from being a great motorway cruiser, but sharp-edged bumps send a shudder through the cabin and can make the car feel a trifle busy over eroded town roads.
It’s a similar story in the 3.0 TDI. Even with optional adaptive air suspension, it thumps heavily over manhole covers and expansion joints, although smaller bumps and undulations are ironed out.
Even the front-wheel drive 2.0 TDI offers grippy handling, and remains planted rigidly through fast corners, while the 3.0 TDI Quattro is even more composed. The steering is unchanged, so it remains a bit lifeless regardless of which setting you choose on the Drive Select system.
Refinement is excellent in both the 2.0 and 3.0 TDI A6. New, acoustic glazing is standard across the range and helps reduce wind noise still further in what was already a very quiet car, while engine noise in both is remarkably muted, even if you stray higher up the rev range.
What's the 2015 Audi A6 Avant like inside?
Not that much has changed inside the A6. Four-zone climate control (which includes temperature control for those in the back as well as the front) is now standard, as is full iPod connectivity, front and rear parking sensors, and xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights. That’s on top of the leather upholstery, DAB radio and cruise control that was standard already, so you really don’t need to add anything to entry-level SE grade to make it feel suitably plush.
If you do want a full suite of high-tech gadgetry, the new range-topping MMI Navigation Plus option includes further upgraded graphics and a bigger, 8.0-inch colour screen (over the standard 6.5-inch screen), as well as enhanced online functionality that even allows you to update the sat-nav software in the car using the on-board internet connection. This option comes as part of a £1625 Technology Package, which also includes upgraded dials that incorporate a 7.0-inch colour display into the driver’s binnacle (pictured).
Otherwise, the build quality still feels top-notch (this is the classiest cabin in the class), the driving position offers enough adjustment for most to find the ideal position, and there’s loads of space in the front and back.
The boot remains unchanged, so the Avant still has a well-shaped and spacious boot, which is slightly larger than that of the BMW 5 Series Touring, but a way short of the capacity offered by the Mercedes E-Class Estate.
Should I buy one?
Lovely as it is, we’d say the 3.0 TDI is an indulgence too far in the A6 range, if only because the 2.0 TDI is so good that it makes the bigger, more expensive diesels hard to justify.
The 2.0 TDI Ultra is a sumptuous-feeling and yet faultlessly sensible prospect. In saloon form it’s on a par with the new 5 Series for efficiency, equipment levels and company car costs. In estate form it actually undercuts the BMW on CO2, so in automatic guise an A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra will cost £213 per month for 40% tax payers, while the 520d Touring auto comes in at £227.
However, the A6 doesn't handle with the same finesse as the 5 Series, and the S line model suffers a slightly brittle ride comfort that could also give the BMW the edge. It’ll take a comparison in the UK to be sure, but while the Audi is more compelling than ever, and so close to the BMW as to be near-enough on a par, on this evidence our money would still go on the 5 Series. Just.
What Car? says...
Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra S Tronic
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £35,485
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 8.5 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 64.2mpg
Audi A6 Avant 3.0 TDI Quattro S Tronic
Engine size 3.0-litre V6 diesel
Price from £43,415
Torque 572lb ft
0-62mph 5.7 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 47.1mpg