The lovely breeze blowing from the sea, the warm earth beneath your feet and the clear skies don’t tell you that something sinister simmers in the region. The historic city of Palermo, Sicily, in southern Italy, has seen all kinds of rulers – from Greeks and Romans to Germanic tribes and Byzantines. However, it’s the mafioso that has left a far greater impact on what would be Mario Puzo’s finest work. One could say then, that Audi’s selection of this part of the world to let the media loose on the new Audi A6 had a slightly mischievous intent to it.
Jokes apart, Audi has other plans – some devious, but mostly strategic as far as the new A6 goes. Their use of muscle power is corporate by design – it blows the competition away with what could be the best-in-sector car. They don’t need TNT to be placed under their rivals’ offerings to unsettle them; they leave it to their engineers, designers and marketing men to slug it out in the marketplace. And the first impressions do suggest that Audi may have pulled this one off – rather well.
‘In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns’ – Fabrizio, in The Godfather
For Audi, losing track of this sector is far more dangerous than Don Corleone breathing down some streetside punk’s neck. After all, the A6 has been quite successful in Europe, because it tried to cater to the needs of everyone looking for a car in that class. But it had one problem – it looked too uninspiring. With Walter Da Silva’s new design direction, heralded by the A4, the C7 A6 builds on it by becoming bolder and tauter. For instance, the clam-shell hood blends in perfectly with the wave-like headlamps and the thick crease lines on the front bumper that give it an athletic stance. Audi has also enhanced the use of LEDs to give the car more character, while the Bulgarian grille is now imperfectly hexagonal in shape.
The athleticism can be seen in the profile as well. Audi have reduced the front overhang by 71 mm, while the overall length of the car has been reduced by 12 mm. The waistline highlights the overall character of the design, giving it tautness. An A4/A8 inspired bootline and tail lamps make this car among the sportiest looking in its class. Audi offers 16- to 20-inch wheels for the car, with seven different design offerings; for India, that would probably mean the 17-and 18-inch variety for ride quality reasons.
‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’ – Don Corleone
Try refusing an offer to get inside the new A6 at your own peril. Why? Well, it has enough gadgetry to outdo Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab put together, and still leaves space for Motorola’s Xoom to be licking its wounds. Okay, so you’ve got the drift, but think about this – how many cars can boast of WLAN with the ability to link up to eight devices (internet on the go)? Or how about Google maps for GPS with points of interest and different colours to highlight the loads of traffic on your route? The headlamps are linked to the GPS and the camera on board to automatically select high beam in case the road ahead isn’t well lit! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Think of the new A6 as a mini A8 – downsized for executive use.
On the inside, the new A6 is larger than before, making more space available for the front occupants and a bit more for the occupants at the rear. A brief encounter in the rear seat of the A6 gave me a good idea of the room available – it isn’t as cave-like as the BMW 5 Series, or as comfy as the E-Class, but it definitely isn’t cramped. Seat options include standard, sports or comfort, and having tried out the sports and standard seats, I can tell you that they are comfy, with good lower back support.
Use of materials in the car is top notch, picking up from where the last A6 left off. You get a choice of four inlays and six leather trim options; one of the best is the light brown wood veneer, mostly found on speedboats. Surfaces and textures are well put together. The MMI interface has become more intuitive and you get the touch track-pad from the A8 here too, although the BMW iDrive system ranks higher. Like the A8, you also get the Audi drive select with five settings – Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual. Individual allows you to set suspension, steering, tranny and throttle response to suit your needs. The dials on the instrument binnacle look nice, leaving space for another GPS display in between. That and all the car info can get a bit tedious to read, especially the first time around.
‘Leave the gun. Take the canoli.’ – Peter Clemenza
Ah, now to the engines – finally. Crackling under the hood of the A6 are five engine options, but for India we’ll get four to begin with – a 2.0 TDI will be the base option, a 2.8 FSI and 3.0 TFSI petrols and the 3.0 TDI quattro. All these engines come with Start-Stop as standard. I managed to lay my hands on the TFSI, which now produces 300 bhp (290 bhp – C6) and 44.5 kgm of peak torque. Using a Roots supercharger, the TFSI is quite a quick car, not just on the manufacturer’s data sheets, but out on the four-laned expressway that we drove on as well. Quick on its feet, the TFSI has a pretty flat torque curve. It doesn’t have a supercharger whine or the raspy exhaust note one would expect, but it doesn’t take long to appreciate its other finer aspects. The seven-speed dual clutch S-Tronic gearbox is lightning quick in its shifts and uses the available power beautifully to power out of tight curves, using maximum revs in sport mode.
The 2.0 TDI that I drove later offered sedate and relaxed mannerisms. It’s in no hurry to get you going, instead relying on old fashioned torque and gearing to help you keep up with traffic. While I drove one with a six-speed manual, the auto will be the one offered to us. Even on the manual, the shifts are slick and it could make for a good fleet car offering. With 170 bhp to play with and 38.4 kgm of peak torque to propel you, the 2.0 TDI is as efficient as it is driveable. The 3.0 TDI is what will sell in hordes. It just has that fine combination of power and efficiency which was amply evident in the C6 as well. In the C7, the additional torque and power only make it even better. Honestly, the 3.0 TDI quattro is the best of the lot on offer in the A6.
‘Tom, this is business and this man is taking this very, very personally.’ – Sonny Corleone
Nothing works as brilliantly as Quattro on a snow-packed road, but we were far away from any of it in sunny, if slightly chilly, Palermo. Even then, Quattro seems to have only enhanced the grip on offer. On the 3.0 TFSI, the road holding seemed to have improved by quite a margin over its predecessor (not that its predecessor was dynamically flawed). Using a new twin crown gear differential as found on the RS5, grip levels have increased exponentially and made the car more controllable on less-than-ideal surfaces.
But the biggest change is reserved for the steering. A new electromechanical unit, the new steering uses the best of an electric power steering and a hydraulic unit to transmit road feel as well as enhance efficiency. It became immediately evident that the new steering has a more consistent feel – it’s heavier and better weighted than its predecessor. The C6 had a tendency to uncharacteristically load up when it crossed a certain speed threshold, which is not the case with the new car. Overall body control for the new A6 is fabulous, especially since it now weighs up to 80 kg less than before.
The lower unsprung weight has also had an impact on its ride quality. With lesser mass for each wheel to tackle, the ride quality has become more assertive. Dialled to comfort or dynamic, the car feels planted and isn’t affected by expansion gaps on the air suspension setup. Even when opting for steel springs, ride quality shows close to no deterioration.
‘I’m gonna change. I’ll change. I’ve learned I have the strength to change.’ - Michael Corleone
While the mafia may have some not-so-pretty ways of doing business, Audi has changed the way business is done. The new A6 is no longer the kind of car looking to appease people trying to find a balance between the comfort orientation of the E and the sporty character of the 5. In a way, the A6 has got both the bases covered and has covered them well enough to please even traditional BMW and Merc aficionados. It has the potential to walk away with the top gong, and for that they need to price the car sensibly. A starting price of Rs 37 lakh for the 2.0 TDI, going all the way up to Rs 48 lakh for the 3.0 TFSI could really work well for the car. Soft power, more than intimidation, could work well for them now, wouldn’t you say? The writer was invited by Audi to drive the A6 in Sicily