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Down and Dirty - Audi A6 3 0 TDI vs BMW 530D

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There is a standing joke in office. If it’s an edit meeting, Rohin’s best idea is a comparison story. And if it’s got a BMW in it, it has to win! Now, I’ve never subscribed to that thought, though I guess I was heckled into accepting it. You see, I can’t help it if I like BMWs, er... well, am ‘allegedly’ obsessed about them. But that doesn’t mean it needs to win a comparison test every time it’s in one. So, when I was asked to do the honours, I found myself in the deepest conundrum of my existence as BSM’s road-tester. In front of me was the Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro, a car I so dearly love since I first drove it some nine months ago. And to top it all, the first 10 minutes in the new BMW 530d Highline had convinced me that the previous winner of our premium diesel saloon contest might just have to start wearing its rings and do the hula-loops.

It’s that difficult to choose a winner, because with the 530d, BMW has finally got a car to take on the A6 3.0 TDI on – fair and square. Until now, the 525d did sterling duty, but lost out to the A6 on just one count – power. It was an unfair comparison (so he says – Editor), and it became even more apparent because BMW had not one, but two more powerful diesels to possibly usurp the title. For now, it’s a battle of equals.

DESIGN
They say, when it rains, it pours. And when it pours, the water on the road picks up all its inhabitants. That means, pre-mixed dirt and other biological remnants. So if you cruise along the highway, with the wipers working hard, your car is bound to look war-torn on Indian roads. The test white BMW looked like it’d hit a landmine just a couple of kilometres after it was cleaned to its toes. Splat!, and it added more gunk to its wheel arches. But in all its ability to attract muck, it looked beautiful. Fine, it was designed using computational fluid dynamics or some such name created by scientists working on the CERN collider, but really, the water flowing over the lines made it look so fluid and the aerodynamics so unbelievable, that I still can’t understand the white patches on the front doors that were i-den-tical on either side. Six years into its existence and it appears like Scarlett Johansson standing next to Anne Hathaway – slender yet enigmatic.   Yes, Anne Hathaway would look apt in her Armani single piece, gracefully exiting the Audi A6. It appeals to people with a slight hint of maturity in their tone and a graceful stride in their step. It’s probably the easiest to design a car-cover for, because there are no flame surfacing lines to account for. Our test car was the same black S-Line we featured in our anniversary issue and one of the rare occasions where an A6 can look stunning in black. Yes, there’s that facelifted version with the LED eyelashes and tail lamps that probably reduces some of the bulk, but you really have to be as hard as a Chechnyan general to hate the way this car looks.
BMW 530d: *****
Audi A6 TDI: ****

INTERIORS AND COMFORT
Classic BMW interiors were all about driver focus and ergonomics. It’s a bit different now, but the funny thing is, it’s still a great experience behind the wheel, driver focus or not. The steering is compact – sporty when you want to get a grip on matters and the right size when you want to take U-turns. The material all around you is well built, including all the knobs and buttons and the million different ways to find a comfortable driving position. The seat supports you well, if you enjoy a sporty driving position, but a tad fiddly to work around with the steering adjust button. Our car had the Night Vision system that somehow went kaput even before we could try it out. A nice touch, and a touch gimmicky too. What I particularly like is the i-Drive system is now a bit more intuitive and rather easy to work with after you’ve spent more time with Audi’s MMI. Let your driver take control of matters and find solace in the rear seat. Overall support is nice, and so is legroom. But don’t try to have a client meeting there – you are surely to lose the contract
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It’s not the case with the Audi where three can be decent company at the rear. It’s just a tad better, with the central tunnel giving some breathing space to the quattro system. At the front, it’s more plush, a more fuller experience. Everything fits well here too so you really have to try hard to find things that don’t fit in. I find one soon enough – the missing buttons for the seat memory functions. The knob to adjust the rear-view mirrors is a bit fiddly at first, then you realise it’s been designed to work on a single axis, but I don’t think it will last abuse. For me, the biggest addition, and that’s something very useful, is what’s in the MMI. Our test car came with the optional adaptive suspension setup, and trust me, it’s the one thing you will want to settle scores with speed breakers and parking ramps. On the whole, these are really well loaded cars, both making you feel snug and comfortable and special at the same time.
BMW 530d: ****
Audi A6 TDI: ****

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
On a rainy day, behind a slow moving truck that’s delivering dirt spots on the windshield like splinters from a hand grenade, the Audi is the one place you like to be in. The gearbox is very calm, the low-speed driveability very soothing and the steering light and very nice. Get the xenons to blind the truck driver, then get naughty with the throttle. You get this sudden surge of power, that instantly pulls you, the redline crossing 4000 rpm and into third gear. Before you know it you are past 140 kays on the speedo and into very, very illegal speeds. Is it the 1400 psi piezo injectors at work? Or is it that the entire 45.8 kgm of torque is available from as low as 1400 rpm, and keeps the flame burning until 3250 rpm? Well, the answer is it’s a combination of both, and surprisingly despite all those explosions in the cylinders, it is a very refined unit.

For all its refinement, the surge of power is electric, and the fact that 140 comes up in a blink says a lot about its potency. It pushes boundaries like few other cars and sets an A4 3.2 matching 0-100 kph time of 8.58 seconds. Spin the engine more and it will dismiss the 200 kph mark and go all the way to 222 kph. Really fast, for a car that weighs a porky 1,765 kilos. But as you start to think that the A6 is really competent, you find it getting pilloried by a hard charging BMW 530d in your rear view mirror.   Even though the BMW appears to have similar power, it gains on account of higher torque (50.5 kgm) and lighter kerb weight (by 165 kg). At start up, the engine adds its two bits to the ambient noise, but then so does a BMW M5 with all its clatter. Flirt with the throttle at slow speeds and you will find that slight lack of surge like the Audi, then roll down the windows at 60 kph and listen to the turbo waffle. Now, stand on the throttle and watch how this car starts to pull the horizon closer. Standing starts reveal the car hitting 60 kph in just 3.5 seconds, and when you hit the big ton, you are more than a second clear of the Audi. Unlike the Audi that feels like a hand tugging at the car with a string, this one feels like Goliath gently pushing the car around. It keeps at it, all the way to 220 kph, before it finds itself struggling to a 234 kph top speed. The A6 meanwhile is lagging at least six car lengths behind. So what’s the story with the BMW?

Well, for starters the six-speed gearbox is more intuitive and more willing to let the driver explore the meat of all that torque. Where the Audi revels at delivering liveable performance at the low and mid-range, the BMW just loves the whole idea of allowing the driver to explore the redline. Blow for blow, the BMW 530d delivers the kind of performance that we’ve seen only from the Audi TT 3.2 or the Volvo S80 V8. And even bests the both of them. Using an aluminium crankcase and piezo injectors that are even more efficient than the ones on the Audi, the BMW re-defines the performance luxury diesel saloon in the country. But it’s a bit of a pain to live with if you are to spend most of your time in-town. It’s hard to control the slightly high strung nature of the engine and to get it going, you need to stay above 1500 rpm. Relaxed driving is a tall task, and it’s the A6 that makes life easier.
BMW 530d: ****
Audi A6 TDI: ****

RIDE AND HANDLING
Tranquility versus lunacy. That’s exactly how the two cars are. Where the Audi uses its relaxed composure to get you around the curve, the BMW will strike back with its pointy steering, lots of feedback and the traction control lighting up at the slightest hint of hard acceleration. Audi uses its quattro system to blend power between the front and back wheels beautifully. It’s only as beautiful as the amount of throttle pressure applied. Fry the beans and the car will start to understeer, demanding that you get off the throttle a bit. It is much easier to actually learn to live around quattro that allows you to explore the better part of the engine’s performance, but the trick is to stay on the throttle and kill understeer. In the BMW, the beautifully balanced steering and rear-wheel drive unit, allows you to explore far greater limits of grip and given the way the gearbox ratios are spaced out, a much better ability to carry far greater speeds. High speed stability of both cars is excellent, the BMW a mite better at it.   The manner in which the Audi manages to turn the tables on the BMW as far as ride is concerned, is startling.The more compliant setup of the Audi makes it far more capable at thumping bad roads under its tubeless feet. From the more logical 17-inch wheels and higher tyre profile, to the suspension travel, the car just finds the sweet spot between neutral handling and commendable ride. The Audi does ride firmly at low speeds, but it isn’t intrusive. As speeds rise and road ruts become more telling, the Audi just gets better. That isn’t necessarily the case with the BMW that finds the highly stiff low-speed ride get a bit excruciating as speeds rise. Despite these being third generation run-flats, the sidewalls still don’t give much in terms of pliancy, even though these tyres offer excellent grip. Another place where the BMW trails the Audi is in low-speed steering where the lighter Audi’s setup becomes easier to negotiate with, unlike the heavier BMW where single hand driving for short bursts of time can be painful.
BMW 530d: ****
AUDI A6 TDI: ****

VERDICT
... and the Audi A6 3.0 TDI continues to be a success, winning the shootout yet again and holding on to its crown. But only by a whisker. With a more sorted ride, comfort, liveable performance on a daily basis and sheer value, the Audi manages to be, what is probably, one of the most politically correct saloons available in our market. 

The last time, the BMW 525d was handed the purple heart in recognition of its ability to get so close to the Audi, but this time, it’s so close to being called a cease-fire that it’s just a tactical victory to the Audi. The absolute commitment of the car to deliver the goods at any speed, the superior dynamics and the ability to permanently plaster a smile on your face means the 530d is right up your alley if you enjoy driving. The fact that it’s as quick as its more powerful sibling, the 530i, makes you want to question the legitimacy of plonking wads of cash on the gas burner. It doesn’t win this contest, but it will win your heart for its complete honesty. And that is enough ammo for me to request the BMW Press Office for a longer drive that I’ve been planning for. (Er, the BMW?lost, right? – Ed)