Few auto companies have had the kind of success that Audi has enjoyed over the last few years. It has managed to change its identity, improve the appeal of its products and even become market leaders in most segments in Europe and many parts of the world.
We’ve been accustomed to some of these changes as well. The new Audi A8 has truly become a sort of benchmark for its rivals, while the A7 has really proved how Audi can make some very impressive four-door coupes as well. And then there’s the RS5, arguably one of the best sports tourers on the planet today. But the future of Audi India, from here on, hinges on the success of two of its newest offerings – the upcoming Q3 (Srini was quite chuffed after driving it) and what you can buy right away, the new Audi A6.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of driving the car in Italy, and what I found was a car that had all the ingredients of being a tough competitor, something its predecessor found it hard to be most of the time. But that was then and Italian roads are not like India, so the wait began. Now that it’s finally here, I can tell you whether it still does have that hint of a sparkle it first showed us.
If there is a term for the Audi A6, it is ‘controlled aggression’. Under the tutelage of Walter Da Silva, the design team has come up with a car that follows Audi’s new design direction. The recessed LED headlamps and their daytime running lamps, combined with a new grille, mark the biggest change between this and the previous car. Unlike the last car, which felt like it was carved out of granite, this one feels more athletic and a bit in-your-face too.
Given its newfound sporting credentials, the A6, with its front axle moved forward by 71 mm, and its wider track and longer wheelbase, has resulted in the car being just short of 5 metres in length. Audi has focussed more on making it look and feel sporty on the outside, but without compromising on interior comfort, space and features. Even the use of materials is such that it enhances the appeal, while making the car more efficient too, which explains the up to 30 kg weight loss. The high waistline and wide front and rear make the car appear squat, and the trapezoidal tail-lamps somehow rescue the somewhat bland profile. In India, the car runs on spine-friendly 17-inch wheels as standard, and they look rather smart.
Most cars in this segment have to satisfy a multitude of demands. They must be spacious, well built and have enough features to keep the occupants busy for a long time to come. The new A6 tries to do all of that and succeeds in most ways. With a wraparound dashboard theme and the centre console angled towards the driver, you can’t help but feel rather pleased behind the steering wheel. With the focus firmly on the driver, all the controls on the dash have been placed to be easily accessible.
The dials are logically laid out, the instrument console looks smart and it’s easy on the eye too. The MMI display is no longer fixed to the dash; rather, it can be stowed away, and that makes looking over the dash that much easier. Like the A8 and A7, the MMI now features Bluetooth as standard, apart from connectivity to iPods and other handheld devices. On the diesel, an Efficiency mode makes an entry, apart from the usual Dynamic and Comfort
modes, while the Petrol has Start-Stop tech as standard. Why both features aren’t available in both cars beats me. Yet, the level of equipment otherwise is pretty comprehensive. You get air suspension with suspension lift as standard on both the six-cylinder petrol and diesel models, which is a boon, given our road conditions. The audio unit sounds good, the dash inlays look nice and the controls on the whole feel tactile. Overall build quality is of a very high order, putting the A6 at par or higher than the competition. However, some bits, like the outside rear view mirror adjusters and the controls for seat adjustment, are not in keeping with the rest of the car and could have been better built.
The seats are comfy at the front, with good lumbar support and an easily adjustable neck restraint. You cannot opt for seat massagers, even if you consider driving the car yourself most of the time (and this car kind of makes you want to). However, if you will spend a lot of time at the rear, you may find that while knee room and head room are not an issue, the seat itself is a tad too small and doesn’t provide enough under-thigh support. What also robs space is the prominent central tunnel, which prevents a fifth person from making his or her way into the car. Our test car had some very nice, high-quality chocolate interiors, which pleased us no end.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
A choice of four powertrains will be made available by Audi India. The two, full-blown 3.0-litre supercharged petrol and diesel motors that you see here, the 2.8 FSI petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel which will follow just a month after the launch of the former three. Mated to a seven-speed automatic or Multitronic box, these motors will be the mainstay of the Audi range in India, with the sporty S6 following sometime next year.
The 3.0-litre TDI and 3.0 TFSI are familiar motors, but are enhanced from the previous generation. This second-gen TDI has a few improvements over its predecessor, namely the use of new camshaft bearings, lighter plastic rocker covers, the use of two chains for the timing gear instead of four, new piezo injectors and common rail system and spherical honing for the cylinder walls. Result? The TDI engine now produces not just 5 bhp more, but it also weighs a staggering 25 kg less! The supercharged petrol too has seen a similar horsepower increase, by reducing the overall friction between the various parts of the engine. With nearly 300 bhp on tap, it continues to remain the most powerful six-cylinder petrol on offer in its class. It’s also the only car to offer the efficiency programme (selectable in MMI), mated to Start-Stop.
What these improvements have meant, in conjunction with newer aggregates (which you will read about later) is that the A6 is quicker than its predecessor. The twin-clutch S tronic on the pair you see here, with its rapid changes, make the TDI the quickest diesel saloon in its class, beating the incumbent, the Mercedes-Benz E350 CDI. On a relatively wet track, if you think hitting the tonne in 6.4 seconds is not quick, consider this – it can go from 80-120 kph in just 4 seconds and hit the 200 kph mark in under 29 seconds. If that’s not enough, then the TFSI will crack the tonne in 6.8 seconds under the same conditions, scamper from
80 kph to 120 kph in just 4 seconds and make the double ton appear in just 24.9 seconds. Given a dry track, we are sure the latter may be even quicker, but even then, these are among the quickest times for a car in its class.
The lightning fast shifts of the gearbox, combined with the flat torque curve on both these cars, make them rather quick. At lower revs and at lower speeds, the TDI gains an advantage because of the higher torque and being better tuned to work with the seven-speeder, where the TFSI loses some time. But as speeds go beyond 150 kph, it’s the TFSI that starts to gain an advantage. Both cars can hit 250 kph and the beauty is that even past the double-tonne, there’s hardly any let up. What is important to note is that the TDI has become more refined at higher revs, while the TFSI sounds like a proper
RIDE AND HANDLING
The previous A6 had bags of grip, but it had an issue of understeer as well as a ride that wasn’t in the same league as the Mercs. The new one sorts quite a bit out. Using a new version of quattro with a 40:60 standard split and the new crown-centre diff with torque vectoring we saw last month in the RS5, the A6 has become an incredibly agile and capable saloon.
With the front axle being moved forward and the weight distribution being improved, the A6 now behaves a lot more like a BMW. The newer, quicker turning electro-mechanical steering weighs up very well and is pretty accurate, but it lacks the kind of on-centred feel you will find on the E-Class. Then again, you can alter the steering individually on MMI to suit your requirements, something only found on the Audi. But it’s the levels of grip and fine body manners that make the new A6 such an engaging character. It lulls you into mashing the throttle and with the torque vectoring function, develops good traction as you burst out of the lights, which also in a way explains its phenomenal performance numbers. Aided by quattro, the A6 has enough grip to remain unaffected, either in a straight line or around curves, adverse weather and road conditions or not. Simply put, the A6 is hard to fault in this arena.
The same goes even for its ride quality. Where the last car clanged and sometimes felt loose on bad patches of road, this one takes the game straight into the E-Class’ lair and nearly matches it. It shows a rare kind of authority, that is somewhat challenged only by the fact that on really bad stretches you may want to watch out for that nose. If you are the watchful kind, you may want to raise the car using the air-suspension units, front and back, that are standard on the six-cylinder models. The odd thunk over large potholes is the only place where the A6 loses some brownie points to the E-Class, but it’s safe to say that this Audi has really taken the game forward.
The A6 has got a lot of good things going for it, from its array of features to its good looks and most importantly an engine and dynamics combination that make it a hoot to drive, yet comfortable. Maybe Audi’s way forward is one where the car does everything to make you look like a hero – one that ensures that you take that corner flat out yet keeps you out of the hedges. So it’s fast, weighs up well and quattro will ensure you stay on the road. I wish it had a bit more soul, other than that, this A6 is possibly Audi’s best saloon on sale in India. But is it good enough to shake up the establishment? Flip over to find your answer.