Ingolstadt is just 100 km away from Munich, an hour’s drive at best. Geographically, this kind of proximity makes them sister towns. But in fact, the two companies that characterise them have somehow ensured that this proximity was good only in metric units. BMW have over the years carved themselves the niche of a mass manufacturer of luxury cars with driving pleasure, while Audi has tried to find a balance between Mercedes’ ride comfort and BMW’s athleticism. But since the turn of the century, Audi have managed to nearly achieve Mercedes’ altar and gunned for BMW’s excellence, and dare I say, they have never been this close – so close that one can once again call Munich and Ingolstadt sister towns.
This chain of thought whizzed around my head as the A6 3.2 hit a top speed of 216 kph. Everything was working just right. The high speed stability that was so impressive on the 3.0 TDI Quattro was present even here, and so what if our current test car was only front-wheel drive? The steering, which felt absolutely devoid of feel at low speeds, had loaded up just as I thought it would. The Multitronic gearbox was at its sharpest best, even though a couple of revs ago it would refuse to just kick up. It would be unfair to say that at its peak performance the Audi A6 transforms itself from being a mediocre car to something delightful, because even at mediocre speeds, the 3.2 acquits itself well, worth nearly every penny that make up its Rs 47 lakh price tag. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to what could very well be one of the finest automobiles available in the country.
Design and Engineering
Last month, when we had the 3.0TDI Quattro for a group test, we managed to lay our hands on a model in the S-Line trim. The only way to figure out its spec is by tracing the badge on the Bulgarian beard grille, which hints at its luxury-sporty intent. Mind you, despite the car being sheathed in black, the S-Line badge alone helped turn half the additional number of heads it would have otherwise done. Even the neighbours’ kids seemed to agree, their opinion changing rather dramatically in weeks between the S-Line and the non S-Line specced A6s. It’s just a badge after all, because the A6 is a handsome car. It reflects Walter De Silva’s clear intent to make Audi a more sensuous brand, and it does so without losing out on its identity. One still enjoys the palm-size width of the shoulder line, the squarish headlamps and the classic single-digit spoked alloys that accentuate the wheel arches. In a cavalcade, the A6 appears as just another car, and needs to be put in isolation to understand the finer design details.
The design depth is more evident in how it uses its size to enhance its appeal. It is the longest among the three Germans, and even has the largest boot. The 17-inch rims are in fact dwarfed a bit by the large expanse of the wheelbase, and the relatively greater expanse of metal over glass on the doors.Size also allows the A6 to liberate more space on the inside. I would have particularly liked it if there was a bit more shoulder space at the rear, especially when three make for more rubbing shoulder occasions than with a Staedtler eraser in art class. The centre console design is also angled towards the driver, more than what we have come to expect from some modern BMWs. The steering is also great to grip and... aah, forget talking about the interiors and jump into the driver’s seat!
Drivetrain and Performance
You don’t waste time once you are in the driver’s seat, except to get it into the right position using the eight-way seat controls, adjust the four-way steering wheel, tie your shoe-laces, place the key in the cupholder (or your pocket) and just press the Engine Start button. The V6 sounds minutely raucous on start up, maybe not as much as the one on the Audi TT. Sure enough, both have 3.2 badges on the boot lid, but the two engines are vastly different. Not only are the block sizes different by a couple of ccs, they also belong to different engine families, the one on the TT sharing Volkswagen lineage. The 3.2 on the Audi has been tuned over time, and now produces 255 bhp@6700 rpm, with a very impressive 33.6 kgm of torque.
Our test car didn’t feature Quattro, though it’s standard on all the A6 3.2s sold here. It did, however, feature Multitronic, Audi’s now gold-standard gearbox. A departure from belt-driven trannys, the chain-driven Multitronic functions just like any normal CVT, but this intelligent little being can teach everyone a trick or two. The chain runs between two pulleys, a primary and a secondary set that act as a rugged link between the two, yet is flexible to move the pulleys together, when wear and tear gets higher. On paper, it all sounds very enticing, but it’s a bit different once you get the car out on the road.
Open up the valves and get them to work frantically by standing on the throttle pedal and the gearbox behaves tardy fractionally, before it allows the road to chip away pieces of rubber. Though the gearbox features paddle shifters (tiptronic) on the steering wheel, the ideal manner to drive fast is to move the gate-shifter into S and just press the accelerator. Modern gearboxes with their manual shift options are smarter in automatic mode and can shift faster than most wannabe Hamiltons. Standing starts meant the 0-100 kph mark was down in 8.22 seconds with the ESP off and the traction control light frantically trying to tie the car down. Mid-range is equally blinding, there’s hardly a difference between the 80-120 kph and 100-140 kph times. It all goes down to how brilliantly the Multitronic reads driver inputs to significantly alter response times. Unlike most other cars that feature a Sport-mode that doesn’t perceptibly alter performance, this one also alters the thrum from the six by a fair margin, enough to detect that it’s doing its intended job. Though we managed times that were a fair margin off from manufacturer claimed times, the gap can be reduced if you opt for a higher octane fuel, unlike us who resort to testing with standard 87 RON octane.
Where the Multitronic fails is in its ability to move out of revs. It sticks around for far too long, making it tiresome at times if you resort to paddle shifting. Here, the BMW’s six-speed auto is more efficient, preventing the car from going into the useless section of over-revs and shifts-up just as you would like it to. Multitronic does allow for intervention if driver inputs to the gearbox are absent for more than 30 seconds, but on the whole, it still does set the standard in its segment. Ride and Handling
Like we discussed earlier, the high-speed stability of the A6 was never suspect. It just levels out road undulations at those speeds with amazing alacrity, even in front-wheel drive mode, thanks to the utilisation of the same multi-link suspension setup, just like the Quattro. What you need to do is get out on the expressways to experience its long-leggedness and ability to munch milestones and spew them out of the exhaust.
The scene gets jarred once you do city speeds, over bad roads and potholes. Despite the Comfort package that alters damper settings, even in comfort mode the car thumps around, jerking the occupants over small potholes. Though the best party trick of the Comfort suspension is its Lift mode. Find a road hump that looks too daunting and the mere flick of the MMI knob is enough to raise the car by a couple of millimetres. Proof of the pudding? The exit ramp in my car park. Anything that looks good enough to leave scratch marks on a legal speedbreaker will ground itself and leave nasty marks on the underbody when it tries to reason with the ramp. Not this one. It’s very useful,to a point where putting it on your options list is a must.
What I also think Audi must provide is a sharper and more well weighted steering. It’s sharp only when you muster serious speeds, which it should be, but the serious lack of feel makes it rather difficult to figure out what the front wheels are up to. At town speeds, it’s easier to overdo, so avoid the narrow lanes of Zaveri Bazaar right away. It’s a flaw which Audi will wait to rectify in the next generation, while BMW takes the game just a notch higher.You can’t fault the brakes, though. There’s some fade if you drive across tight and twisty roads, but when stopping on a coin matters, the A6 does not falter. It holds its line very well under hard braking, though it’s a tad squishy on initial application, but gets firmer as the application reaches the last half of pedal travel.
On the inside
Feeling up the interiors in an A6 doesn’t send images of erotica, but it doesn’t mean teutons have robotised seduction. Every grain, every texture and every surface feels like it was meant to satisfy the senses. I particularly preferred the premium cowhide on the S-Line to the suede finish on the seats, but the silver garnishing around the door handles, the red markings on the dials and the soft-feel plastic put the Audi well within limits, with not a hint of sensory overload.
All buttons are within reach, though I felt the MMI has a design flaw. Though it’s clear and legible, switching between various car functions means having to fractionally place your eyes on the central tunnel before selecting the right one. It is easy to use from there onwards, but could somehow put more applications under a single button, reducing clutter.
As a complete product, the Audi A6 has every right to chest thump. The balance between high-speed performance, roadholding, driver involvement, ride, space and equipment is where it should be. Maybe the low-speed ride could have been less lumpy and the steering could have given more low-speed feedback, but apart from that, it’s hard to find flaws with this automobile. Some might complain about more objective matters such as fuel efficiency, but such people can direct their decisions in favour of the 3.0 TDI. The new-gen Audis are finally getting it right, and if anything, the sales charts across the world seem to indicate just that. Munich needs to be worried, or fear losing the status of it being a major city, maybe reducing itself to being called a satellite town of Ingolstadt in the future. Q PLEASE
So this is the latest of the A6s that are assembled in India?
Yes, and not just one, but three additional engine variants. A 2.8 and 3.0 TDI and 2.8 FSI round off the list
But isn't the price a bit too high?
Sure, it is more expensive than the BMW 530i or the Mercedes Benz E280. But you get adaptive suspension and a whole lot of tech that the other two don’t offer.
Does the 3.2 FSI feature on the A6 only?
No. The Audi A8 is already available with it, and, listen to this, the new A4 in May will too! Now who needs an RS4?