From a local perspective, the Audi A6 has to be the most underrated weapon in the German brand’s arsenal. Somehow it’s never managed to capture the imagination, nor match the sales, of its arch-rivals: BMW’s athletic 5-Series or the rather more conservative Mercedes-Benz E-class. Could this latest, all-new A6 be the one with the ordinance to make an impact? By DEON SCHOEMAN.
The South African car market doesn’t always follow international trends – and why should it? In a country almost devoid of accessible, affordable and reliable public transport, the role of a car is more iconic than practical.
We tend to treat our cars like beloved family members, rather than mere appliances of convenience – completely understandable, given what it costs to own one, and how reliant we are on them.
But some typically South African motoring phenomena are more difficult to rationalise than others. Take estate cars, for instance.
They may be hugely popular in Europe, but generally fail dismally on the sales charts here. Stigmatised as mom’s taxis and station wagons, sleek estates are mostly eschewed in favour of more macho, more imposing SUVs.
The medium car segment is another case in point. In many first-world markets, the likes of the Mazda6, Honda Accord, VW Passat, Ford Mondeo and Citroën C5, to mention but a few, are high-volume sellers.
In SA, the situation is quite the opposite. Yes, there was a time when medium-sized cars represented the motoring mainstream here too – a time when Toyota’s Cressida and then the Camry attracted more than 1,000 buyers every month.
But that was 25 years ago. In the early 1980s, BMW changed the local landscape forever with the introduction of the first-generation 3-Series – a car that promised prestige in a compact and relatively affordable package.
Prestige is also what attracted buyers like moths to a candle – buyers who would normally have purchased larger cars from more mainstream brands like Ford, Mazda and Volkswagen.
Today, the 3-Series remains a strong seller, but it has been joined by a host of other marques and models, most notably the Mercedes-Benz C-class and the Audi A4. It took a long time before the motoring public acknowledged the Four Rings as a worthy member of that clan, though …
Which bring us to the A6. The nameplate has been around since the mid-1990s, and has graced some fairly advanced, even avant-garde sheet metal during the past 15 years.
But while the A6 has played a vital role in the ascendance of the Four Rings to full-blown luxury brand status, it just hasn’t been able to shoulder its way into the premium medium car segment here. By comparison, the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-class families have flourished.
Audi is hoping to change that status quo with the all-new A6 – a sedan that in many ways reflects the state of the Audi passenger car art. In fact, it’s easier and more relevant to describe the A6 as a junior A8.
In visual terms, it shares the bigger car’s smooth, muscle-rippling lines, albeit in scaled-down form, while the extended bonnet ends almost abruptly in the bold, almost vertically positioned single-frame grille.
A short front overhang, large wheels and powerful haunches express a certain dynamic intent and aggression that is new to the A6 badge. However, signature elements such as the LED daytime running lights, that gaping grille, a fairly narrow glass aperture and a powerful shoulder line all confirm the sedan’s Audi identity.
The car looks sleeker, leaner and more athletic than its somewhat bloated predecessor. The trim and tailored look manages to exude both sportiness and sophistication. If anything, it extends the vocabulary of Audi’s by-now-familiar design language.
Certainly, the proportions of the new A6 are more balanced and cohesive than any of its stablemates, and succeed in disguising the substantial size of the sedan. An innovative hybrid construction that combines lightweight steel and aluminium, also allows the new A6 to shed up to 80kg compared to its predecessor.
The lower mass, together with the car’s aerodynamic shape, extended wheelbase and wide tracks, suggest a certain dynamic integrity and driver involvement that adds to its overall appeal.
The local model range, unveiled to the media this week during a two-day driving event on the Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and George, will consist of three models – two turbodiesels and a supercharged A6 petrol.
The two diesels share essentially the same 3.0-litre V6 engine, but in differing states of tune: buyers get to choose between a 150kW and a 180kW version. Torque peaks come to 400Nm and 500Nm respectively.
The sole petrol variant sources its supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol directly from the S4, and more recently the Q7 family. Credited with 220kW and 440Nm, it’s a latest-generation design that has no problem hauling around the A6’s big, beefy body.
The 150kW turbodiesel is the only front-wheel drive variant here, and also the only one to employ a multitronic gearbox – a variation on the CVT theme, but using a chain instead of a belt.
The 180kW TDI and the 220kW TFSI engines both deliver their urge via quattro all-wheel drive and a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox. For my money, the 180kW turbodiesel is the pick of the crop, here: it has seemingly limitless urge, leaps off the line with the enthusiasm of a sports car and finds a satisfying compromise between taut control and comfort.
On the narrow, twisty country road that links the N2 to the sleepy hamlet of Hankey, the A6 always felt more compact and more wieldy than its 4.95m bulk suggested. Quattro delivered on the grip and tenacity up front, while the V6 engine felt unstoppable.
As expected, the A6 interior combines upmarket finishes and comprehensive appointments with efficient ergonomics and extensive safety features. The new, lighter wood finishes offered as an option add to the car’s younger, more contemporary character.
The cockpit layout and design draws its inspiration from the A7 Sportback and the A8, and includes a bright, high-resolution LCD display, combined with Audi’s MMI control interface.
Options include hard-drive based navigation, a heads-up display and B&O sound, while a 530-litre boot offers ample luggage space.
Is the new Audi A6 good enough to truly rival the latest 5-Series and E-class? And will buyers embrace its considerable talents with the necessary vigour and enthusiasm? That’s difficult to predict.
However, there is no doubt that this is the finest A6 Audi has ever produced: A car that scores high marks in almost every category, and that has the best chance yet of firing a telling salvo of its own.
Only time will tell whether SA’s premium car buyers agree … DM
Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro
2,967cc V6, turbodiesel
Seven-speed S-tronic, quattro
180kW @ 4,000 – 4,500rpm
500Nm @ 1,400 – 3,250rpm
5.9 l/100km (combined cycle)
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