Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant consumer review

Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant consumer review - interior and exterior design, build quality and technical specifications

Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant is a nice looking car

Audi uses ‘Avant’ as other car makers might use ‘Sports Tourer’ or ‘Sportwagon’. The idea is to suggest load-carrying practicality laced with a rakishness suggestive of an adventurous lifestyle. The Audi A6 Avant here is the latest of this Audi breed.

The A6 range entered its seventh generation back in February, with much aluminium in its make-up, a 70kg weight loss, a reconfigured transmission layout bringing the front wheels further forward, and powertrain revisions to reduce the official CO2 outputs. The idea was to create the look and feel of an A8 but in a smaller size, and with a multimedia system of almost sci-fi sophistication.

The saloon came first, and it’s now joined by a new A6 Avant that is similarly able to be loaded lavishly (as here) with options. The range stretches from a 2.0 TDI to two (soon to be three) flavours of 3.0 TDI and reaches a power climax with the 3.0 TFSI quattro. Our test car is the lower-powered of the V6-engined 3.0 TDIs, with 201bhp, front-wheel drive and a continuously variable Multitronic automatic transmission.

No other car company has created quite as uniform a look across its range as Audi, but if the A6 Avant’s style is predictable, it’s also handsome. Subtle chamfering of the grille’s corners and slimmer lights apart, this latest Avant looks little different from its predecessor. But it’s fractionally shorter and wider, has a wheelbase 67mm longer at 2912mm, and has shed a person’s worth of weight.

That weight loss comes mainly from the use of aluminium and hot-pressed, high-strength steel, while the longer wheelbase is achieved by placing the differential directly behind the longitudinally mounted engine with all transmission components, including the clutch where fitted, behind the front axle line. This allows the front axle to be pulled forward and the front overhang reduced, improving both weight distribution and aesthetics.

In this 201bhp/295lb ft form, the 3.0 TDI V6 replaces the 2.7-litre unit of the previous A6 range. There’s also a 242bhp version matched to four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch, seven-speed gearbox, while a 309bhp twin-turbo edition is imminent. The test car emits an impressively low 136g/km of CO2 on the official combined cycle, thanks in part to its stop-start system.

The CVT helps in the official EU test cycle, too, in that it is always able to be in the optimum ratio for the gentle driving the test requires. Its shortest gear has 6.7 times the ratio of the longest, the latter giving over 40mph per 1000rpm. In manual mode the gearbox offers eight ratio steps.
Avant-specific features include aluminium roof rails, a rail-based storage system in the boot, rear seat backrests that flip forward in unison if you pull the appropriate handle in the load bay, a 60kg weight gain over the saloon and the £545 option of a powered tailgate.

Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant

Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant

Audi A6 3.0 TDI Avant

The ride
Audi’s first Multitronic-equipped cars had a step-off so slow that exiting side roads into busy traffic could be quite stressful. That certainly doesn’t apply to this A6 3.0 TDI, which can be almost too sudden in its getaway unless you’re delicate with the accelerator. Comfort or Efficiency modes make for the smoothest drive, while Dynamic sharpens the accelerator response and lets the engine rev higher as the CVT manages the gear-ratio progression.

The Auto setting is best most of the time, because it makes the Audi eager when you want it to be, gentle when you don’t. And of course the CVT’s stepless ratio changes are always perfectly smooth and well matched to the torque delivery, with pulling power plateauing between 1250 and a relatively high 3500rpm. The result is surprising thrust; 60mph arrives in a brisk 7.2sec from rest, with the revs never exceeding 4600rpm.
That is also the automatic change-up speed should you hold the ‘gears’ manually, not that there’s anything to be gained by doing so. The lack of paddle shifters is an admission that this A6 is about rapid and refined progress with minimal driver effort. At speed the engine is practically inaudible; it’s quiet at idle, too.

Audi claims a 143mph top speed, which is some way off the ludicrous 180mph at the far end of the speedo’s scale. More relevant is that at 80mph the crankshaft is spinning at just a fraction over 2000rpm in ‘eighth’ gear. Slightly spookily, the transmission uses sat-nav data to predict where the next bends are and ready itself with the optimum gear ratios. Such data also primes the cornering lighting.
The stop-start system works well but relies on you keeping a foot on the brake pedal while stopped, which can dazzle people behind. The engine restarts as soon as you release brake pressure. The brakes themselves are powerful and more progressive than an Audi’s used to be, but the action is soft. As now expected in a car such as this, the parking brake is electric.

Improving the weight distribution has made the latest A6 a more pointable handler than its predecessor, and at normal road speeds it feels quite crisp and connected, with strong front-end grip. The lack of a quattro drivetrain matters little in these circumstances, but in slippery conditions or under very hard cornering this front-drive A6 inevitably drifts into strong understeer and might try to spin the inside front wheel. Lifting the accelerator quells this, but traction will usually be the limiting factor when really pushing on.
Progress is fluent rather than incisive; this is a heavy car at 1805kg (pretty heavy, isn't it), and it doesn’t like to be rushed. The electric power steering, with a rack-mounted motor and the ability to compensate for cambers, has little feel but credible weighting in Auto mode. In Comfort or Efficiency it’s too light; in Dynamic it’s firm but not glutinous.

The fact that many Audi buyers specify S-line suspension and big wheels suggests ride comfort isn’t their priority, but this A6 SE on optional 18-inch wheels is pretty comfortable most of the time, without leading the class on compliance. Sharp bumps can bring on a thump and a jerk from the chassis. The body’s major movements are controlled inherently well, but some longer-wave, more pronounced changes in the road surface do make the car nod a little over its front axle, like an Audi 100 of old.
2012 Audi A6 interior

2012 Audi A6 interior

The A6 Avant’s cabin is superbly finished. All A6s get leather trim – soft Valcona in Nougat Brown is an option fitted to this test car – and nearly every surface is textured for maximum tactile pleasure. If you have been wondering if the mainstream/premium divide still applies as mainstream brands get ever plusher, this Audi shows how premium should be done.
This extends to the beautifully trimmed load bay and some pleasing aluminium detailing. It’s not perfect, though; that (optional) slow-acting powered tailgate includes automatic retraction of the luggage cover, but once it’s reinstated there’s still a large gap between it and the tailgate so the boot contents are visible.
The upper false boot floor is level with the load bay threshold, and a space-saver spare wheel is stored under the next floor layer. Tracks either side of the floor can house movable posts with telescopic arms set between them, or a net with a similar cargo-corralling function. The rear seats’ cushions are fixed, however, so the backrests fold down on top of them, creating a slightly uphill cargo bay – which is a disappointment in a specialist load carrier.
With the rear seats upright, the A6 offers slightly more boot space than a BMW 5-series Touring and slightly less than a Mercedes E-class estate. Rear seat space is similar to the BMW, and again lags slightly behind that of the Merc. The centre passenger gets a raw deal with a hard, flat seat and a wide central tunnel between the legs.
The sweeping dashboard contains ultra-clear instruments and some of the crispest LCDs in the business, while the main central screen is home to the Multimedia Interface (MMI), which Audi has developed into an effective and intuitive system. The test car also came with a touchpad that recognises letters and numbers traced by a finger for phone calls and sat-nav input or can act as a numbered radio station selector, but it lacked the optional internet connection feature and built-in wi-fi.
Electric seat adjustment is optional, but with it you should be able to create a perfect driving position. The door mirrors’ lenses are unusually convex, however, making it hard to judge distances, but the optional bi-xenon headlights adapt automatically to speed, landscape, oncoming cars and even, with the switchable all-weather function, reflections on a wet road.
This A6’s official CO2 output, with all the tax implications that go with it, is 136g/km. This is a class-leading figure, and very impressive for a large estate car with a 3.0-litre engine and considerable pace. It’s allied to an official combined economy figure of 54.3mpg, to which our real-world touring figure comes reasonably near at 46.3mpg. Overall, our test A6 scored 33.9mpg, which shows yet again the fantasyland of official data. Incidentally, this A6 range’s fuel tank is 10 litres smaller than the previous one’s to save weight, the idea being that the notional economy improvement will give a similar range.
Servicing can happen as infrequently as every 19,000 miles or two years, as long as the A6 is driven far and fast. It’s disappointing, however, to see how much of the test car’s ample equipment is optional, all £11,015 worth of it.
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