Audi filters the high-tech approach first seen on its larger A7 Sportback and A8 ranges into the all-new, fifth-generation A6 executive saloon. It results in a very strong competitor for the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, with the impressive new 2.0-litre TDI engine proving particularly effective.
In the Metal:
Audi's current corporate styling does mean this latest A6, for all its crisp loveliness and sharp-suited elegance, is very aesthetically homogenous with its A4 and A8 siblings. You need to really see the boot badge to convince yourself that it's the mid-sized model, not the junior exec or the luxury limo, but we still think that the German company's design language is rather wonderful. The A6 looks proportionally right from so many angles, while it wears 19- and 20-inch alloys with discretion - and the strip of chrome linking the rear lights is another neat detail that makes it a striking machine.
The interior is replete with the three-screened magnificence that we've already seen on A7 and A8 - that means a 12.3-inch display in the instrument cluster, a 10.1-inch screen on top of the centre stack for the main infotainment stuff and then an 8.6-inch read-out below for the climate settings and other sundry controls. It looks superb. It feels superb. It is superb in its layout, so that operating everything comes almost as second nature. In short, it's up there alongside an E-Class with the 'Widescreen Cockpit' display for show-stopping grandeur. Also, there's masses of room in the rear for two very tall adults, although - as usual with four-wheel-drive cars - the transmission tunnel makes foot-space in the centre-back pew something of a rare commodity.
Audi will launch the A6 with the same '50' TDI 3.0-litre diesel engine (286hp) and '55' TFSI 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine (340hp) as seen in the A7, but there's a newcomer joining them. Codenamed the EA288 Evo, it's a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel with 204hp, represented by '40' TDI badging. However, unlike the familiar 190hp/400Nm, steel-blocked EA288 it replaces, the 'Evo' has an alloy block. So new is it, making its debut in the entire Volkswagen Group in the A6, that Audi hasn't yet homologated it, which is why we don't have any more stats on its performance or economy.
Almost all A6s will come with quattro all-wheel drive, with the 2.0-litre 40 TDI and possibly a forthcoming 2.0-litre petrol perhaps having a front-wheel-drive option. All A6s also lack for a clutch pedal, as take-up of manuals in the previous generation was really low and - again, as with the A7 and A8 cars - the 50 TDI uses an eight-speed torque-converter Tiptronic auto while the rest of the confirmed engines will go with the seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch gearbox. Anything with S tronic gets the fancy fuel-saving 'ultra' quattro set-up, that can disengage the rear axle as and when required to save fuel; the 50 TDI has permanent four-wheel drive with the traditional self-locking centre differential.
There will be four suspension settings to choose from: standard steel springs and dampers; a 10mm-lower, stiffened 'Sport' version of the same set-up for S line models; adaptive dampers paired with conventional springs; and then fully adaptive twin-axle air suspension. Four-wheel steering is also an option, while variable-ratio Progressive Steering can be selected too. Obviously, the A6 Avant estate has already been confirmed and it shouldn't be too long before we see an A6 allroad quattro crossover version and fast S/RS models, either.
The new A6's shell has more torsional rigidity than its predecessor and, do you know what? It shows. The Audi drives in a clean, unflustered manner that is the hallmark of the brand, so it might not quite have the dynamic cachet of its BMW and Jaguar rivals, but it's a better vehicle to steer than the old A6. There's less scruffy understeer, more grip and really nicely judged controls (the steering, in particular, is most pleasant) all of which means you can exploit the turbocharged quattro drivetrain's flexibility to make the A6 very quick across ground. It feels like there is genuine involvement to be had in driving it in this manner, too, albeit the car is still resolutely neutral and sure-footed in the corners, rather than dancing around on the throttle.
So the handling is above par, but that's not really the raison d'etre of a car of the A6's size. Thankfully, it's fantastic news on the refinement front. The Audi's aerodynamic body cuts through the air with minimum effort and despite wearing whopping alloy wheels, you'll hear nothing of the tyres' passage over even the most abysmal road surfaces. However, it's the ride comfort that is the winner. We tried A6s on the base-spec steel springs, as well as cars fitted with the adaptive dampers and the full air set-up. And not one of them felt jittery in the ride department, although we're not sure of the merits of the (likely) expensive air suspension option. While not as surprisingly unsettled in its composure as an A7 Sportback on air (as we drove earlier this year), there's still more secondary ride patter than you might expect from the rear of the A6 on air springs so while Audi's effort is a strong one, if you drove a comparable E-Class on Mercedes' hardware, you'd soon realise the Benz was the superior air-sprung vehicle.
Therefore, stick with the adaptive dampers, because they're excellent. On the 40 TDI, they provide better body control than the stock suspension, with less lean in the corners, without sacrificing anything in terms of suppleness. Indeed, the adaptive dampers actually provide a firmer, more controlled ride than the air option and they would be our first recommendation for the A6, as they make it feel every inch as cultured as the grander A8 with which it shares so much.
And finally, the 2.0-litre diesel engine is a peach. It's really punchy and smooth, and quiet in operation, save for when it gets to 4,000rpm where - like all four-cylinder turbodiesels - it starts to sound a little coarse and unhappy. But you won't ever need to go that far round the tacho, because the unconfirmed torque this thing possesses is more than capable of dealing with the A6's frame. Judging by this performance, we'd be very surprised if it had any less than 450Nm once figures are finally confirmed. If any diesel engine is going to somehow convince the sceptical Irish public that this isn't the devil's fuel, then this EA288 Evo is the prime contender.
What you get for your Money:
We can't comment here as yet as Irish prices and specifications are yet to be confirmed, but the A6 shouldn't be too much of a price walk from its predecessor and it comes absolutely laden with kit that's packed into a fabulous interior. Expect the Audi to be competitive with its main Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Jaguar and Lexus rivals.
The latest Audi A6 is nothing unexpected. It was always going to be elegant to look at, possessed of a wonderful cabin, packing the sort of cutting-edge automotive technology that is seeping down from the very top of the brand's range to all other cars and trustworthy to drive on the roads. However, it's by no means a dull vehicle, as it has a soupcon of driving pleasure mixed in and some excellent drivetrains - the new 40 TDI 2.0-litre diesel especially - to call upon to boot, and Audi's claim of the A6 being the 'greatest all-rounder in its class' is not such a hard one to believe.
We look forward to seeing the line-up expand with the gorgeous Avant and likely exceptional allroad models, and we're also keen to see if the inevitable RS 6 will go in the Audi Sport 'hit' column when it finally arrives, because the signs are there that the German brand's most coveted car might be able to engage its driver in the corners to a level befitting of its monstrous pace and sublime looks. Yep, this is a very good start for the fifth-gen A6 family, no doubt about it.