What are you driving?
The fifth generation of the Audi A6 executive saloon (codenamed 'C8'), freshly landed on Irish soil for the first time, giving the Audi dealer network time to get used to it and to get potential buyers behind the wheel before sales start in earnest for the '191' registration in January. We're testing the '40 TDI' model, which means a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine under the crisply-styled bonnet, producing 204hp and 400Nm of torque. This is actually a new engine, replacing the old 'EA288' unit with all-alloy construction and more. In this case it's bolted to Audi's seven-speed, dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox, which sends power to the front wheels only. Indeed, at the time of writing, it's the only non-quattro (four-wheel drive) variant of the new A6 sold in Ireland, though I suspect there will be a less-powerful A6 35 TDI offered in time, too.
In terms of trim lines, buyers choose from subtle, but classy SE (from €50,800) and the slightly more sporting S line specification tested here (from €55,000). The latter adds a restrained styling kit to the exterior, along with tasteful 19-inch alloy wheels and excellent Matrix LED headlights, plus the 'dynamic' rear indicators. The interior upgrade includes sports seats upholstered in a mix of leather and Alcantara and a tactile S-branded sports steering wheel. The test car was also upgraded with the Tech Pack (€2,925), which most buyers are likely to pay for, as it adds a reversing camera and the Virtual Cockpit dashboard, along with upgraded satnav and a smartphone wireless charger.
Name its best bits
Pictures of the new Audi A6 don't do it justice, as it's an upmarket looking car with more stance than images on a screen can convey. Admittedly, the front view is rather dominated by the HUGE radiator grille, but there's plenty more of interest here, particularly the sharp folds in the bodywork throughout. Interestingly, in a time when BMW and Mercedes choose to visually shrink their executive challengers (the 5 Series and E-Class respectively), Audi clearly sought to give its A6 more than a little of the A8 appearance. It's a strategy that has worked, too, as the new A6 looks like a car from the class above.
That impression isn't dashed as you lower yourself into the cabin, as it's simply exquisite. The materials used, and the switchgear, are of high quality and of course, if you go for the Virtual Cockpit, it looks phenomenally high-tech.
And even though there's a four-cylinder diesel engine under the bonnet of this car, it's remarkably hushed and smooth. The quietness will be partly due to the (impressively standard) double-glazed side windows. These keep road and wind noise at bay, too, making this the most civilised Audi A6 yet, further reinforcing the junior-A8 vibe. There's plenty of low-rev urgency from the engine, as well, so there's no need to extend it. The S tronic gearbox works well in that context.
While I'll stop short of saying the new A6's chassis is engaging and involving, it certainly is competent. There's no adaptive damping or active roll control trickery at work here, but the S line's sports suspension does a commendable job of reducing unwanted body and wheel movements when the car is driven quickly over rough ground. Sure, the SE, with its slightly softer settings and higher-profile tyres should be more comfortable again, but the S line copes admirably with Irish roads - and looks the business.
Anything that bugs you?
This section is tougher to fill in than usual, as the A6 is a highly polished machine, even when compared to a class of equally accomplished rivals. Picking nits then, I don't like the way the doors are electrically opened, which means there's a microsecond of a delay between you pulling the handle and something happening; that fancy touchscreen in the middle that controls the air conditioning, etc, looks good, but it's not as easy to use when on the move as a traditional rotary dial system, and it also takes up a considerable amount of space, reducing the amount of room available for storage; and perhaps at this level of the market, Virtual Cockpit should be standard.
And why have you given it this rating?
Audi has seriously raised the game of the A6 saloon. Its A8-aping looks are backed up by an interior, technology and driving experience to match. The keenest of drivers may find it a little too remote for their liking, but by any other measure, this is one of the most desirable and capable cars in the segment.
What do the rest of the team think?
Cookie-cutter styling blah blah blah, over-light steering blah blah, looks too much like a bigger Audi A4 blah. Don't care, frankly, that all of the preceding is true - the new A6 is just such a big, comfortable, beautifully made smoothie and I'd forgive it all that and much more. It's perhaps not the choice of the enthusiast, but on a dark night, with a long journey ahead, it's the one I'd pick. Fantastic quality, great comfort and terrific economy too. Lovely.
Neil Briscoe - Editor-at-large