Audi might be well-known for its all-wheel-drive quattro systems, but this new front-wheel-drive A6 Avant estate with its 2.0-litre diesel engine, proves to be the pick of the range. It faces stiff competition from the BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate, but this Audi isn't giving the competition an easy ride.
In the Metal:
The styling of the previous Audi A6 Avant aged remarkably well and was undoubtedly a factor in its success. This time around the overall look of the car is sharper, but is closer to the lines of the smaller A4 than its larger A7 and A8. The Audi A6 is a little shorter overall than the car it replaces, but gains a few millimetres in height and width. Our test car was wearing large 20-inch wheels that certainly look smart, too. The range will start on smaller 18-inch wheels, with 19s also available.
At the rear, the tailgate is more angled than previously. Despite the sportier image this portrays, it hasn't affected boot capacity. A chrome strip links the back lights, as only the range-topping models get illumination that cover the full width of the rear. A second strip on the lowest section of the bumper joins the 'fake' exhaust tip details on the 'Sport' specifications, while these are more pronounced on the 'S line' variants.
Looking at the A6 Avant from a practical perspective, it only just beats the Volvo V90 in the boot capacity stakes. Both the E-Class Estate and 5 Series Touring offer (only slightly) more, while the Jaguar XF Sportbrake matches it at 565 litres - the exact same capacity as the previous A6 Avant.
Inside, there isn't any visual difference between the Avant and the A6 Saloon, but it's worth mentioning the excellent design that is a significant step on from the previous generation. The dashboard fascia has something of a three-dimensional look to it, with two touchscreen displays occupying the centre console. Up top is an 8.8-inch display, upgradable to a larger 10.1-inch unit. Below is a standard 8.6-inch screen that features the climate controls and handles hand-written inputs from users for finding phone contacts or entering addresses, etc. Also optional is the 12.3-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' display, which replaces the standard analogue instrument dials.
Rear passengers aren't left out thanks to improvements in elbow- and legroom. However, legroom in the middle rear seat is restricted due to the wide and relatively tall transmission tunnel.
Most buyers, especially company and fleet drivers, will find this 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine of interest. It scores well in both emissions and fuel consumption rankings, but the positives extend beyond pure financials. Of the three different engines we sampled in the A6 Avant (the other two being a larger 3.0-litre V6 TDI and then a V6 TFSI petrol unit), this smaller powerplant is the one that left the most positive impression.
On longer motorway runs not only does it easily keep up with faster-moving traffic, but it keeps interior noise levels to a minimum. Even on the optionally largest 20-inch wheels, we were pleasantly surprised at how little road noise was able to bleed into the cabin. Its eight-speed automatic transmission only sends power to the front wheels in this version, but it's a capable car. Roll on the power and it reacts quickly and smoothly. It's just as composed in town where the torque of the engine and smooth gearshifts deliver a polished driving experience.
Audi has been improving the feel of its steering, and the A6 feels better calibrated than other cars in the range. There isn't quite the same level of feedback and weighted feel that the BMW 5 Series offers, but it isn't numb either. Ride comfort on the standard passive suspension is consistently good and the lower weight of this smaller-engined car assists with its handling, too.
Part of that weight saving is through the use of a smaller mild hybrid system running on 12 volts instead of the 48-volt configuration employed in the A6 Avants with larger engines. Although this uses a secondary battery for its engine-off coasting, it is in the engine bay and is smaller than the lithium-ion pack that sits in the rear of 48-volt cars. This 'mild hybrid' system can shut off the engine while coasting to help reduce fuel consumption. It's quite seamless in how it performs this, though it only occurs in certain circumstances.
What you get for your Money:
There is a choice of two specification grades in the A6 Avant, SE and S line. Among the highlights in the SE spec are heated front seats, leather upholstery and 40/20/40 split folding rear seats. All cars will come with Lane Assist, Audi eCall and cruise control amongst its driver assistance features.
The S line spec replaces the standard 18-inch alloy wheels with larger 19-inch five-spoke rims, while the suspension height is lowered by 10mm. Aside from some subtle visual styling changes, the big-ticket items are the inclusion of Matrix LED headlights and LED rear lights with dynamic indicators and a mix of leather and Alcantara upholstery with embossed S line logos in the seats.
Two upgrade packs will also be available. The Comfort and Sound Pack adds a Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium Sound System, comfort key access with handsfree kick sensor for the boot and four-zone air conditioning. A Technology Pack brings MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch Response, Virtual Cockpit, reversing camera and the Audi Phonebox system with wireless charging for compatible smartphones.
The Audi A6 Avant may not be the last word in outright practicality, but it comes close, and there is little else that offers similar levels of refinement in the premium segment. The combination of the 2.0-litre diesel engine, automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive works very well in a variety of scenarios. It all adds up to make for a complete package.