Overall rating: 4/5
'Ultra' is Audi's answer to BMW's EfficientDynamics, offering all the benefits of low emissions and decent fuel economy but without any of the drawbacks. The BMW 5 Series needs to watch its back.
In the Metal:
Much like it did with the A8 facelift, Audi has gone for the 'blink and you'll miss it' approach to the revised A6 range. Redesigned bumpers front and rear are joined by a slightly wider grille, chrome trim for the boot, standard fit LED head- and tail lights and trapezoidal exhaust pipes, but other than that it is a case of 'as you were.'
In itself this is no bad thing; the A6, despite its age, remains a handsome car and these updates merely serve as the cherries atop an already appealing cake. Scratch below the surface however and you'll find a lot of changes. The body, for example, is now made up of 20 per cent aluminium with hot-shaped steel used in much of the rest of the body. This leads to a weight saving of roughly 15 per cent over conventional construction with obvious benefits for both performance and economy.
Inside, the updates are more obvious. The MMI Navigation Plus system has been overhauled with a new faster processor (capable of eight billion calculations a second apparently) and integrated 3d graphics. Sounds fancy but what it means is that Google Maps navigation updates much faster than before. The high definition display can also be (optionally) mirrored between the speedometer and rev counter on a new seven-inch colour screen. A Head Up Display is also available, not only with speed and navigation information, but also warnings from the Audi Pre Sense system telling you when you are driving too close to the car in front, for example.
Being one of Audi's new Ultra models - a badge reserved for the cleanest and greenest members of the line-up - you may be forgiven for thinking the A6 Ultra an eco-special akin to BMW's EfficientDynamics or Volkswagen's BlueMotion. But while the Ultra cars do return impressive economy and CO2 figures they are not reined-in eco models. When they arrive next month in Ireland the range will kick off with a 150hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, which Audi Ireland expects to be the most popular, though the car driven here is the brawnier 190hp version that replaces the 177hp engine of old. Mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic transmission it can return 4.2 litres/100km with emissions of just 109g/km yet it still drives like a full-fat Audi. There is no eco 'optimised' gearbox, no super low-rolling resistance tyres nor specific suspension settings - it just drives as a non-Ultra car does.
With 400Nm of torque on tap from 1,750rpm it feels punchy, which is reassuring when contemplating overtakes, and the engine, while a touch noisy at start up, sounds good as the revs rise, not what you expect from a four-cylinder diesel. This is not a low emissions car as we know it.
As is the way with big Audis the steering is a touch light on feedback, but we do not suspect too many buyers will notice or care and the stiffer suspension of the S line model does liven things up a bit.
What you get for your Money:
On the face of it the mid-life update does not come at much financial advantage to the customer as some models are actually more expensive than before, but dig deeper and you will find that those prices come with a lot of extra equipment. The entry-level SE model (€44,750 for a 2.0-litre TDI 150 version) now comes equipped with Xenon lights, MMI navigation, acoustic glass and an anti-glare interior mirror fitted as standard, features that would have previously cost up to €5,000. Sitting between SE and S line is the new SE Business spec (€47,450 for the 2.0 TDI) with its electric front seats, wood inlays, four-zone climate control, MMI Navigation plus and 18-inch alloy wheels. S line models now get full LED headlights as standard in addition to the sportier looks of before and prices start from €47,850.
The Ultra models, with their low emissions and high fuel economy are available in the same specifications with prices starting from €47,050 for the 150hp Ultra diesel or €47,250 for the 190hp version driven here. Add €2,300 for the S tronic transmission - a saving of €500.
To mark 25 years of TDI Audi will launch a 'Competition' version of the 3.0-litre Bi-TDI in both saloon and Avant guises. Power for the Competition is hiked to 326hp compared to the standard 3.0 Bi-TDI's 320hp, while an overboost function allows it to make 346hp for short periods. The S line Sports Package, with its suspension 20mm lower than usual, is standard, as are 20-inch wheels and an all-black interior. The Competition A6 will only be produced in 2015, the year TDI marks its quarter century.
As we said early on the Audi A6 didn't exactly need a facelift, still looking fresh half way through its life cycle, but it is the mechanical rather than cosmetic changes that impress. Small tweaks make the experience that little bit better while the new Ultra models certainly live up to their promise - all the efficiency gains with none of the compromises.