Audi has been defying common market wisdom almost as long as there have been Audis. No longer the stepchild in the Holy Trinity known as the German luxury segment, Audi is firing on all cylinders, beginning with the solidly received A4 sedan and Q5 CUV, and going right up the alphanumeric ladder via its A5 coupe, A7 5-door, Q7 CUV and A8 luxury sedan. And the above listing doesn’t even include the subject of our test: Audi’s 2014 A6 TDI. In the excitement that marked the introduction of the oh-so-visual A7 the more conservatively rendered A6 would seem to have been overlooked, by both automotive media and the consumer. This is why – Dear Readers – we have CarBuzzard.
You wouldn’t think that in 2014 a shapely 5-door would garner so much attention, but Audi’s A7 is the contradiction. In an industry still dismissive of the hatchback in all but the most entry-level categories, the A7 knocked conventional wisdom – there’s that phrase again – on its conventional head. With some inspiration provided by the Mercedes CLS, the A7 is tightly drawn with an almost aero-like silhouette. And with a breadth of available drivetrains (just how fast do you want to go?), the A7/S7/RS7 can be virtually all things to all people, assuming – of course – all those people brought money. In at least one suburban enclave, just west of D/FW Airport, A7s are a dime-a-dozen, looking – at least in sheer volume – like so many fastback Accords.
All of which brings us back to the lesser-known A6. To be sure, its designation – relative to ‘A7’ – has been around longer, succeeding Audi’s 100 (5000 in the U.S.) some twenty years ago. In those twenty years Audi has taken a fairly consistent approach to its design and footprint, with little in the way of extraneous adds marring the body, and little in the way of growth expanding the footprint. It remains a very conventional 3-box sedan, and while its all-wheel drive configuration doesn’t suffer the nose-heavy look of many front-wheel drive cars and CUVs, neither does it set back on what we used to call haunches (yeah, haunches) like various rear-wheel drive competitors. Overall, we like its look and visual balance, even when adorned with a ‘Clean Diesel – TDI’ billboard running down its almost virginal-white (actually called Glacier White metallic – $500) flanks.
The Audi’s stance would have benefited from the 19-inch Sport package, a $1,500 add providing 19-inch 5-spoke wheels with all-season tires, a ‘Sport’ suspension and 3-spoke steering wheel. That was superseded, however, by the addition of 20-inch wheels mounted on summer tires – at an additional $800. In that this is written in February, we would have been just fine with the 19’s, and believe there’s a good argument – in the interest of durability and roadability – in going with all-season rubber offering a reasonably tall section height. We aren’t, after all, doing a season of autocross with our A6 TDI. We did, however, enjoy the addition of a ‘Sport’ suspension. Given what we assume to be better control, we wouldn’t spec an A6 without it.
If you liked the Audi exterior you’ll truly enjoy what Audi continues to do on the inside. The test A6 featured perfectly contoured buckets covered in ‘Nougat’ brown, a dash that is informative and (almost) intuitive, and enough room front and rear for a real family to stretch out. Ingress is as easy as simply getting in, while the doors’ size and heft made egress as easy as simply getting out. Once inside, everyone will enjoy unimpeded sight lines, something we ‘see’ fewer of, even in upright SUVs.
Of course, the heart of this discussion is Audi’s 3.0 liter TDI Clean Diesel (I’m simply recycling the car’s billboard here…). Delivering 240 horsepower and 428(!) lb-ft of stump-pulling torque, Audi’s oil-burner builds on the results and expectations provided by parent Volkswagen over only-Piech-knows-how-many years. There’s a lot to like here, even beyond its prodigious torque. Any diesel aural residue is well masked, throttle tip-in is better than we’ve come to expect from relatively small-displacement engines connected to automatic transmissions, and once you’re on the road and in the throttle, the TDI just hums. And while it’s humming, the fuel gauge isn’t going down! In our typical combo of in-town stop-and-go and hour-long freeway romps we enjoyed 30+ miles per gallon, well within the expectations established by Audi’s EPA estimate of 24 City/38 Highway/29 combined. At today’s prices for diesel, Audi suggests you’ll spend roughly $2k per year over 15,000 miles of driving; that’s chump change when considering the level of luxury and performance afforded by the A6 platform.
Although the engine may pull like the proverbial tractor, that’s where the implement-oriented comparisons will end. As noted, the A6 will rarely be used for autocrossing, but we were pleased by its connection with the road, either via your hands on the wheel or your butt on the well-contoured bucket. You and your passengers are as connected as you’d want to be, but never more connected than a sport/luxury passenger should be. (Of course that connectivity is enhanced by the TDI’s standard quattro all-wheel drive…) We think Audi has struck a ride/handling balance perfect for its target demographic, which – we’ll guess – is notably younger than Cadillac’s or Benz’s, while potentially more urban than BMW’s.
In what is an almost-perfect vortex of comfort, precision and efficiency comes another of our ‘gotcha’ moments with a German luxury window sticker. If you take the A6 TDI (quattro Tiptronic) base of $57,500 and add only the Sport package and destination, you can keep the Monroney under $59K (plus taxes, title and license). Do what Audi’s fleet team did, however, and the addition of Driver Assistance, Prestige equipment, Sport package and 20-inch wheels will drive the window to just under $67K. To be sure, this isn’t a stupid expenditure on a stupid car, but seems to wander from the original premise of Audi’s comeback in these United States: unimpeachable value. Regardless, those that can afford it easily exceed the number of TDI’s Audi is prepared to bring to the U.S.
At the end of the day there’s a lot to like in Audi’s diesel-powered formula. And the fuel gauge still hasn’t gone down…