Design- and tech-savvy Audi A6 sedan and Audi A7 Sportback gain a sportier look, upgraded infotainment, revised powertrains and greater value for money.
WHAT IS IT
Audi’s entrant in the premium C-segment category is doing good business in Australia, with sales up by 25 percent last year. This handsome mid-life facelift should equip the A6 (and its semi-coupe A7 Sportback sibling, plus sporty S-badged variants) with the required smarts to leapfrog the BMW 5 Series and rein in the strong-selling Mercedes-Benz E-Class and CLS-Class.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Restyled lights, bumpers and wheel designs are merely the garnish; new transmissions, a new engine and a greater emphasis on sporting appeal are the substance. At the entry level, a more powerful 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four tied to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox replaces the old A6 2.0TFSI with ‘Multitronic’ CVT, while at the top end, the S6 quattro and S7 quattro see their 4.0-litre turbocharged V8s boosted to 331kW.
BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class are the A6’s main competition, though the Hyundai Genesis Ultimate and Infiniti Q70 Premium are fully equipped alternatives to an entry-level A6. The A7/S7 Sportback has just one direct rival – the Mercedes-Benz CLS.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Beautifully finished and competitively equipped, the A6 argues a strong case for itself, particularly the biturbo TDI quattro and the rapid S6, both of which have a genuine X-factor. Likewise the A7 and S7 Sportback variants, packaging the same drivetrains into a striking liftback-coupe shape.
The entry-level 1.8-litre front-drive A6, on the other hand, is comparatively uninspiring, but from a non-enthusiast’s perspective, it’s a far-from-stingy entry ticket to classy, four-ringed luxury.
PLUS: Build quality and finish; excellent biturbo diesel; rapid S models; slick 1.8TFSI
MINUS: Base A6’s measly front seats; uninspiring front-drive dynamics; ageing appearance
THE WHEELS REVIEW
ENTERING middle age with nary a visible wrinkle sounds like an impossible dream, but Audi’s A7 Sportback has managed to pull it off.
Broad and muscular, yet also subtle and svelte, this striking liftback-coupe still has the star power that its more conservative A6 sedan sibling lacks. In fact, the A7 (and the sportier S7) is such a goddamn looker that we doubt its beauty will ever fade.
New headlights and tail-lamps – LED at both ends on most models, with super-tech Matrix LED units optional up front – and sequential indicators (which Audi calls ‘dynamic’) are what people will notice first, followed by a standard S-Line exterior package, even on the entry-level A6.
But it’s the mechanical reshuffle that legitimately sets the 2015 A6/A7 apart.
For $79,900, the least expensive A6 gets a completely new drivetrain. Gone is the old 132kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four with ‘Multitronic’ CVT transmission, replaced by a new 140kW/320Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol unit tied to a new-generation seven-speed dual-clutch ’box.
It’s a super-sweet engine that operates with slick efficiency, and it’s no slouch. Despite an 11 percent decrease in emissions (to 133g/km) and an excellent fuel-consumption average of just 5.7L/100km, Audi claims the 1.8TFSI will hit 100km/h in 7.9sec, which is impressive for such a big front-driver.
The 1.8TFSI drives well, with a quiet and reasonably absorbent ride on 18-inch wheels, and decent adhesion, but this is no driver’s car. Steering that feels a little too distant from the action, combined with a relatively inert chassis, means the 1.8TFSI is more about refinement and driveway presence than driver reward.
The front seats are measly (though three other types are optional) and the 1.8’s silvery door and dashboard inserts look surprisingly econocar for an Audi at this level.
Move up the ladder and things quickly improve.
The heavily re-engineered 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 – now with 160kW/500Nm in the single-turbo version, as featured in the super-frugal ‘TDI Ultra’ versions in Europe – gets standard quattro all-wheel drive standard for strong off-the-line performance and a sizeable improvement in dynamic ability.
With 60 percent of drive fed to the rear, but up to 85 percent capable of going there, the quattro A6 and A7 TDIs ($99,900 and $115,400 respectively) are far more involving to drive than the front-drive 1.8, and they’re quick, too, with 0-100km/h in 6.6sec, backed by 5.1L/100km fuel claims.
But by far our favourite variant in the facelifted ranges is the 3.0-litre bi-turbo TDI quattro ($124,900 for the A6 and $144,900 for the Audi A7 3.0 TDI Quattro). Producing an impressive 235kW, backed by a chunky 650Nm available from 1400-2800rpm, the bi-turbo TDI is a closet performance car.
To handle all that torque, the bi-turbo gets an eight-speed torque-converter auto instead of a seven-speed dual-clutch, and the bi-turbo is a seriously swift and slick piece of Kraut craftsmanship if you also tick the options boxes for adaptive air suspension ($4160) and the sports rear differential ($2245) that transfers drive between the rear wheels for enhanced turn-in.
There’s even an active exhaust that fills the otherwise hushed cabin with a rumbling growl (if you nudge the auto into Sport mode) to accompany its 5.0sec 0-100km/h time, which isn’t too far adrift of the 4.4sec claimed for the newly uprated S6 and S7.
So, while the boosted V8 range-toppers remain unbeaten for sheer performance, presence and interior class (with the possible exception of the polarising tartan-tinted ‘carbonfibre’ inlays), a smartly optioned bi-turbo is almost as good for tens of thousands less.
Obviously, the frameless-doored A7 and S7 Sportbacks command a premium over the A6s on which they’re based, and they weigh slightly more as well, but as a piece of slick automotive sculpture, that sheetmetal appeal is hard to ignore.
Be liberal with Audi’s extensive options list and equipment packages, starting with the removal of the anachronistic walnut trim inside A6/A7 TDI quattro models, and you have one hell of a suave sports-luxury machine.
Model: Audi A6 1.8TFSI
Engine: 1798cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 140kW @ 4200rpm
Max torque: 320Nm @ 1400-4100rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight: 1570kg
0-100km/h: 7.9sec (claimed)
On sale: Now