“Turn left,” insists the Audi A6’s GPS. She’s guiding us through a misty morning in the Douro Valley, a drive away from Portugal’s old capital Porto. We’re not much good without her, so we comply. Even if the suggested trail is a steep, single-lane service road into what looks like private property or vineyards.
Two minutes later we’re hopelessly lost, blinded by fog and hemmed in on both sides by red stone walls that are two inches away from dinging the wings. I’m on passenger duty, so I get to muck around while my co-driver white-knuckles the steering wheel.
On the bottom infotainment screen (there are two now in the A6) I’m treated to a real-time, top-down 3-D rendering of our car navigating the Douro maze. The animation is realistic and smooth, courtesy of Nvidia computer chips better known for gaming and industrial-grade 3-D processing.
I lower a window and am greeted by an earthy gust of valley air, perfumed with smoke from small grapevine bonfires scattered across the region known for its production of port. Suddenly, I appreciate how quiet the engine is; all I can perceive are birdsong and the cry of awakening crickets. We eventually emerge unscathed back into civilisation, and realise the detour was due to human error – we had taken the turn too early.
The rest of the drive is largely uneventful. That’s both the remarkable boon and unwitting bane of the 8th-generation A6. It scores major points on all fronts – luxe interiors, devilishly handsome styling, gizmos and gadgets, and next-gen engine and onboad tech that’ll see it geared for the automotive nirvana that is full automation.
At least until we see what the next A8 bring to bear, it feels like little brother is closing the gap between the two ends of the brand’s high-end sedans. But youngest siblings are most endearing when they have a calling card or quirk, the one thing that sticks in the mind. The A6 brings nothing but “all-rounded” to the table, at a relatively humble price point. Maybe that’s enough.
On the exterior, Audi’s finally folded – figuratively and otherwise – and put in some crease and posture in the A6’s body to match the aggressive, masculine tune that its contemporaries have been playing to. Given how advanced its in-car tech is, we say it’s about darn time. The S-line trim kicks the sporty look up two notches. Don’t tell admirers about the fake exhausts, and they will be none the wiser.
The already futuristic cockpit of the old A6, what with its strong angles woven into sensible flowing lines, receives material upgrades in the form of chrome, leather and wood that propel the cabin into more dignified, posh territory.
The car has also picked up Audi’s spanking new modular platform, the MLB Evo, which essentially rearranged the techie bits of the car to eke out gains in interior space, legroom and better engine efficiency. That the platform has trickled down to the A6 line signifies that the automaker is keen on raising the bar across all its (very variegated) offerings.
It’s also delivering on the “aviation-inspired” thrust. Slipping into the driver’s chair and having three massive displays come alive (a 31cm instrument display, 27cm infotainment screen and 22cm secondary screen) is sure to stir the regular hot-blooded male. I’d have reached for switches to flip while looking important, but there aren’t many physical toggles. Almost everything’s gone touchscreen with haptic feedback. Notable exception: the volume knob, which is the magnum opus of product design as far as Audi’s consumers are concerned.
Thankfully, the design of the user interface is intuitive and takes less than half an hour to figure out. There are always the tactile steering-wheel controls to let you meddle with radio settings while pushing the (digital) red line. Or you could, you know, talk to the car, which is more socially acceptable these days. It helps that the speech recognition understands more sentence constructions than ever before, so you don’t have to rephrase as though speaking to a pre-schooler.
COASTING RIGHT ALONG
A big toss-up is the introduction of the mild hybrid tech to all A6 engines. Long story short, there’s now a lithium-ion battery aboard, dedicated to supplying electricity in a jiffy. This means the engine can go to sleep when coasting at certain speeds without air-conditioning fizzling out, and translates to decent fuel savings in the long run. Someone at Audi had the sense to tap this battery for a quick engine start the instant the A6 senses the car ahead moving off. This means the end of infuriating rasps and undignified sputters as you hotfoot the pedal, a problem endemic to all these eco-friendly, automatic start-stop engines. You can leave that function on in an A6.
Power and handling are non-issues in the 3-litre v6 that we have taken out, although a 2-litre is likely on the cards. Having 500Nm peak torque on hand allows us to execute overtaking manoeuvres and make up for embarrassing wrong turns. The all-wheel steering specs give great agency on the infernal single-carriageway bends in the Valley (remember, it saw us through the earlier intestinal maze). If anything, the staggering host of driver-assist tech available can ironically get in the way of the car’s natural agility, but who knows? Features such as lane assist and speed-sensitive steering may be welcome after a hard day’s work, and the lane change assist may well be a family member’s favourite function. That the oversupply of nanny functions is the only caveat in the body of work that’s the refreshed A6 tells us this: What a time to be alive.