The all-new A6 Avant is the seventh generation prestige estate from Audi with 1,000 units already sold this year and close to 5,000 units available in the UK in 2012.
By comparison the new A6 Saloon introduced in April this year will have UK sales of 4,800 units this year and 6,450 units in 2012. The main premium brand competitors in this sector are the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E Class.
Details and practicality
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UK A6 Avant prices start at £32,100 for the best selling A6 2.0 TDI SE manual variant and rise to £43,480 for the petrol 3.0-litre TFSI quattro version. The Avant carries a £1,840 price premium over the Saloon and the best selling 2.0 TDI turbodiesel SE version is £1,200 more than its predecessor but has over £2,000 of additional equipment as standard.
Although roomier with a longer wheelbase and more body width than the outgoing A6 Avant, the new generation version is sleeker, more technologically-advanced and more efficient thanks to state-of-the art construction processes which reduce weight by up to 70kg.
The composite use of aluminium sheet, cast aluminium and cold and hot rolled steel has resulted in the weight reduction, a core move these days to improve fuel economy and performance whilst reducing CO2 emissions and improving fuel consumption.
The five door, full five seater Avant also has more load space with a carrying capacity of 565-litres with the rear seats in use and up to 1,680-litres with the rear seats folded.
Unfortunately due to the comfortable cushioning used for the rear seats they do not fold completely down flat so loading long items can be a bit of an uphill task if the full length of the area is needed.
Much of the drivetrain, lightweight body design technologies and the latest in driver aids are cascaded down from the Audi A8 limousine and the A7 five door executive Fastback.
Although marginally shorter and lower than the outgoing model, the new A6 Avant is wider and with its lower stance gives it a sporty and much more imposing and edgier appearance.
Interior style and driver aids
The roomy interior has a cocooning style with its 'wraparound' dashboard linking neatly to the styling of the front doors and then onwards throughout the large cabin. As usual with expensive Audis the feel and the build qualities are impeccable.
Supportive seats are upholstered as standard in Milano leather so the first impressions on entry are of sumptuous luxury.
There is the usual array of driver assist items including the Multi Media Interface with its 6.5-inch retractable monitor and large central control knob fitted as standard. MMI provides easy and intuitive access to the high quality audio system, the Bluetooth phone connectivity and the SD card-based navigation system.
This system can be upgraded to incorporate Google Earth mapping and data from the sat-nav system, when upgraded, will supply advanced information to the car's systems about the road coming up so optimising gear change points on automatic transmissions, headlight beam layout and much more.
The list of optional driver aids also includes a night vision assistant employing a thermal imaging camera to highlight 'warm-blooded' road users in front of the car, a head-up display projecting key information onto the windscreen so that it appears to float about 2.5 metres ahead and a park assist system which automatically takes care of the steering function for the driver when manoeuvring into parallel or perpendicular parking spaces.
More familiar options such as the Audi side assist blind spot warning system and the Audi lane assist lane departure detection system are also available.
Two specification levels, SE and S line, are offered in the UK with SE being the most popular and the choice of 60% of users.
Incidentally fleet and business user-chooser customers take up 75% of total A6 Avant UK sales. All A6 Avant versions have alloy wheels, leather upholstery, cruise and front and rear parking controls, Drive Select with Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Efficiency modes, SD-based satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone preparation, split/folding rear seats and light and rain sensors.
S line models add larger 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps, sports suspension, upgraded Valcona leather upholstery and an exclusive S line exterior and interior styling treatment.
From the options list customers can choose features such as comfort seats with heating, cooling and massaging functions, acoustic glazing, supple leather trimming for the centre console, a £6,300 multi-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with 1,200 watts of power, TV reception and various connectivity upgrades for the MMI system.
For my first drive experience with the lightweight A6 Avant estate with its heavyweight executive car image, was with the least expensive and predicted best selling version, the 2.0-litre TDI 177PS SE with manual transmission and a price tag of an appealing £32,100.
Beware a look at the extra cost options list can add thousands of pounds to this price so in the interests of frugality do not get carried away and end up paying more in Benefit-in-Kind taxes by having more equipment that a driver realistically needs - it doesn't make financial sense.
This new model has a lower BIK rating of 19% due mainly to the reduction of the CO2 emissions levels by 13% over the previous 2.0 TDI 170PS unit. To sum up the improvements this revised four cylinder 177PS diesel engine has 4% more power, the Combined Cycle fuel economy is 16% better at an official 56.5mpg, CO2 emissions are 13% better at 132g/km, zero to 62mph is 2% better at 9.0 seconds and BIK is 17% better at 19% instead of 23%. Top speed is 138mph, VED road tax is £115 and my real-life first drive road test fuel consumption was 40.4mpg.
Drive and handling
The new lightweight bodyshell has definitely given the latest A6 more agility and its feels very well balanced and nimble for its size. It has a good blend of comfort and control and being well balanced has virtually no bodyroll during cornering.
The electronic power steering also benefits from the improved agility and is sharp to react and precise. But like other energy saving steering systems it doesn't convey as much feedback to the driver as the previous generation hydraulic only types.
The coil spring steel suspension does a reasonable job of cushioning the occupants from the UK weather-torn road surfaces but bumps and potholes are not totally absorbed. The extra cost £2,000 air suspension with Comfort, Dynamic and Auto modes might help soften the impact slightly but in my experience the air system takes the edge of the sharp handling.
All A6s have 'Drive Select' as standard which allows for the tailoring of the steering and throttle responses and in addition gearchange points for auto gearbox models. Nice functions to have included in the price.
The latest version of the 2.0-litre TDI four cylinder engine for most of the time is the best and most sensible powerplant to have.
With 175bhp on hand and 280lb ft of torque and linked to a slick six-speed manual gearbox is really a delight to use. Only hard acceleration will raise the engine note but in the cruise it felt relaxed and very quiet. The high torque copes with the fuel saving long legged overdrive sixth gear ratio without resorting to the need to keep changing down a gear to regain momentum.
Top speed is a more than adequate 138mph and the zero to 62mph acceleration time is a very respectable 9.0 seconds.
If engine size and performance matters then the 3.0-litre TDI 242bhp diesel engine option with the all weather quattro drive and the S-tronic auto/sequential manual gearbox might be worth considering at £40,950.
Quite a few country folk in my Cotswolds part of the world do choose the A6 Avant with this drivetrain because it copes well with wet, icy and muddy roads as well as giving added grip when venturing down farm tracks or muddy field car parks.
From its nose to its tail, inside and out, the new A6 Avant is an impressive package ideally suited for today's executive customers who like most of us still want luxury cars but no longer want to incur out of proportion motoring costs to our ever decreasing financial budgets.
Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI SE 5-Door executive estate
Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, four cylinder, diesel with common rail injection and turbocharger, 175bhp, 280lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual.
Performance: 138mph, 0-62mph 9.0 seconds, 56.5mpg (40.4mpg on test), CO2 emissions 132g/km, VED road tax £115 per annum, BIK tax 19%.
Insurance group: 27E.
Dimensions/capacity: L 4,926mm, W 2,086mm, H 1,461mm, load area 565 to 1,680-litres.
For: Well priced, high level of standard equipment, lightweight construction, fuel and CO2 efficient, supreme build quality, classy and roomy interior, very quiet.
Against: SE suspension cannot absorb the worst thumps and bumps from potholes and the S-line specification is even firmer, rear seats do not fold completely flat, could not achieve official fuel economy figure.