Audi’s latest A6 finally arrives on local shores and steps right into a daunting dual role…
Having touched down in South Africa more than two years after Audi peeled back the covers in Geneva (remember motor shows?), the latest-generation A6 has more weight resting on its sleekly shaped shoulders than you might at first suspect. Not only must it square off against familiar – and ever-more formidable – foes such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it also finds itself suddenly promoted to flagship sedan status.
Citing dwindling demand in a market saturated with premium crossovers, Audi SA has abandoned its plans to introduce the fourth-generation A8 saloon, although the S8 is still expected to rocket into local dealerships in early 2021. This decision effectively sees the fresh-faced A6 graduate from its traditional role as deputy. So, does the C8-generation sedan have the mettle to fulfil this daunting dual role? If we were to base our answer on the S6 we tested late in 2020, it’d be a resounding yes. But this 40 TDI variant is an entirely different animal to its Audi Sport sibling. For one, it’s positioned at the opposite end of the A6 line-up (sandwiching the V6-powered 45 TDI Quattro), making do with a comparatively modest powerplant that features four cylinders, burns diesel and drives the front axle.
Still, it’s a lovely engine, combining pleasing punchiness with the sort of in-cabin refinement you’d expect from vehicles in the segment above. Endowed with a surplus of low-down grunt, there’s seldom a need to explore the upper limits of the 2,0-litre unit’s rev range, with peak torque of 400 N.m available from as low as 1 750 r/min and sustained to 3 000 r/min. Interestingly, the SA-spec model does without the mild-hybrid arrangement (and stop/start function) offered in Europe.
While it’s undoubtedly most at home sailing along the highway, we managed to hustle the 1 790 kg saloon to three figures in a respectable 8,11 seconds, almost three-tenths of a second quicker than claimed. Thing is, such an approach elicits some wheel scrabble and a touch of torque steer as the front wheels attempt to deal with all that twisting force.
Treat the throttle with finesse, however, and you’d almost be able to cover the trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg on one 73-litre tank. In fact, based on our fuel index, the sedan will happily trot along for nearly 1 200 km between visits to the filling station, its dual-clutch transmission flitting to the highest of seven forward ratios at the first opportunity.
Our test unit came equipped with the Sports package (R29 200), which includes the Ingolstadt-based firm’s S line exterior kit – complete with gloss-black trim but, unfortunately, not nixing the faux-tailpipe trim – ambient interior lighting and sports suspension. The latter is a touch on the firm side and forces an alternative wheel selection. While the styling upgrades are tasteful, the impact on the ride of the stiffer springs and 20-inch Audi Sport alloys is a trade-off most of our testers wouldn’t be prepared to make. With air suspension not offered on this base derivative, we’d advise sticking with the standard setup.
Further options fitted include the Comfort package (R30 000), a crisp head-up display (R25 130) and HD Matrix LED headlamps with LED taillamps. At R37 800, the latter is the most expensive item on this example, delivering not only intelligent lighting, but also a smart optical dance each time the vehicle is locked or unlocked.
Like many of its siblings, the A6’s cabin ditches the majority of physical controls, replacing them with a pair of touchscreens. The upper 10,1-inch display covers infotainment and navigation functions, while the 8,6-inch item positioned below takes care of climate control and other convenience functions. It certainly looks classy, though the touchscreen-based system isn’t entirely user-friendly on the move, despite its haptic-feedback feature. Furthermore, the lower screen eats into what would otherwise be handy storage space (thankfully, the glovebox is liberally sized).
Audi’s unsurpassed Virtual Cockpit Plus digital instrument cluster ships standard, while steering-column adjustment is generous. The latter adjective can be used to describe rear legroom (though the chunky central tunnel devours the middle passenger’s foot space) as well as luggage capacity, with the deep boot swallowing 400 litres.
Refreshed versions of the 5 Series and E-Class will soon make landfall, with the former set to reassume its role as the segment’s dynamic option and the latter as the luxurious choice. Where does that leave the latest A6?
Well, this entry-level derivative is defined by its mile-munching ability, combining remarkable range with a quiet, spacious and tech-filled cabin (plus potentially impressive comfort, should you resist the Sports package). There’s certainly more excitement higher in the line-up; however, the base A6 40 TDI is a refreshingly honest example of a large luxury sedan in an era of fire-breathing powerplants, coupé-like rooflines and hulking crossovers.