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A6 is accomplished and luxurious

There was a time when replacement models for cars brought revolutionary changes, but modern luxury cars have achieved such a highly-developed state that it’s a case of evolutionary steps and small improvements.

Like the new Audi A6, which was launched in South Africa last month. It’s quietly become more efficient and refined, sprinkled with some new technology to make life even more convenient. It’s essentially a slightly shortened A8, with similar refinement and spacious luxury but a significant cost saving.

The neatly styled latest A6 offers more interior space than that of its more expensive sibling, the A8, thanks to its new extended wheelbase.

In fact, the new A6 is slightly roomier than the A8 due to its more extended wheelbase, offering more rear legroom along with a larger boot capacity (530 litres versus 510).

At R665 000 the current A6 flagship, the 3.0T FSI Quattro on test here, represents a major saving over an identically-engined Audi A8 which sells for R918 000. If you’re not terribly fazed by badge status, the A6 makes more financial sense.

The A6 is a deceptively large car. Whatever your opinion of it perhaps looking too similar to every other Audi sedan – a common accusation levelled against Audi these days – the success of the design is how well it masks the A6’s considerable size and makes it look very athletic and trim-looking. This isn’t a bloated car that looks like its been indulging in too many cream doughnuts.

It’s only when parking that you realise how large it really is. The A6 requires careful coaxing into bays, and you’re thankful for the assistance of the shrill parking sensors and reversing camera.

It’s also a car that shrinks around you when being driven, feeling lighter and nimbler than its dimensions suggest. This is partly thanks to the use of weight-saving aluminium in 20 percent of the body, which makes the A6 around 80kg lighter than its predecessor and 15 percent lighter than its rivals from BMW and Mercedes.

The rest has to do with the A6’s suspension, which very effectively prevents the soggy handling associated with big cars of old. Through corners this Audi is a taut-feeling car that with alert steering response ensures quick direction changes, and combines it all with an absorptive ride quality. Our test car had optional adaptive air suspension fitted, which ensured the best of both worlds in ride and handling.

A Drive Select system is standard on all versions of the new A6. By choosing one of five settings (comfort, auto, dynamic, efficiency, or an individual mode which allows a custom setup) it changes the accelerator response, shift points of the auto transmission and the feedback of the power steering.

Drive Select makes a noticeable difference. During the recent fuel shortage, not knowing when next I’d find petrol, I often drove in the fuel-saving efficiency setting and it turned the 3-litre supercharged car (yup, supercharged even though the badge says 3.0T) into a more sedate, muzzled version of itself. Back in dynamic mode the A6 grew metaphorical teeth and the quick-firing S tronic dual-clutch transmission delivered the 220kW and 440Nm in a more instant and satisfying way.

With mostly open-road driving (and the help of a stop-start function during our traffic jam stints), our 3.0T test car averaged under 10 litres per 100km, but you can add a litre or two to that with more town driving mixed in.

Though it has the capability to do the 0-100km/h sprint in a rapid 5.5 seconds this Audi’s never acoustically exuberant, delivering hot-hatch beating pace in a calm and soft-spoken manner. It’s a high-tech, high-speed limousine that quietly demolishes distance, cocooning its passengers in a highly refined environment.

High quality cabin finishes are an Audi speciality but the new A6 raises the bar even higher. Its many toys and functions are also mostly intiutive to operate through the MMI all-in-one interface and the large digital monitor atop the dash. A vast array of extra-cost options is available including navigation, adaptive cruise control, adaptive air suspension, massaging seats, and a head-up display to name just a few.

The only thing that grates in the impeccable interior is that you can’t set the fan speed to your liking, even when you switch the climate control from auto to manual. The fan simply overrides your chosen setting and starts blowing as hard or soft as it likes. Sounds trivial perhaps, but when you’re fighting with the fan over a long trip the annoyance factor grows.

Another niggle is that you need to buy an extra Audi-specific connector to dock your iPod into the audio system; most other cars use a standard USB port.

VERDICT

The new Audi A6 is impressively accomplished in almost every way a luxury sedan should be, with effortless power, great comfort and hushed refinement. Except for a not-entirely-user-friendly ventilation system it’s difficult to fault. A definite Car of the Year contender. -Star Motoring

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