Audi A6 Avant (2011) review
by David Finlay (29 September 2011)
The estate version of the Audi A6 is being launched a few months after its saloon equivalent (see our launch report for more details on that car), and as you might expect it's a step forward from the previous Avant. Strangely, though, there has been almost no development from one generation to the next if you consider the cars' load-carrying abilities.
With the rear seats in place, the luggage capacity is exactly the same as before at 565 litres, and it extends to 1680 litres when the seats are folded. This makes the Avant only trivially roomier than the BMW 5-Series Touring, and there has been no attempt to catch up with the Mercedes E-Class Estate, which manages 690/1950 litres despite being slightly shorter and narrower.
Still, there's not much wrong with the Audi's figures, and its estate credentials are enhanced by a load sill that's the same height as the boot floor and a tailgate opening whose sides are far apart and more or less vertical. This entirely sensible arrangement makes heaving luggage on board as simple as it could possibly be without actually getting someone else to do it for you, but you'd be surprised how many manufacturers fail to grasp this.
The only real advance in practicality is the introduction of a clever system which allows you to open the tailgate by waggling your foot under the rear bumper; you can imagine how useful this would be if you approached the car while carrying several bags, suitcases or other items all at once. The system works only when the car is locked (it makes sense if you think about it) and the key is about the foot-waggler's person, so there's no danger that the tailgate will spring open simply because someone has walked behind the car while it's in stationary traffic.
Audi is less interested in talking about all this than about the improvements in efficiency from one model to the next. These are indeed substantial. The most economical of the engines available is a 175bhp two-litre TDI turbo diesel which, as well as providing a top speed of 138mph and a 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds, has official combined economy and CO2 figures of 56.5mpg and 132g/km.
Opting for eight-speed Multitronic automatic transmission rather than the standard six-speed manual takes the edge off to some extent, but even in that form the car is much more impressive than the previous (less powerful) 2.0 TDI.
Audi's forecast is that three-quarters of the UK's future A6 Avant buyers will choose the 2.0 TDI. Most of the others will choose the six-cylinder 3.0 TDI, which is available from launch in 201bhp and 242bhp forms, with a 309bhp twin-turbo version due to come along later.
Hardly anyone is expected to opt for the 296bhp 3.0 TFSI petrol model (which, like the more powerful of the TDIs, comes with quattro four-wheel drive as standard). It will cost the most to run, but if that's not a concern it does have some advantages. For a start, it will be the fastest car in the range until the twin-turbo diesel comes along, and it also has the highest maximum trailer load of 2100kg on both 8- and 12-degree gradients.
Furthermore, of the three cars I drove at the media launch, this was my personal favourite. The 2.0 TDI and the 242bhp 3.0 TDI both felt quite clumsy - despite, in the latter case, the fitment of optional adaptive air suspension - and rode and handled as if they were much heavier than they actually are.
The 3.0 TFSI, in contrast, is lovely. The engine has a smoothness which the diesels inevitably lack, and by the standards of a large estate car it positively dances through the bends on a country road. Amazingly, the test car also rode very well despite having optional 20" wheels with super-low-profile 35-section tyres - the sort of thing which traditionally gives Audis the ride quality of a rabid bull stampeding down a cobbled street.
Prices for SE versions of the Avant range from £32,100 for the 2.0 TDI to £41,130 for the 3.0 TFSI. S line models cost £2350 more, and for that you get 18" wheels, xenon headlights, daytime running lamps, sports suspension, upgraded Valcona leather upholstery and some interior and exterior styling upgrades.
There is, to state the case mildly, a good deal of opportunity to spend more, as the 3.0 TDI SE I drove amply demonstrated. Its basic price is £40,950, but in an effort to show what the full A6 Avant experience might be like Audi loaded it with optional extras worth a stultifying £37,795. I invited several colleagues to guess at the latter figure, and even among those who thought they were exaggerating hysterically only one came within a five-figure sum of it.
An Audi representative assured me that no customer would spec up an A6 to that extent, and that on average they spend only about £5000. But the Bang & Olufsen audio upgrade costs £6300 on its own (it's good, but I would need to spend more time with it to be persuaded that it's worth that much) and six other options are each priced at £2000 or more.
Nobody's forcing you to make your A6 Avant as expensive as a Range Rover, of course, but some of the pricing is at having-a-laugh level, and not all of the extras are worth considering. The Oakwood inlays, for example, look like yacht decking, which isn't so clever on a vertical surface, and I might almost pay £700 not to have them (though Audi's business model works the other way round). And I was not impressed to find, in the 2.0 TDI, that the black cloth headlining would have cost me, as a customer, an extra £270. This isn't quite as bad as Porsche charging for a rear wiper on a 911, but it's not far off.