► Audi's near-300bhp family-friendly PHEV tested
► 36g/km CO2 and 177mpg, apparently
► Quiet, comfortable, capable and classy
Audi, as a brand, feels ripe for electrification, and it's further down the zero-emissions path than VW Group bedfellow Bentley. The Ingolstadt and Crewe-based brands will grow inexorably closer as they collaborate on the platform set to underpin Bentley's first EV, due in 2025.
All of which is perhaps why this part-petrol, part-electric A6 feels like an intrinsically good idea – not always a given with plug-in hybrids. Most performance PHEVs fail to convince. But the A6 has never been about raw driver appeal, and suits e-power beautifully.
I was thinking about getting a PHEV – why this one?
For supreme refinement and ease of use, probably. The A6 50 TFSI e quattro is, as the very long name suggests, a big Audi saloon (it's barely any shorter than a full-size SUV like Aston's DBX) with a fairly potent combination of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine (good for 249bhp), a 139bhp e-motor, a 14.1kWh battery and all-wheel drive.
That's a system output of 291bhp and 332lb ft of torque with the traction to use plenty of it in any given situation. But, just in case you missed the absence of S or RS letters in the name, be assured this is not a performance car. The A6, once fitted with the required battery and motor, weighs north of two tonnes ready to roll. And besides, relaxed progress is the brief here, not speed for speed's sake. A 0-62mph time of 6.2sec and a 155mph top end should be enough for most, though.
No, think of this A6 as a future-proofed version of that really grown-up, effortless family car you always promised yourself. The hybrid powertrain is whisper-quiet and slickly integrated. It's so smooth and quiet that at times you're hard pushed to tell whether the engine's even working, and the net result is a supremely peaceful and relaxing drive.
It's the same story with the chassis. If anything, it feels quieter than the Bentleys we talked about earlier, countering any deficiency in luxurious sound deadening with less noise in the first place, thanks to this A6's modest wheel and tyre sizes. And while you're stuck with what is, by modern standards, a conspicuous lack of body control or feedback, so nicely does the car ride, and so settled does it feel over pretty much every surface, that you're not bothered.
My Audi review bingo card says you're now going to talk about the nice interior...
All of which brings me to the interior, which is nice. The design of the cockpit is classy, spacious and calming, design boss Marc Lichte's eye for cleanliness and penchant for strong horizontal themes serving to create a supreme sense of feelgood tranquillity, like the lounge area of some contemporary luxury hotel.
More practically, Audi's haptic touch interface is one of the better systems, allowing rapid navigation of its various functions. The implication too is that Audi reckons on its buyers not being terribly interested in the geeky art of power management, so that functionality is tucked away in the infotainment (Car, then Efficiency, then Charging, then e-Tron) rather than writ large on the control panel.
Nice, sensible details include the tremble to the throttle pedal that reminds you to come off the power (when you're approaching a roundabout or T-junction, for example) and the fact that, if it was cold enough to need your heated seat on yesterday, chances are it might be today – so the car fires them up the following morning.
The hybrid choices are simple: EV (brimming the battery shows some 28 miles of pure EV range with us; Audi claims 33), Auto and Hold (to prioritise petrol power and hang on to your charge). In mixed use, on fuel-intensive short routes, the A6 returned between 39 and 45mpg, deploying e-power at a rate of between 5.4 and 7.2 miles per kWh. Diesel-like economy, then, just so long as you're regularly able to plug-in.
Audi A6 hybrid: verdict
The A6 50 plug-in is everything you could want from an Audi – handsome, civilised, beautifully engineered and easy to live with. But we'd urge you to try the BMW or the Mercedes before signing on the line.
Stick with Audi, swerve the PHEV and a similar list price (£56k before options: the equivalent 5-series, the 530e is £52k; the E300 e £55k) gets you an S-line 50 TDI with comparable power or the lighter, more powerful 55 TFSI, with nearly 340bhp.
But for company car drivers and, it must be said, pretty much everyone else, the PHEV's ultra-low CO2 numbers and handy fuel efficiency will be a big draw. Chances are many of your daily errands should be feasible on e-power alone. Give in to that draw and you won't be disappointed. This is modern Audi doing what it does well; undemanding, desirable and very polished private transport.
Read more Audi reviews here