Still lurking in the shadows of the BMW 5-series and the Mercedes E-class, the Audi A6 has now been tarred and feathered with a raft of lightweight, fuel-sipping eco tech. Sold under the ‘Ultra’ banner that’s been stickered all over Audi’s Le Mans-winning sports cars for the past few years, the A6 has been followed by Ultra versions of the A4 and A5 models as the tag proliferates across the Audi range
What’s the Audi A6 Ultra all about?
Ultra is Audi-speak for the efficiency treatment of its models, with the Ultra mechanicals offered on the entry-level SE, S-line and Black Edition. Our test car is an S-line, which comes with 18in alloys (the car pictured has 20in wheels), a 20mm lower ride height and sports body addenda, plush brushed aluminium and leather sports seats.
Regardless of the equipment level, every A6 Ultra is powered by a 187bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder, a bump up over the regular diesel’s 175bhp. A six-speed manual with longer ratios for the higher gears is standard, but our car’s optional (£1530) seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic improves the figures further – like the engine it’s new too, with reduced internal friction to help fuel economy. Start/stop is standard as well.
What are the numbers, then?
The A6 Ultra has a claimed 64.2mpg, which compares to 56.5mpg from the regular A6 2.0 TDI model. For similar money to the Ultra’s £32,835 starting price, you can have a BMW 520d that delivers a best of 62.8mpg, or the Mercedes E220 CDI offering 61.4mpg. The C02 figure is also down to 114g/km (from 132g/km versus a non-Ultra 2.0 TDI), so expect this fleet special to be hanging off a rear bumper along a motorway near you soon.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s as docile and benign to drive as it looks. In fact, more so. Spend time in the A6 Ultra, and even after a few days that doughy, inconsistent throttle and dual-clutch combo will have you heading for the MMI controller to sharpen the throttle and steering. Although, when we did that, we found that it was already in ‘Dynamic’… That’s despite the Ultra’s extra 15lb ft of torque being spread over a broader rev range than the regular diesel’s, with 295lb ft on tap from the same 1750rpm but lasting a 500rpm longer to hang on until 3000rpm. Commendably, it matches the regular car’s 8.2sec 0-62mph sprint.
Yet the Ultra lacks composure: you need to direct the steering along motorways, where the A6’s direction of travel is ruffled. The Ultra’s strong points, though, are its refinement, and the ride is pretty good too, dismissing bumps promptly and getting on with the show. The steering is predictably numb, and the cabin just as predictably Space-Shuttle-tight and well finished. Being the Ultra, you get twist dials on the dash for air-conditioning, not the usual digital temp of the climate control.
What about eco garb?
The instrument panels will feed you ‘helpful’ eco tips, and show when the trick alternator is charging (only under braking or on the overrun) so for a while you’re more careful with your inputs. We managed 47mpg on a drive from Farnborough to London, and from London to Peterborough managed 42.4mpg according to the trip computer (yes, not always accurate). Thankfully, the Ultra isn’t loaded with green stickers and stripes and other rubbish: you can’t tell it’s the cheapest A6 to run by looking or sitting in it, with subtle badging the only clue.
The A6 Ultra has an impressive set of numbers, from its list price, mpg, C02 and spec. It’s not particularly fun or satisfying to drive, and that hesitant transmission and lumpy throttle make it incapable of spontaneous response to gaps in traffic. There is a manual transmission option arriving later this year, which will solve that foible in terms of drivability, adding to what’s a well-built, serene motorway cruiser that has reasonable space. It’s not a car to scream about from the rooftops, but does a commendable job of mixing frugality and comfort. Drivers need not apply.
>> What is the best 'eco-saloon' money can buy? Does the A6 Ultra rank in your list? Tell us why in the comments section below