► Living with an Audi A6 Avant
► Ben Barry takes the wheel
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I’d barely settled in to CAR’s new Audi A6 test car when photographer Alex Tapley (in hat, on my car) asked for a week-long swap with his Mazda 6 Tourer. The two 6s do make an interesting comparison: a large German luxury estate that’s a default choice, and a Japanese alternative that’s much cheaper but rarely seen – it’s £8k more affordable in standard form, £14k as tested. Are UK buyers missing a trick here?
Well, Alex seemed pretty excited about nabbing the A6. Part of the appeal came down to the badge, he admitted. He felt a more successful kind of photographer driving something with four rings on its nose. But the A6’s boot also proved to be a useful bit bigger for all that camera gear he lugs around – what is all that stuff? – with 565 litres seats-up to the Mazda’s 480. That’s partly because the Audi is 74mm longer at 4939mm.
With all the miles Alex covers, the Audi’s apparently huge mpg advantage also appealed. ‘It’s pretty impressive that the Mazda officially does 41.5mpg considering it’s a big car with a 2.5-litre petrol engine,’ he commented, ‘but the Audi’s four-cylinder turbodiesel would make a big difference to my fuel costs if it gets anywhere near 60.1mpg.’
The Audi’s cockpit made the biggest impression. ‘Its infotainment is far superior to the Mazda’s,’ noted Alex, pointing to the slick twin touchscreens that define the dashboard. ‘It’s also a much nicer place to spend a journey – it’s quieter, looks smarter, and I find it easier to get comfortable in the A6.’
To drive? ‘Both cars are pretty undynamic and gutless,’ he observed, damning both with no praise at all.
And so I found myself in the Mazda 6. I like the Mazda’s design, with its muscular haunches and poised stance. Inside, though, I’m definitely on the same page as Alex – the Mazda’s back in the mircrofilm era where the Audi’s gone full iPad. Not that it’s all bad. I don’t mind the analogue dash instruments at all, because even though they’re not as flashy as the Audi’s digi dash, they’re easier to process at a glance. Which is the point. And I appreciate the minimalist feel. But the infotainment looks a couple of generations out of date after the Audi’s, and in general you don’t get the same sense of slick execution or chunky quality.
On the go, you notice there’s much more road noise fizzing through the Mazda’s cabin than the Audi’s, but then the Mazda is almost 100kg lighter, and the payback seems to be a sharper feel dynamically – there’s a bit of ants-in-its-pants fidgeting over small imperfections, but mostly you notice the generous, comfortable stroke of the dampers. This makes the 6 flow quite sweetly over a twisty backroad, and you can play with the bodyroll to make it feel quite responsive and adjustable where the Audi is more one-dimensional. I also prefer the Mazda’s steering – nice and light, but accurate and responsive too.
But, yes, Alex is right about the Mazda feeling gutless – if you took the plunge and opted for a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol rather than the default four-cylinder diesel, you’d probably feel a bit excited. Instead, the Mazda is lethargic in the midrange and quite thrashy when stretched – the Audi 2.0 TDI is no peach, but I missed its generous low- and midrange punch. Having 105lb ft extra is just a better fit for a big estate.
As you can see from our mpg, though, the two are closer than you’d think – the petrol Mazda is typically averaging around 34mpg where the diesel Audi is only just making 40mpg. With diesel often 10p a litre pricier than petrol, that means on today’s prices you’ll pay around £56 to go 350 miles in the Mazda, but £52 in the Audi. Not what you’d expect if you looked at the stats.
Meeting up a week later, Alex seemed to like the Audi a bit more than I do, and I think I liked the Mazda a bit more than he does. He said he’d prefer to stick in the Audi. I said I’d prefer him to give it back. But it’s a decent car, that Mazda.
By Ben Barry
Logbook: Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI Sport
Price £40,740 (£46,805 as tested)
Performance 1968cc 4-cyl turbodiesel, 201bhp, 8.3sec 0-62mph, 149mph
Efficiency 60.1mpg (official), 40.5mpg (tested), 124g/km C02
Energy cost 14.9p per mile
Miles this month 1408
Total miles 2238
More long-term tests by CAR magazine: we live with cars to see how they perform in daily life
Month 1 of our Audi A6 Avant long-term test: the introduction
Asking the Germans to build you an estate car is a bit like asking the Italians to knock you up some pasta. According to analysts JATO, German drivers account for 37 per cent of the European estate car market, and Europe accounts for 72 per cent of estate-car demand globally. When you're part of this kind of success, why would you make any radical changes? No reason at all if you're Audi and your mission is to come up with the fifth-generation A6 Avant.
Still a mix of steel and aluminium, it grows 6mm versus its predecessor at 4.94 metres long and has a 12mm longer wheelbase, but carries no more stuff – though at 565 litres, luggage space could never be described as a bit pokey. More significantly, Audi has rolled out mild hybrid tech across the range – a system that captures energy under deceleration and feeds it into a lithium-ion battery to redeploy when needed. It means the engine can shut off and coast during gentle driving between 34mph and, ahem, 99mph, and when you're slowing down its stop-start system kicks in from just over 13mph. There's also Audi's new dual-touchscreen infotainment system, which even swaps physical heater dials for a touchscreen graphic that you swipe and prod. Looks neat, but let's hope it's slick to use.
The launch range spans four- and six-cylinder turbodiesels, with only a 2.0-litre turbo four confirmed beyond that, but there are four different suspension set-ups including full air springs, and even the option of rear-wheel steer.
Our car's 40 TDI badge suggests a large engine, but it's actually a 2.0 turbodiesel with 201bhp. The rest of the spec includes an S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, front-wheel drive, standard steel springs and fixed dampers.
We've also got the entry-level Sport trim, not top-spec S-line. There is no more affordable ('cheap' isn't the right word) A6 Avant, making this car representative of the kind of spec you'd stretch to on a company-car scheme. So hopefully there'll be plenty of you interested to see how we get on with that new technology, and how close we can get to the official mpg figures with the help of mild-hybridisation.
Not that this A6 is completely rep-spec. On top of the significant £40,740 basic price, our car gets £6955 of options. These include 360º camera with front/rear parking sensors (£700), electric memory front seats (£725), acoustic glazing for the side windows (£525), four-zone climate control (£825), 19-inch alloys (£1150) and the Technology pack. The latter costs £1495 and introduces a larger upper touchscreen (10.1 inches instead of the standard 8.8), Google Earth navigation, Virtual Cockpit (a fully digital instrument binnacle that you can configure to include the sat-nav map between speedo and rev dials) and wireless phone charging. Surprisingly, our car's Glacier White paint is also optional. It's a metallic, but it looks pretty Transit to me, and costs £685. I'd have probably gone for Firmament Blue, also £685. It all tots up to £46,805.
For now, I've only just managed to use a tank of fuel since delivery, but I'll be covering a chunk more miles over the next month. I'll wait until then to report back on what the new A6 is like to drive.
By Ben Barry
Logbook: Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI Sport
As tested £46,805
Engine 1968cc 16v turbodiesel, 201bhp @ 3750rpm, 295lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 8.3sec 0-62mph, 149mph, 124g/km CO2
Miles this month 390
Our mpg 38.2
Official mpg 60.1
Fuel this month £63.45
Extra costs None
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