When it comes to press cars and review cars, there are few machines I know more intimately than the 2014 Audi A6 TDI . Last year I joined a collection of fellow lunatics and set out on a 48-hour cannonball run from LA to New York City to test out Audi’s new 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine, and really test its real-world fuel economy. After 46 hours and nearly 3,000 miles, I had spent several hours in every seat, tried to eat, sleep, and work inside of its wood-filled interior, and used almost every gadget it contained to keep myself entertained.
After such an experience, I have lots of things to say about Audi’s full-size luxury sedan . From equipment and pricing to performance and fuel economy, the Audi made major impressions. But where all those impressions good, would I do the trip again, and do I think it’s a car worth spending money on?
All your answers await after the break.
The overall design of Audi’s various machines are all very similar in feel and aesthetic, but thanks to the staggered release schedule of updates and new models, none of them are quite the same. The A6 is one of the newer models in the lineup, so it features some noticeable visual upgrades. Rather than using the singular LED running lamps that create a “dotted line” look, this A6 uses the cleaner LED light-bar design that provides a smooth even line. This lighting element helps to trace the shape of the entire headlight making the A6 very noticeable in dim light. During dusk and dawn, it was easy to spot any of the Audis on our journey from quite a distance by simply looking for these running lamps.
Beyond the unique front lighting, the A6 is a very traditional German sedan. The lines are crisp and clean, making the car look modern but ensuring that it ages well. Dramatic designs like those found on the Hyundai Sonata are interesting now, but age quickly. The smooth and handsome Audi will still look great in a few decades.
To add a bit of visual flair to the exterior, our car makes use of the S-Line design package that adds subtle touches to the front and rear bumpers for extra visual aggression. Our tester was also fitted with a set of 19-inch alloy rollers that features a really interesting trident-spoke design. One more detail I enjoy seeing is the use of black on the B-pillars to give the greenhouse a more open look and feel from a distance.
The Ibis White exterior color is nice with all the black details on the A6, but it does seem to hide some of the more interesting body lines and creases. Ordering the car in one of Audi’s dark blue colors or the Garnet Red Pearl paint will make it even more stunning to look at.
The inside of the Audi A6 is one of the best in its class and solidifies in my mind why the Germans are still the leaders of luxury. The cabin of our car was filled with wood, metal and dead cow. Rather than the all-black somberness that dominates BMW interiors, we had Nougat Brown leather seats and door panel inserts. The carpets, dash and headliner were still black and the contrast made the cabin feel far more premium than the A6 deserves.
The wood trim was a rough grained design that was finished with a thin matte coating. That means you can see and feel the grain making it seem more like real wood than the butter-smooth, three-inch clear coat that most companies put over their wood veneers. To add a tiny of dash of extra sexy to that trim, a small piece of aluminum surrounded most of the wood.
Rear-seat passengers are treated to legroom that is ample, but not impressive. Moving upward though, most will find acres of room for their shoulder and heads. The cabin feels very dramatically open at the top with a nice airy feel. No claustrophobia worries here. A pair of 12-volt plugs and dual-zone rear climate control also helped make sure that whoever was occupying the rear bench stayed cool and had power for their electronic device of choice.
Moving to the front of the cabin, things get even better. The front thrones feature perforated leather and have both heating and ventilation functions. The seats are power operated and seem to have about 106-directions of travel. The headrests alone have six directions of travel: up, down, forward, back and tilt.
Leg room for front passengers is excellent, even when moving the seats forward, and a lower dash line helps to create a commanding view forward. Both front passengers have control of their own climate system, and when combined with the heated and cooled seats, it was very easy to regulate a perfect temperature.
While comfort was great for all sitting, there are very few ways to get comfortable enough to sleep thanks to Audi’s large spacing between the head rests and the sides of the cars. One very welcomed feature for our lengthy trip was the amount of storage options. Audi put a cubby or pouch on basically every surface and added in the ability to access the trunk through either rear seat or a small opening behind the center seat armrest.
While the interior seating and trim is phenomenal, the technology that came packed inside this car can boggle the mind of even the most obnoxious teenager. The car features a huge front screen that sprouts from the dash when the car is turned on, but strangely it has no touch function. All the operations happen on the lower console near the shifter by using a combination of buttons, rotary knobs and a touchpad. Main screen functions can be selected by the rotary knob. Twist to select and push down to confirm. At any time there will also be up to four functions that are placed into each corner of the screen. These can be chosen by pressing the corresponding button around the rotary knob. A bit farther out from the rotary knob and four buttons is another selection of four buttons that are redundant and will take you instantly to a certain function like radio or navigation.
When using a system like the navigation, if you don’t want to scroll through letters using the wheel, you can use the touchpad to “write” letters and Audi will guess what your scribbles mean. It does a pretty good job, except when it doesn’t. It was either really really good, or it failed so badly we couldn’t help but laugh.
After a few minutes of playing around, the system becomes fairly easy to use, but be aware of the learning curve. The only feature about the system that stinks of idiocy and stupidity is the volume control. Let’s say you are listening to Sattelite radio and you want to turn up the volume. You brain says turning the huge silver knob on the console will do that. Then all you manage to do is change radio stations. To change the volume, there is a dedicated knob – which is normally a VERY GOOD idea – but it is the tiny silver one that is located next to the passenger seat right under the start/stop button. I am sure nobody ever accidentally hits the starter button by accident while fumbling for the volume knob…
Yes, there are redundant controls on the wheel, but this still feels like a massive ergonomic oversight.
The MMI also gives you access to a car settings function called Audi Drive Select and it lets you alter things like suspension settings, engine mapping alterations and more. Think of it as a very complicated sport button.
Audi didn’t stop there when it comes to fancy technology. Our car had an auto/start stop setup, radar guided cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane assist and lots of parking assistance features like radars and cameras.
While I really like the exterior and interior designs, the real star of this show lives under the hood. Audi’s second-generation, 3.0-liter, V-6 TDI Clean Diesel cuts 55 pounds from the weight of the old engine, and it boosts power and fuel economy. The unit uses a single twin-scroll turbo and produces 240 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of twist. Thanks to the variable vane turbocharger geometry, there is almost no lag in the engine and that full 400+ pound-feet of torque is available from just 1,750 rpm.
This engine doesn’t have grunt, it freaking moves mountains. Despite that fact that the A6 TDI weighs more than two tons, it will hit 60 mph from a dead stop in 5.5 seconds. That is faster than the 300-horsepower BMW 535i can complete the same sprint. Sadly, Audi has electronically limited the top speed to just 130 mph.
To make the most of all that power, the A6 TDI only comes mated to Audi’s legendary quattro AWD system. Yes, if you are so inclined, you can manage to get all four tires to spin from a hard launch if you cut all the traction-control nannies off. Regulating the power output between the engine and AWD system is an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.
It may be a boring thing to talk about, especially when there is more than 400 pound-feet of torque to play with, but the real secret to the Audi A6 TDI is that fuel economy. When you discuss EPA ratings with anyone you are going to get one answer, “they are wrong.” The difference is that diesel owners usually say that they are wrong and you will always see MORE than what is on the sticker. We set out on this whole trip to prove that point. After nearly 2,800 miles of driving and 46 hours of highway blasting we arrived in the Big Apple with the dash showing 44.5 mpg. Remember this thing is only rated to hit 39.
So what the A6 TDI provides is enough power to tow a house, AWD weather ability, the speed to outrun a BMW 535i from a stoplight and it does it all while giving you nearly 45 miles for every gallon of diesel fuel. I think that calls for a “hell yeah.”
So it’s comfortable, powerful and gets great fuel economy, but what is this thing actually like to drive? Like most Audi’s, it’s enjoyable. The steering feel is great, the throttle response and pull from that V-6 turbodiesel is phenomenal, and the suspension is tuned just the sporty side of comfortable. Over the long highway cruises it was a great traveling companion. If you set the dials to comfort mode it is as quiet as church, and it will smooth most imperfections from the road.
After our long journey was over, I had some extra time with the car and I made sure to give it a real workout. With all the settings cranked over to Dynamic, the car shrinks around you. The tauter suspension makes the car more tossable, and does a great job of hiding its weight until you reach about eight-tenths. Push it too far, and it will go all Audi on you and plow more than a farmer in spring, but if you are easy on entry speeds you can really make this thing dance.
It may have just been my ears playing tricks on me, but the engine note seemed to get a little more aggressive and throaty after I turned the dials to 11. The engine also responds faster, and the steering wheel gets a bit better too. The car can really come alive if you let it.
It won’t actually out perform a 5-Series, and it does feel heavy at times, but considering it is a full-size, four-door sedan that weighs more than 4,000 pounds and still gets 40+ mpg numbers, it’s performance is nothing short of astonishing. The only complaint I have about the driving experience is the transmission. The eight-speed is a peach in fully automatic mode, but under heavy throttle and with that TDI spinning near its redline, the manual shifts felt a little slow and clunky. It is far from a deal breaker, but at this point I am searching for things to pick on. This car is that good.
All silver linings have dark clouds, and in the case of the A6, it is the price tag. With all the options on this tester, the final sticker was moving in toward $70,000. The wood, leather, and gadgetry are all wonderful, and that engine is one of the best I have ever driven, but that price is eye-watering. If I could order this engine in a base level car without any of the bells and whistles for around $45k, I would declare the A6 TDI the best all-around luxury car in the entire world.
As it sits, it could still be considered good value compared to some of Mercedes’ and BMW’s wares, but the TDI carries such a premium it makes it hard to recommend. The cheapest A6 with the oil-burning mill is $57k. Again, BMW and Mercedes charge more for their comparable diesel options, but with Audi pushing its TDI technology so hard, it should really offer it at a drastically cheaper price to bring in more buyers.
I already talked a bit about the gasoline-powered 535i, but how does the diesel 535d xDrive, BMW’s closest competitor to the A6 TDI, fare? Both cars have eight-speed transmissions, all-wheel drive, and 3.0-liter engines, but the BMW takes the crown in horsepower with 255 ponies. The Audi holds the edge in torque however, as the BMW only produces 413 pound-feet.
The Audi also bests the BMW in 0-to-60 performance and fuel economy — the Bimmer is only rated at 37 mpg. The Audi also features a larger fuel tank than the Bavarian providing a much longer effective driving range.
Gallery BMW 5-Series
If you need to have a Three-Pointed Star sitting in front of your diesel engine, you are going to be making some major sacrifices. The only E-Class Merc with an oil-burner under the hood is the E250 BlueTEC 4MATIC. That means that instead of a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder like you get with the BMW and Audi, you have a 2.1-liter four-cylinder. Horsepower comes in at 195 and Mercedes can’t even be bothered to list the torque spec on their consumer site (it’s 369 pound-feet, by the way).
Going with such a smaller engine, it is no surprise that the Mercedes is the least powerful and at nearly eight seconds to 60 mph is far and away the slowest. The Mercedes should easily hold the lead in fuel economy though. But if you equip it with the 4MATIC AWD system it can only manage 38 mpg. Oh dear.
It is not all doom and gloom for the Mercedes though. With a base price of $51,400 it is the cheapest by a large margin. Still, when looking at the numbers of the Audi and BMW it is hard to consider.
Gallery Mercedes E-Class
The Audi A6 TDI is easily one of the best cars I have ever driven. The combination of comfort, luxury, equipment and power all in a 45 mpg wrapper is mind-boggling. There are nicer cars, faster cars and cars that are (barely) more fuel efficient, but you would be hard pressed to find one that combines all these traits as expertly as Audi has with the A6. The price is a little hard to swallow for someone in my pay bracket, but if you are already eyeballing a family car in the $60 to $70k range, and you pick anything but the A6 you should be committed.
This thing is as close to perfect as they come.
- Powerful V6 engine
- Lots of luxury and technology features
- Insane fuel economy
- Price is high for traditional buyers
- Transmission can be a little sluggish during hard driving
- Not very comfortable to sleep in