I recently spent a solitary afternoon driving in SoHo.
No destination, really, just a few errands and a pillow of time between engagements.
The heat index that day informed me it felt like 100F outside. The inside of the car, a 2016 Audi A6 TDI, felt as cool as a cave.
The afternoon sun glistened on my hood as I rolled past Sant Ambroeus and Café Select, each lined with tables positioned out front like pawns across a chessboard. They sat in prime placement for SoHo-regular Europeans and models to enjoy the scene, and to be seen.
The A6 felt like a delicious respite. I was viewing it through rose-tinted shades, surely: My most recent rides had included a Lamborghini and a Ferrari and a loud cruising motorcycle. All were fun, of course, in their own way, but not quite civilized. Not quite relaxing, either physically or emotionally.
The Audi A6 is.
It’s Diesel, Move On
This is the $59,500 diesel version of the $46,200 A6 sedan. Yes, it’s important to note that it’s powered by a 240-horsepower diesel V6 engine, but I hope you quickly forget that detail. It should be a footnote to legitimately notable specifications such as 38 mpg on the highway and more torque than half the crossovers offered these days with an “off-road” option. Those items are direct results of diesel technology, but they should come as no surprise. They deserve to stand on their own merit, not as addenda to a diesel asterisk.
Anyway, the only way you’ll know this car runs on diesel is from the TDI label along the back. Most regard it as a badge of pride. It’s a talisman for those individuals aware—and lucky—enough to be in the club that owns one. (Diesels typically have the shortest turnaround times on dealer lots of any Audi models.)
Otherwise, the A6 looks like every other Audi sedan on the market: the handsome, bold wide ladder-style front grille framed by brilliant LED headlights and an enlarged quad ring logo. If the sides and back remain a little plain—as is the Audi way—they still look leaner through the gills than the shorter-nosed A4 and rounded A8.
I recommend the $1,800 “S Line Sport Package” for its sportier front and rear bumpers and 19-inch, five-spoke wheels; that’ll give it a more distinct feel. Spend the extra to $1,400 to get those LED headlamps. It won’t seem like an Audi without them.
As you might expect, the A6 forms a neat bridge between the relatively compact A4 and the spacious A7 hatchback. The front seats are plenty wide, with dashboard buttons and fine-grain wooden panel inserts wrapping around them like the bow of a boat. The (standard) slim sunroof is less than panoramic, smaller than what you might find in something from, say, Jaguar, but at least it’s there.
I liked the firm, thick leather seats (black comes standard, as does the heating function). I liked the ease of the Bluetooth and the navigation, as well as the heating/cooling systems. It’s all centered together in the middle console rather than spread out across the steering wheel, center, sides, and top of the dash like some other, more expensive cars. In the back, though, watch your knees. The A6 is best configured for our friends below 6 feet.
Manual side and rear window shades back there cost more but help keep everything cool (see: cavelike) and private. I’d also buy the $850 Bose Surround Sound System and $2,550 Driver Assistance Package, which includes top and corner cameras, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and a distance sensor that will make it virtually impossible to crash the thing. (The A6 was an IIHS Top Safety Pick last year.)
If it sounds like this car needs a lot of the options to make it really livable, that’s because it does: The sub-60K price tag is admirable, and a basic parking system, for instance, comes standard, but I have a hard time imagining any you’ll keep your own car to that amount once you start realizing which add-ons you’ll want for comfortable living.
Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold
What I’d choose if I really had my way are firmer brakes and a little more urgency at the steering wheel. If you like vice-grip engineering and a stiff little body, stick with BMW’s $57,100 5 Series diesel. Now that’s a car for driving. And I don’t think I’m just parroting the “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline by saying so.
(Mercedes-Benz’s $52,650 E250 BlueTEC has less horsepower and fewer cylinders than both and is significantly more lethargic off the line. And its slightly better gas mileage probably isn’t enough to offset its dangerously-close-to-outdated look. But that’s a topic for another column.)
But here is where you split hairs, because while the 5 Series is better around corners and when braking, the A6 beats it off the line (zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds, vs. 5.8 for the BMW 535d), even though it’s heavier and has less horsepower. It just feels lighter to drive.
The A6 comes with eight-speed, paddle-shifting automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Operating it is kind of a nonissue; it runs seamlessly from gear to gear, with no offensive pauses, noises, or bursts. All is civilized but not stuffy, efficient but not sparse.
When I’m in the mood for an afternoon daydream, that’s exactly what I want. I’ll choose the A6 TDI every time.