Audi's different take on a top-end estate focuses on refinement and tech appeal

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The object of our attention this week might be the best estate car in the world.

The Audi A6 Avant is certainly acclaimed as such by its owners and, being an Audi Avant executive load-lugger, is picking up from a line of predecessors that have, almost without exception, sold particularly strongly in this country.

Subtle badging just below the A-pillar marks this car out as an S Line model. Its comes with lowered sports suspension as standard, among other features

So what can the latest version of the biggest Avant in the showroom do for the station wagon breed?

The A6 entered its fifth model generation earlier this year, appearing first in Audi A6 saloon form. But, as any keen follower of Audi’s bigger saloons will tell you, it’s actually misleading to think of this car as the fifth generation of anything; the original A6 of 1994 was simply a facelifted version of the ‘C3’ – or third-generation – Audi 100.

The 100’s roots go all the way back to the late-1960s, and it’s in recognition of this lineage (and to rather snub the influence of the ’90s-era model nomenclature rebranding) that the latest-generation A6 is known as the ‘C8’ in Audi circles. ‘Avant’ bodystyles have been offered on the A6/100 line since the ‘C2’ 100 of 1977, although over the years they’ve been quite different cars: liftback saloons at one point and full-on seven-seater estates the next.

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Having arguably done more to damage the reputation of diesel engine technology than any other car maker these past few years, and at a time when others are dropping oil-burners altogether, it’s interesting to note that the latest Audi A6 is launched with a choice of two engines, both of which are diesel. As marketing strategies go, that’s certainly ironic; in another segment of the car market, it might even be mistaken for hubris.

And so, for now at least, you can have an A6 Avant powered by either a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 201bhp ‘40 TDI’ or a 3.0-litre V6, 282bhp ‘50 TDI’ (our test car was the former), and with quite a dizzying array of choice of drivetrain, suspension and steering specification.



Audi A6 Avant 2018 road test review - hero side

Audi’s designers seem to have something of a penchant for striking a balance between muscular athleticism and refined, handsome good looks when it comes to penning a car. With the possible exception of the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, this latest A6 Avant could just be the best-looking estate – premium or otherwise – currently on the market.

However, despite the A6’s evident good looks, there’s no shaking the feeling that those same designers are becoming increasingly reliant on the same tried-and-tested formula to ensure aesthetic success. As with the Audi A7 and Audi A8, the A6 bears the same enlarged hexagonal grille that dominates the vast majority of front-end real estate, emphasising its width and lending the Bavarian wagon a purposeful, planted stance.

I think this A6 Avant is the most successful application of Audi’s new design language. To my eyes, it’s much more attractive than an A7 or A8, but then I am a sucker for an estate. The RS6 will be something else.

That said, on the Avant that grille isn’t quite as narrow or expansive as it is on the A7 – perhaps so that the practical estate doesn’t infringe on the fastback’s positioning as the more aggressive, sporting offering in Audi’s larger executive car range.

Side-on, it cuts a rather elegant shape too. The gently tapered roofline flows into a rather aggressively sloping bootline, although Audi claims that extending the A6’s footprint (it now measures 4.94m long) ensured that interior practicality hasn’t been compromised. Meanwhile, the blistered wheel arches – smartly filled by optional 20in wheels on our test car – are an inconspicuous nod to the original Quattro.

At the back, the most eye-catching new feature is a decorative trim piece that links the redesigned tail-light clusters. Overall, the A6 Avant works as an effective and attractive piece of design, if one that also smacks of conservatism.

The entry-level 40 TDI motor develops a modest 201bhp between 3750rpm and 4200rpm, while its 295lb ft of torque is developed from as low as 1750rpm. Drive is sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. Between 34mph and 99mph, the engine can tick over at idling speeds when coasting in a bid to improve economy, thanks to the presence of a mild-hybrid drivetrain. A belt alternator starter connected to the crankshaft draws up to 5kW of power under deceleration, which is then stored in a 12V battery at the rear of the car and used to restore power to the engine when you come back on the throttle.

Suspension is by way of a five-link arrangement front and rear, with steel springs and adaptive dampers featuring on our car as an option. Lowered sports suspension is available, as are air springs.


Audi A6 Avant 2018 road test review - cabin

From the driver’s seat, you might mistake the A6 Avant for any other large Audi on sale. More so than its exterior, the A6’s cabin is practically a carbon copy of that in the Audi A7 and, to an extent, that of the Audi Q8 SUV as well.

The design of the dash is identical, with gloss black and brushed aluminium surfacing used liberally, while the dual-screen infotainment system is housed in the same place, and crowned by air vents of the same design as those in the rakish saloon.

Interesting to note how closely matched the car is to a BMW 5 Series Touring, Jaguar XF Sportbrake and Volvo V90 on boot volume. A Mercedes E-Class estate still trumps the lot, but that’s never stopped the A6 Avant finding homes before.

However, this copy-paste approach to interior design does mean that all of the things we so liked about the A7’s cabin are present and correct in the A6. It majors in material appeal, perceived quality and technological sophistication and, thanks to its estate car body shape, now places an even greater focus on practicality too. The sharply styled tailgate lifts to reveal a 565-litre boot, which is accessed via a suitably wide aperture (we measured it at 1030mm at its narrowest point).

There’s no awkward sill over which heavy items will need to be lifted, which is handy, although the angle of the bootline may prevent taller items from being loaded easily. The 40:20:40 splitfolding rear seats collapse to liberate an additional 1115 litres of space for a total capacity of 1680 litres. By way of comparison, BMW’s 5 Series Touring offers 570 litres of seats-up bootspace and 1700 litres when the rear seats are folded flat.

Space in the second row is good – two adults will be able to sit in comfort over long distances without any complaints about a serious lack of leg or head room.

Our test car was equipped with the £1495 Technology Pack, which includes Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system. It’s the same unit that featured in the A7 we tested a few months ago, and comprises of a primary 10.1in upper screen with a smaller 8.7in screen below.

The top touchscreen can be used to access the vast majority of the infotainment system’s features – such as the sat-nav, vehicle settings and telephone – while the lower screen is primarily used to control the HVAC settings. It is a graphically rich and visually appealing system but, as we experienced in the A7, comes up short in a few areas.

Ergonomically, it’s a touch awkward and can be tricky to use on the go owing to the fairly considerable amount of pressure you need to apply to the screen to get a response. The haptic and acoustic feedback are welcome, though.


There are very few promises made about ‘class-leading performance’ or ‘outstanding dynamism’ in the promotional literature for this car.

Instead, it’s aerodynamic efficiency, aeroacoustic refinement and fuel efficiency that get the big build-up, just as they might have for an Audi executive-class debutant 30 years ago – before the company became so preoccupied with proving it could make saloons as sharp-handling as those of any of its closest rivals.

Audi’s new naming system – represented on our A6 by the 40 TDI badge – is still a bit cryptic to us. Hopefully time will make this system clearer

And out on the road, the A6 Avant 40 TDI keeps the throwback vibes coming. By the standards of modern four-pot diesel executives, this is a particularly refined car – at least until you really put its 2.0-litre motor to some serious work.

That engine is quiet and well-mannered at idle and at low revs, responding smartly and with plenty of torque at step-off, and whisking the big A6 into motion with little apparent effort. The car’s dual-clutch transmission manages the engagement of its gears with enough smoothness to easily satisfy someone used to the silken-edged shifts of a torque converter ’box, but also with impressive speed.

The only time we became aware of even the slightest clumsiness in the transmission’s operation was during our standing-start performance tests when, under a wide open throttle, it forced drive through to the A6’s solitary driven front axle a little too abruptly to make for the optimum 0-60mph time, triggering the car’s electronic traction control even on dry Tarmac.

The 295lb ft of torque is pretty plainly ‘enough to be going with’ in this car, then – although it doesn’t quite give the A6 really assertive roll-on acceleration. The car needs 7.5sec to sprint from 30 to 70mph. A modern six-cylinder diesel BMW executive of similar size will typically need less than six seconds for the same sprint; the six-cylinder Audi A7 Sportback 50 TDI we tested earlier this year needed just 5.3sec; and a humble Vauxhall Insignia GSi Sports Tourer is hot on the Audi’s heels at 7.7sec.

The A6’s engine works fairly strongly through the meat of the rev range but doesn’t spin with much freedom or ferocity at the upper end, and doesn’t have the sort of breadth of operating range that begs to be explored with a flick of the shift lever into manual mode.

It’s the kind of performance that, while more than adequate in a car like this, still puts the onus on A6’s mechanical refinement, technological sophistication and operating efficiency to ram home its premium credentials. On refinement, part of that bargain is certainly upheld.

As for the rest of it, it’s hard not to be impressed by the smart and seamless way in which the car’s gearbox and mild-hybrid ancillaries disconnect the crankshaft, and even stop it altogether at times, to boost the A6’s fuel economy when touring.

You have to use Efficiency driving mode to witness all of that working to best effect: but when you do, this near-five-metre, 200-horsepower Bavarian carry-all will return 50.1mpg on a mixed touring route.


Audi A6 Avant 2018 road test review - cornering front

A snapshot is all we’ve got to go on here when describing the A6 Avant’s potential to be smooth and slick to drive, to soothe away the miles, to carry a heavy load and still handle securely, and to keep you interested in the driving experience as it’s doing so.

There are, as has become the norm with modern executive cars, myriad A6 driving experiences you might end up buying, with four different suspension configurations on the table for a kick-off; with front-wheel drive and two different quattro four-wheel-drive configurations on top; with two different steering configurations to choose from; and, on certain models, an electronic Sport locking rear differential also available.

Audi’s new A6 Avant premium estate is a refined cruiser suited to those who prefer to be serenely isolated from the road rather than immersively in tune with it

Our car was from what we might think of as the middle of the A6’s dynamic spectrum: it had adaptively damped steel coil suspension, front-wheel drive and standard ‘progressive’ (or passive variable ratio) steering. And the way it behaved – on motorways, A-roads, B-roads and city streets alike – seemed plucked studiously and entirely out of Audi’s time-honoured playbook. There were one or two surprises buried deeper within the car’s dynamic make-up, but nothing to make your eyes widen or your jaw muscles spontaneously relax. This is every inch the old-school big Audi done for the current age.

The A6’s steering has that isolated feel and monotone weight common to so many of its range-mates; you might dislike it for that sense of artificial connection to the road, or you might approve of it for the way it filters out misleading influences.

It certainly does a pretty poor job of communicating how hard the car’s steered axle is working, though. So, if anything, you tend to ‘underdrive’ the A6 – and then, when push comes to shove, you’re surprised when you find there’s bite to spare under that front end, and untapped grip and body control you might have been using.

The car’s adaptively damped ride has plenty of versatility, permitting a nicely serene gait in Comfort mode that is relaxing without feeling overly ‘soft’ in an old-fashioned, long-wave sense. That ride firms up enough in Dynamic mode to make for decent body control, good steering response (particularly off-centre) and dependable high-speed grip and stability. But you’d never say you felt impressed or engaged by the A6; more so just reassured.

‘Secure’ and ‘stable’ are the words we would use to describe the A6 Avant’s approach to tackling Millbrook’s Hill Route long before anything like ‘engaging’ or ‘exciting’ spring to mind – although that’s by no means intended as a criticism.

The car displayed impressively tight lateral body control through the bends, while a pleasing amount of front-end grip could be relied on here too. There was little in the way of feedback from the steering, but quick gearing made the big Audi feel much more agile than its near-five-metre footprint would suggest.

Thanks to the accessible slug of low-end torque, the car was able to power its way up the Hill Route’s more severe inclines with little in the way of delay.


Audi A6 Avant 2018 road test review - hero front

The path to A6 Avant ownership begins with you being willing to part with at least £40,740 – which will get you the entry-level 40 TDI Sport model.

That said, ‘entry-level’ may not be the best term to describe it, as there’s still plenty of equipment included as standard. Audi’s dualscreen MMI infotainment system is thrown in at this price point, as are 18in wheels, LED front and rear lights, ambient interior lighting and heated front seats, among other features. Upgrading to the S Line specification of our test car adds £3360, and brings lowered sports suspension, 19in wheels, sports seats and Matrix LED headlights.

Little separates the Audi from its immediate rivals here. All perform well, although the BMW is the strongest

As far as depreciation is concerned, there’s precious little daylight separating this Audi A6 Avant from four-wheel-drive versions of the BMW 520d Touring M Sport and Mercedes-Benz E220d AMGLine.

Our experts predict that, over the course of three years and 36,000 miles, both the Audi and the Mercedes will hold 45% of their initial asking price, while the BMW will pip them both at 46%.



Audi A6 Avant 2018 road test review - on the road angle

In so many ways, this fifth-generation Audi A6 seems to represent an interesting shift in thinking for its maker.

A deliberate decision, perhaps, to put the handbrake on its attempts to play ‘anything you can do’ with BMW in Munich and Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, and to head back towards the approach that made its cars so revered, in their way, a quarter-century ago.

This high-tech throwback is a timely reminder of what Audi does best

Mechanical refinement and cabin isolation. Aerodynamic efficiency. Technological sophistication everywhere you look. Readily apparent perceived quality. A design that puts the painstaking technical precision of the car’s assembly on a pedestal. These are the qualities that best distinguish the new A6 Avant, just as you might have said about the big Audi executive saloons and wagons of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

They don’t make this an executive wagon that will appeal to the keen driver particularly, but certainly do give it a sense of authenticity as an Audi that might make a difference for long-time fans of German cars. That might be what Audi needs above all else right now.


Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat.