First Drive: 2019 Audi A6

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Baião, PORTUGAL — The launch of the new A6 completes Audi’s overhaul of its high-end cars. As with the A7 and A8, the company’s latest offering arrives with sharper looks and more technology, all bundled up in a lighter and tighter package.

Outwardly, the bold new look is accentuated by strong character lines and, of course, the latest take on Audi’s signature daytime running lights. The brighter visage sets the stage for the cabin — it, too, has been reworked to great effect. Everything from the leather on the seats to the classy accenting is first-rate all the way.

Taking centre stage is the two-tier infotainment system plucked from the larger A8. The 10.1-inch upper screen looks after all the main functions like navigation and setup menus, while the smaller 8.6-inch lower screen keys on the climate control and allows up to 27 shortcuts for the driver’s favorite phone numbers, radio stations or destinations. In operation, it’s slick and functions much like a smartphone, in that it recognizes all the typical gestures and gives haptic feedback when touching an icon. Again, like a smartphone, the driver can customize the locations of any of the functions and the look of the home screen.

The setup proved easy to use and added an air of sophistication to an already spiffy environment. It does, however, have an anomaly. In an attempt to reduce the number of buttons and controls, the new design mandates extra work. To adjust the length of the front seat cushion required delving into the seat function menu. There are other examples, each of which means taking unnecessary time to accomplish something so very simple.

Move rearward and the 12-milimetre stretch in the wheelbase means the same increase in back seat legroom. The downside is the size of the central tunnel and the intrusion of the centre console means it is really a four-seater, and not the advertised five.

There are now more driver assistance systems than ever before — 39, to be exact. They cover the usual features, along with traffic jam assist and the ability for the adaptive cruise control to tap into the navigation to ready the car for curves and elevation changes, thus improving fuel efficiency. If you go with everything offered, the A6 has a bewildering array of sensors — five radars, five cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, a laser scanner and an infrared camera for night vision.

The A6 will arrive with a 3.0L turbocharged V6 engine that pushes 335 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,370 rpm to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The A6 uses Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system with ultra technology; under normal driving conditions, it powers the front wheels, but activates the rear drive as and when necessary, which maintains the all-wheel advantage while minimizing the impact on fuel economy.

As a unit the powertrain combination proved to be a slick affair, with everything being very well-coordinated. Factor in the lighter steel-and-aluminum hybrid body, and the A6 romps from rest to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 250 km/h. In Europe, Audi will offer three diesel engines, but they are not coming to Canada. Instead, the A6 will be offered with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder next year — it promises to be a poor substitute for the brawny V6.

The tight twisty roads around Baião, a sleepy town 75 kilometres east of Porto, proved to be an enlightening exercise. There are two options worth considering — first, is the adaptive air suspension. It not only delivers noticeably better body control and lowers the ride height by 30 millimetres when Dynamic mode is selected, it is also more compliant over rough sections of road than the base suspension system. Working with the tester’s P255/35R21 tires, the combination delivered better traction without upsetting the ride quality, contrary to what large wheels typically do. Yes, if it’s a longer-term purchase, the steel springs are a more reliable proposition — but they sure paled in comparison the air suspenders.

Second is the available rear-wheel steering system. When it’s in place, the A6 feels sharper and it requires a lot less steering wheel input, which straightens a twisty road in a hurry. Technically, the system turns the back wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds of up to 60 km/h, and it does so by up to five degrees. This cuts the turning circle by a full metre. Once over 60 km/h, the rear wheels are turned by up to two degrees in the same direction as the fronts, which makes the response to input immediate. The only caveat to this is the fact that the A6 must be in Dynamic mode — when in any other mode, it had a mildly vague on-centre feel. With these two technologies aboard, the A6 shifts from being limo-like in its drive to a mean corner carver that belies its size.

On the subject of driving modes, the A6 has them all, but most proved to be redundant — Individual being the best for everyday use. Put everything in normal with the exception of the steering; it, as noted must be in dynamic. This brings a balanced drive regardless of whether tooling about town or out enjoying a serpentine ribbon of tarmac.

The 2019 Audi A6 is slated to land in the fourth quarter this year. Pricing and exact content details will be available closer to the launch date. However, expect the A6 to mirror the new A7 in terms of its packaging and options.

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