PORTO, Portugal – In a luxury brand’s lineup of vehicles, the midsize sedan might have one of the toughest jobs. It has to be sophisticated to justify a lofty price, but it can’t overshadow the full-size sedan as the technology benchmark. It has to perform better than the compact sedan without putting the brand’s sports cars to shame. And in North America, it also has to convince buyers that a car is still a valuable choice over an SUV, so it has to include all-wheel drive.
The 2019 Audi A6 is all that. Like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the BMW 5 Series and the Cadillac CTS, the A6 is its brand’s ambassador without acting as its flagship. That’s a huge responsibility, but this redesigned sedan can pull it off.
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If we count the Audi 100/200 and 5000 models, this A6 is the company’s eight-generation midsize sedan. There’s also a wagon—the beautiful A6 Avant—but we don’t get that one in Canada.
The new car boasts more refined styling, and as before, the resemblance is so striking with the Audi A7 and Audi A8, which have both been redesigned recently, that it takes a sharp eye to distinguish them on the road. The brand’s styling cues haven’t changed much overall, but there’s more detail in the front grille design as well as in the headlight and taillight clusters, while the car’s flanks have become a little more muscular.
Before stepping into the 2019 Audi A6, we must obviously open the doors that are now equipped with electric latches. For some reason, when we didn’t shut the doors properly, they would refuse to let us open them without some extensive fiddling—and eventual cursing. They are now electrically unlatched because if the plethora of sensors around the car detects a possible impact with a pedestrian or a cyclist as we open the door to climb out, it will keep the door shut. We had to slam the A6’s doors shut every time to close them properly, which was annoying.
Otherwise, life is good aboard the A6. Its cabin is extremely quiet, creating a serene, relaxing atmosphere. The multi-adjustable front seats can be equipped with heating and ventilation as well as a massage function, while the rear outboard seats can be heated and a four-zone climate control system can be specified, so everyone will be comfortable.
There’s slightly more interior room than before, although we’re talking mere millimetres here and there. Trunk space is rated at 530 litres, just like in the previous-generation A6, but Audi claims it’s now wider to swallow golf bags more easily. Wheelbase is up by a scant 12 millimetres, and overall, the car’s outer dimensions are just about the same.
On-board technology has been significantly upgraded in the 2019 Audi A6 with its new and more modern MMI system. The main 10.1-inch touchscreen boasts acoustic and haptic feedback when button zones are pressed, acknowledging your command, and the navigation system displays impressive Google Earth-style maps. It recognises swiping and pinching gestures as well, which is good for locating and zooming in on a certain area of the map. The volume knob is still located on the centre console, which we think is the perfect placement.
There’s also a second screen below the main one, with a size of 8.6 inches that serves as the control panel for heating and ventilation as well as some other of the car’s features. It also sends back an audible and tactile response to finger poking. However, both screens are a little distracting while driving, because the button zones aren’t that big and we can’t simply tap on the screen, as it requires a half-second input for the system to react. Minor quibbles, but still, a touchscreen has to be really good to replace conventional, intuitive temperature rotary dials.
In addition to these two screens, we also get the Audi virtual cockpit 12.3-inch driver display, which offers a couple of configurations, including a redundant navigation map, along with available head-up display. Together, all these screens blend in well with the A6’s elegant new interior design that features glossy black trim and brightwork. The centre console and door panels can be dressed up with open-pore wood or aluminum trim.
A choice of two powertrains will be offered in the 2019 Audi A6 on the Canadian market. At launch, it will get a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that develops 340 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, managed by a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic. A 252-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo four will follow soon thereafter. The quattro ultra all-wheel drive system will be standard which, like in the Audi A4 and Audi A5, feeds power to the front wheels in normal driving conditions, but can split it between the front and rear wheels if wheelslip is detected. The previous A6’s quattro drivetrain constantly sent power to all four wheels. We should also get an A6 equipped with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, but Audi hasn't released any details about it yet. We can assume it will include a plug-in hybrid system, which BMW and Mercedes-Benz already offers in their midsize sedans.
Also new in the A6 is available four-wheel steering, although it isn’t clear yet if this feature will be offered in Canada. Like most 4WS systems, this one rotates the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front ones during low-speed manoeuvres—by up to five degrees—improving the car’s turning circle to 11.1 metres (the previous A6 was rated at 11.9 metres). We can definitely feel the car rotate on its axis when we turn the wheel at low speeds. At high velocities, the rear wheels are rotated in the same direction as the front ones for increased stability and more fluid lane changes. According to Audi, passengers tend to get less carsick with four-wheel steering; on the twisty mountain roads of Portugal, we drove and rode shotgun in cars that were and weren’t equipped with the system, and we didn’t feel a difference. A nice-to-have feature, but ultimately not an essential one.
The Audi drive select system serves up various settings, and there’s a distinction between Comfort and Dynamic modes. The latter firms up the suspension just a tad, without making it too harsh, and quickens throttle response for a more spirited drive. The V6 pulls strongly with plenty of low-rpm torque, and its fuel economy is increased with the addition of a mild hybrid system that temporarily takes over during coasting. Unlike the EQ Boost system at Mercedes-Benz, this hybrid setup doesn’t provide any additional power.
Last but not least, there’s a battalion of advanced safety systems in the A6, which use radar and sensors around the front and the rear of the car to scan the surroundings and react if a possible collision is detected. The car can also be equipped with adaptive cruise assist, which provides steering intervention to follow our lane.
As the brand’s ambassador, the 2019 Audi A6 is well prepared for battle in the midsize luxury sedan segment, and will reach Canadian shores at the end of 2018. It can be as comfortable and relaxed as it can be sporty and agile, although the eventual introduction of the next S6 will fill the bill for those who want more performance and handling. Pricing hasn’t yet been sorted out, but the A6 will likely start at about $65,000 with the 2.0-litre engine, or approximately $75,000 in 55 TFSI (3.0-litre engine) trim.