Audi has taken a conservative, long-winded approach to tapping Malaysia’s ever-growing luxury car market. Discounting the spike of the A6 hybrid, it has slowly grown their market presence over the past 18 months, largely avoiding the excesses that marked sister brand Volkswagen. I hear you, Audi is premium luxury and not premium mass, but the understated way they’re doing things is almost too quiet for their own good.
The results bear this out. From selling 1,619 cars in 2014, sales actually contracted slightly to 1,592 units last year and though 2015 was tough for nearly everybody, the fact that Mercedes-Benz tacked on nearly 4,000 units to end the year at around 11,000 units can’t have gone unnoticed by the bosses at Ingolstadt. Sure, Audi Malaysia has far fewer dealerships and their cars are CBU only, but at the last count, buyers can choose from 17 model variants with 14 of them priced below RM500,000.
So is it a brand thing, a visibility issue or are their cars inferior to the competition? We tested both versions of the Audi A6 – the 1.8-litre and 3.0-litre Quattro to find out.
Looks are subjective, so this is a subjectively good-looking car
Those Germans are a crafty bunch. Through decades of engineering, marketing and literally telling us what defines luxury, we’ve come to accept they set the standard for how premium executive cars should look like. So even if the looks of a Lexus GS or Jaguar XF sets off more emotional centres in our brain, society tells us they’re mere copies of the real things from Angela Merkel land.
Among the big three luxury brands, Audi has always been the outlier for style. Playing the cool and sleek card ever since the original TT came out 20 years ago, they’ve made precision panel fit, metal accents and a massive front grille their calling cards, and these are all present on the A6. This car used to be the ugly duckling of Audi’s saloon range, but the fourth generation model changes all that.
The proportions are spot on with a short front overhang, long bonnet line and a gently curving roof that ends with a short rear deck lid. Detailing is typically Audi with extravagant flame surfacing limited to the bottom of the doors and sleek headlights used to add minimalist coolness. There’s a new DRL pattern at the front (for the 3.0 TFSI Quattro) and a matching one at the rear and if you’re a geek, you’ll never tire of seeing the turn indicators lighting up sequentially. Of course, the six-pointer grille with eight chromed horizontal bars is still the main attention grabber but it’s not as crassly ostentatious as it used to be.
External differences between the 1.8 TFSI (base mode with standard features) and 3.0 TFSI Quattro are limited to the headlights (Bi-Xenon versus a full LED setup), wheel design and sizes, with Quattro badges on the latter, so only anoraks will know if you’re driving the less expensive of the two. Overall, the facelifted Audi A6 shows the importance of getting the design elements right the first time around as it didn’t need a massive makeover (unlike the Mercedes-Benz W212 E-Class) to remain relevant before the all-new car arrives in a few years.
Matching the competition
Turbo-charging and super-charging are de rigueur these days, so the A6 has one of each. The 1.8 TFSI uses a 1.8-litre direct injection turbocharged engine that is also found in the A3 and A4 sedans. In this application, power is boosted to 190hp at 4,200rpm with 320Nm kicking in at just 1,400rpm. Audi’s 7-speed wet-clutch Shiftronic is the gearbox of choice and drive is directed to the front wheels only.
On paper, the numbers favour the A6 over the equivalent BMW 520i and Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde. Despite having less engine capacity, it has more power and torque than its rivals and a lighter claimed kerb weight too. Performance claims for all three are identical (0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds and a 233km/h top speed) but with a 5.7L/100km fuel economy figure the Audi should be the easiest on the pocket.
In the real world, it performs as you would expect a car of this size and status to. Around town, the low-end torque delivers enough shove to allow the A6 to glide through variable speed traffic effortlessly while the dual-clutch gearbox is great at slurring through the gears. Increase the speed and while there isn’t any ‘sporty character’ from the engine to write about, it never leaves you feeling wanting more, or makes you regret opting for the smaller motor.
Does it ride as well as the competition? Yes it does, despite resting on optional 18-inch alloys (which are part of a RM23,000 Technology Package fitted to our test unit that includes LED headlights, upgraded MMI functions, rear camera, additional airbags for rear occupants, Google Earth navigation, etc.). Simply put, the A6 banishes the notion of brittle-ridding Audi cars from a generation or two ago. Sure, it’s not as much fun to sling around a winding road as the F10 5-Series, but outside the world of motoring journalism, this factor may not matter as much to a chauffeured-driven COO seated at the back.
A wolf in sheepskin
The A6 3.0 TFSI Quattro is a rather different kettle of fish. Its 3.0-litre direct injection V6 was liberated from the Audi S4 and deploys an Eaton ‘Twin Vortices Series’ Roots-type supercharger to deliver 333hp at 5300rpm and 440Nm at 2900rpm. As the name suggests, power is directed to all four corners via a Quattro AWD system while the gearbox is the same dual-clutch Shiftronic used in the 1.8 TFSI variant.
There isn’t a similarly muscular rival from either BMW or Mercedes-Benz (now that the E400 has been discontinued), so Audi has the premium executive Q-car market all to itself. Performance claims are suitably impressive with 0-100km/h coming up in just 5.1 seconds and top speed limited to 250km/h so you could go sports car hunting in this big saloon, if that’s your thing. Claimed fuel consumption is a little bit high at 7.4L/100km and the CO2 output of 172g/KM isn’t as clean as less powerful rivals, but it’s doubtful the typical Malaysian buyer willing to stump up RM487,900 for this car will even care.
How does it feel to drive? In a word, limitless. With so much torque and power to call upon, it’s a waste to just mooch around town in this car. There’s a sense of urgency in the engine note when venturing above 3,000rpm, which becomes a wonderfully crisp bark once you point the car down an empty road and give it the beans.
Like all fast Audis, the A6 TFSI Quattro is most impressive at high speed cruising and on wide dual carriageways. Traction is sure-footed in all conditions and though there’s the usual understeer and light steering to deal with on tighter routes, you’ll be travelling at such a pace that jail time is a certainty if you’re caught.
Slow it down and the ride on 255/40 R19 Pirelli P Zero rubber is admirably absorbent if not as smooth as on the other car. There’s no dynamic damping control or sports suspension option available, so the differences are really due to the bigger contact patch and lower profile sidewalls.
As a whole, the choice right now for A6 buyers is either a capable entry-level model or a Q-car with sports car performance. They’re priced RM160,000 apart, so there’s lots of space for a mid-level model with either a diesel or hybrid engine option (a taboo word for Audi Malaysia perhaps…). Will it ever come?
Minimalist style, maximum options
Since the majority of German premium executive cars in Malaysia are usually sampled from the back seat, interior looks and comfort need to be top notch. Audi has been delivering on this front for decades, so it’s no surprise to find the A6 equipped with a stylish living space that is comfortable and cosseting.
The dashboard for instance is formed by one continuous piece of high quality plastic stretching across the A-pillars and unlike on most rivals, its low scuttle affords an expansive view ahead. The use of buttons is kept to a minimum and as per usual for German cars the majority of settings is accessed via a menu system controlled by a rotary knob. At least the LCD screen can be hidden when not in use, though the slab-sided display does look a bit old fashioned.
It wouldn’t be an Audi without metal-finish inserts so there’s loads of the stuff on the dashboard, centre console and doors (on the 3.0 TSFI only). It all feels very tactile and lovely, which is a nice contrast to the soft leather used on the seats.
At the back, the rear bench is nicely shaped for two adults with a centre seat generous enough to accommodate a third. There are rear vents to keep everyone cool, but there are no toys to play with like headrest-mounted monitors, so bosses will just have to use their smartphones to stay occupied during a journey.
Differences between the two variants (without optional package fitted) are limited to an uprated MMI system with a bigger touch screen, paddle shifters, electric steering adjustment, the aforementioned extra airbags and a reverse camera for the more expensive car. Neither A6 gets Audi’s new virtual cockpit instrument display but the big colour screen nestled between the speedometer and rev-counter is already very impressive and delivers a wealth of information.
How does the A6 interior compare against its rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz? Very well actually and while there will always be those who have strong preferences of one over the other, I don’t think anybody can complain about the car feeling low rent or being ergonomically deficient. Instead, many will be impressed by its understated looks and build quality, which is so typical of an Audi.
Deserving of an audience
Let’s get something clear. The chances of the Audi A6 turning out to be a duff car outclassed by its rivals were as likely as snow falling in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Too much has been spent on design, engineering and branding for it to fail and if anything, it’s now closer than ever to the equivalent BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Ah, but the sales figures don’t back these impressions up you say, to which I point you towards the ‘pre-owned’ price board in most BMW dealerships and the magic that is the Mercedes-Benz E300 Bluetec Hybrid pricing. Even at this end of the market, cars are being sold with hefty discounts and with their smaller market footprint and CBU-only sourcing, Audi Malaysia can’t quite compete on equal footing yet. Suffice it to say, CKD can’t start soon enough.
Still, if you must stick to German executive cars only, then the A6 in either guise makes for a great option over the 5-Series and E-Class. It’s not a common sight on our roads, has the kudos of being a CBU car and will likely age better too, which could possibly point towards more robust residuals. In the long run, such strengths are likely to make for a solid ownership experience.
Audi 1.8 TSFI (base model, w/o tech pack)
Price: RM327,900.00 (OTR w/o insurance)
Engine: 1.8-litre, inline-four, turbo petrol, FWD
Output: 190hp @ 4,200rpm, 320Nm @ 1,400rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Performance: 0-100km/h 7.9 seconds, top speed 233km/h
Fuel efficiency: 17.5 km/l
Wheels/tyres: 17in alloys, 225/55 R17
Safety: 6-airbags, Electronic Stability Control
Audi A6 3.0 TSFI Quattro
Price: RM487,900 (OTR w/o insurance)
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, supercharged petrol, AWD
Output: 333hp @ 5,300rpm, 440Nm @ 2,900rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.1 seconds, top speed 250km/h
Fuel efficiency: 13.5 km/l
Wheels/tyres: 18in alloys, 255/40 R19
Safety: 8-airbags, Electronic Stability Control
Audi Progressive Financing Plan
The acquisition of an Audi vehicle has just been made easier with the recently-announced Audi Progressive Financing Plan. For a limited time period ending April 2016, preferred interest rates (from as low as 0.98% per annum) and flexible financing terms will be offered to prospective buyers, and they apply to the entire Audi range in Malaysia, except for the out-going A4 model which is due for replacement soon. One could conceivably drive home an Audi A3 sedan with a 10% down-payment along with a monthly installment of only RM999 for the first year, if you opt for the stepped financing scheme. As always, read the fine print.