Electric cars are being aggressively promoted, but the technical problems remain significant. While their range on a charge has increased, they still can’t travel as far as a gas-powered car, and recharging them takes much longer than refueling a gas-engined car.
Audi’s solution is to combine the two until these issues can be sorted out. Almost all of its new cars are partially-electric cars.
Including the new A6 sedan.
What It Is
The A6 is Audi’s entrant in the mid-sized luxury-sport sedan class.
It competes most directly with models like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series sedans. Still, it differs from them historically in that the Audi has always been a front-wheel-drive-based car that comes standard with AWD while most of its rivals in the segment are built on rear-drive layouts—some of them (like the Benz and BMW) offering AWD as an option.
Currently, the A6 is the only model in its class that comes standard with an electrically enhanced drivetrain.
Both its standard four-cylinder engine and its optional V6 are paired with a 48-volt electrical system that allows the gas engine to seamlessly be toggled off and on (including while the car is moving) to achieve the electric car boon of zero emissions of gas (while the gas engine is off) and increased gas mileage overall.
Prices start at $54,900 for the Sport Premium trim with a 2.0-liter engine and electric-assist. The next-up Premium trim is priced identically but gives you the option to buy the more powerful 3.0-liter V6, also electrically assisted. So equipped, this one stickers for $59,800.
A top-of-the-line Prestige trim with the V6 and electric-assist lists for $64,500.
The standard 2.0-liter gas engine/electric-assist combination gets a little stronger this year; total power is up to 261 (from 248 last year). Also, 19-inch wheels are standard on the base Premium trim and an integrated/wireless toll payment app.
A Black Optics appearance package is available. It bundles a 20-inch wheel/tire package with a sport-tuned suspension and black-themed exterior and interior trim.
- AWD is included and doesn’t cost you much more than buying RWD rivals like the BMW 5 and Benz E that offerAWD at extra cost.
- Gas-electric drive transitions from gas to electric drive without the herky-jerkiness of less-sophisticated engine stop/start systems in other cars.
- High-tech all-digital/LCD screen dash.
What’s Not So Good
- The gas mileage benefit of a gas-electric system is negligible.
- The traction advantage of standard AWD is offset to some degree by not much (4.2 inches) ground clearance.
- Small (13.7 cubic foot) trunk.
Under The Hood
Like others in the class, the A6 comes standard with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to make up for a six-cylinder engine no longer being standard as used to be the case for cars in this class.
Government pressure to squeeze ever-higher-mileage and ever-lower “emissions” of carbon dioxide (the other emissions, the ones that were issues, having been reduced to near-nil more than two decades ago) has squeezed out six-cylinder engines as standard engines even in cars that cost more than $50k to start. However, the people who pay $50,000-plus for a car expect more than four-cylinder power.
Hence the turbo.
The Audi’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder has more than just a turbo, too.
It is paired up with a 48-volt electrical system (up from the usual 12-volts) that consists of a lithium-ion battery in the trunk and a high-torque belt starter/generator system upfront designed to keep the gas engine off as often as possible, including while moving, to increase gas mileage and lower C02 emissions.
Mercedes and other manufacturers are resorting to the same technique, not because this is what buyers want but making it feasible for them to continue selling gas-engined cars in a regulatory environment bent on their elimination in favor of 100 percent electric cars people do not want.
Partial electrification bridges the gap, but it also adds to the cost—both what you pay now and what you will probably pay later. Like any battery, the A6’s lithium-ion battery will eventually need to be replaced, which is going to cost. And replacing a lithium-ion battery is not like replacing a 12-volt starter battery.
Indeed, a majority of the people who buy cars like the A6 (i.e., high-end cars) tend to lease them or only keep them for five or six years before trading them in. So it is true they will probably not deal with problems such as replacing the lithium-ion battery, etc. Also, the much-increased complexity of the gas-electric driveline increases the odds of something breaking down, eventually.
But someone will.
For now, you get more power. The 2.0-liter gas engine/electric combo summon 261 hp – up from 248 last year. It’s enough to get the A6 to 60 in about six seconds.
For more power, a six is still available. It’s also paired with the same basic electrical tandem-assist system. The 3.0-liter V6 is also turbocharged, and the result is 335 horsepower.
Equipped with the V6, the A6 can get to 60 in a very speedy 4.8 seconds, helped along by the car’s lightweight aluminum bodywork.
Seven-speed automatic transmissions and all-wheel-drive are standard with both engines.
On The Road
This Audi is free of arguably one of the most annoying and least mentioned features almost all new cars come standard with because the government all-but-mandates they come standard with it.
Engine stop and start and stop and start. Over and over and over. At every red light or when there’s a pause in the flow of traffic or as soon as you park, even before you’ve had a chance to turn it off yourself. Then it turns back on even though you wanted it off. After all, you just pressed the “start” button to turn it off because you just parked and thought it was on because you hadn’t turned it off, but it actually wasn’t, and now it’s on again.
Engine-driven accessories (like the AC) turn off and on with the engine, too. Each time, it is accompanied by a small but noticeable shudder and a slight delay before the car moves.
It gets old, fast, and saves almost no gas.
Audi solved this manufactured-by-government problem using a much-higher-torque belt-driven starter connected to a much more powerful battery that can spin and restart the stopped engine nearly instantaneously and, most importantly, imperceptibly. No more can you feel the drunken stagger-start-stopping or hear the noise accompanying the off-on cycling. You will need to watch the gauges to discern when the engine isn’t running and when it is, though.
The system also enables the engine to be cut off while coasting and decelerating, without you noticing. Acceleration occurs naturally and swiftly as this Audi is powerful with either engine.
But it’d have been easier and much less expensive to leave the engine on until you decide to turn it off.
Sadly, this sort of thing will wax rather than wane because the edicts pertaining to gas mileage minimums and gas emissions maximums will wax rather than wane until the gas engine is no more, leaving only the electric car.
The Audi’s standard AWD system gives the A6 a traction advantage over its rear-drive rivals from BMW and Mercedes, but it’s not much of an edge in the snow because of the car’s sport-sedan ground clearance of just 4.2 inches. This puts the A6 much closer to the pavement than the BMW 5-Series (5.7 inches of clearance) but not quite as in the weeds as the Benz E-sedan, which sits just 3.8 inches off the pavement (4.2 inches when ordered with its available 4Matic AWD system).
At The Curb
Audis have historically been the choice favored by people who want a high-end car that isn’t as obviously high-end as some of the other high-end cars.
This tradition continues.
The A6 is attractive but not too attractive. Take off the auto union (that’s where “Audi” comes from) interlocking four circles, and the A6 could pass for a Hyundai Sonata or Toyota Avalon—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Flash has its place.
Inside, for instance.
Here you’ll find what you won’t in a Hyundai or Avalon. Notably, the entirely flatscreen Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster is there. You can toggle to overlay various screens, including a Google Earth View-style 3D map that’s a notch above the two-dimension displays used in other cars. The Virtual Cockpit is complemented by a 10.1-inch secondary flatscreen that displays most of the other apps and functions to the driver’s right. Touch-sensitive “haptic” feedback is part of the deal.
The car also comes standard with three-zone climate control (upgradable to four zones), a panorama sunroof and an excellent 10-speaker stereo, which can be upgraded to 16 speakers.
Massaging seats are available, too.
One thing you don’t get much of and can’t order more of is trunk space. The A6 only has 13.7 cubic feet of capacity back there, which isn’t much more capacity than in some much smaller compact-sized economy cars. The good news is that the other mid-sized cars in this class also lack this department, especially the BMW 5 Series when bought with its optional gas-electric drivetrain. The battery that comes with the deal eats up a chunk of the trunk, reducing the space to just ten cubic feet (about the same as a Mazda Miata’s trunk space) from 14. The Benz E is also trunk-shy, with just 13.1 cubic feet of room.
This lack of trunk almost certainly accounts for the declining popularity of sedans. The problem is that even the large ones don’t have much space back there, which wasn’t true of large sedans in the past. What’s happened styling-wise is that the parts of the car ahead of and behind the front and rear axle centerlines have been truncated. Hoods are no longer extended, and trunks have shrunk.
If you were to park a car like the A6 or its rivals in the class next to a ’70s-era big car, you’d be struck by how much more car there was. The 70’s cars extended past a pillar (on either side of the front windshield) and beyond where the rear doors ended. These cars had trunks that complemented their size. Modern sedans generally do not, and it accounts for their waning popularity in favor of crossovers and SUVs, which create vertical space without excessive length.
Audi does crutch the situation by letting you fold down the rear seats to create a large pass-through.
You might want to have a look at one of the other cars on the periphery of this class that still has a large trunk and a standard V6—the Lexus ES350, which also sells for much less($40,000 to start). This FWD car doesn’t offer AWD, but if you don’t need it, you might be pretty happy to pay $15k less for not having it while getting the V6, too.
Given the constant talking-up of saving gas, it is interesting how little gas the A6’s gas-electric tag-team saves by keeping the gas engine off as much as possible vs. the gas mileage achieved with an almost identical gas engine always on when the ignition is on.
The ’21 A6 with the 2.0-liter gas engine and 48-volt electric system rates 23 city, 31 highway. The ’18 A6, without the 48-volt electrics and the same basic 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (making 252 hp), rated 22 city, 31 highway.
The Bottom Line
The A6’s chief selling point vs. its primary rivals is arguably its standard AWD vs. the optional AWD (at extra cost) in rivals like the Benz E and BMW 5 sedans. But if you don’t need AWD and don’t want gas-electric drive, you may want to shop some of the A6’s rivals.
Especially the Lexus ES350.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.