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Audi’s smooth A6 diesel still feels good, but guilty

A6 must stay on sale a while yet, thanks to delays with its electric replacement. Can diesel power still be relevant?

Audi A6

Much like George Clooney, the Audi A6 doesn’t look all that old. In fact, this version of the A6 isn’t actually all that old – it was actually introduced in 2018, making this design only six years old. Assuming car years are like dog years, that actually makes it younger than me.

However, 2018 suddenly seems a lifetime or two ago – the pandemic likely doesn’t help in that respect – and the A6 has to contend with brand-new competition from BMW’s i5/5 Series and the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It really shouldn’t have had to. You see, the A6′s all-electric, e-tron successor should have been here by now, but hamstrung by delays in developing its all-important new software, the A6 e-tron is still several months away.

And anyway, this A6 will remain on sale for a time alongside its new electric brother, so it’s a car that still has some life left in it, a life that Audi has extended slightly with this upgraded version, boasting some styling tweaks such as a new grille and bumpers, and new colour options including the rather fetching Ascari Blue of our test car. Inside, there’s an update for the digital instrument screen, but there’s no getting away from the elephant in this particular room – this A6 uses diesel fuel.

It does have some mild-hybrid assistance alongside the sludge from the black pump, but basically this A6 40 TDI remains distinctly old-school when you put it up against all-electric rivals. Can it possibly still be relevant in 2024?

Well, kind of. But also kind of not. Diesel is certainly dwindling in popularity, but it still accounts for some 22 per cent of all sales, so in the Monty Python tradition it’s not quite dead yet. Equally, this A6 uses its diesel efficiently – average fuel economy is claimed at 5.2-litres per 100km (and that’s a pretty realistic everyday driving number), and CO2 emissions are a not-horrendous, 135g/km.

On top of which, it’s worth mentioning that the A6 is low-slung, and relatively trim in weight – 1,715kg isn’t bad for a big four-door – so at least it’s not yet another pointlessly bulky and large SUV.

It also sets a useful yardstick for future electric car performance. Sit into a freshly-brimmed A6 TDI and flick on the ignition, and you’ll be welcomed by a range-to-empty figure approaching 1,200km. There is no EV (save for the experimental Mercedes EQXX) nor any PHEV that can get anywhere near matching that, and it’s a wonderfully reassuring number to see on a dashboard. Batteries and charging stations may, hopefully, one day bring that kind of ease and reassurance, but they’re a ways off yet.

Audi A6

Of course, you can also choose to fuel your A6 TDI in a manner that , in theory, cuts your personal emissions. HVO diesel is fast becoming available in Ireland, through the likes of Certa and Go, and it claims – because it’s made from old cooking oil – to cut your emissions by as much as 90 per cent. This would mean that this old-school diesel A6 would have effective emissions of just 13.5g/km, if the claims can be believed (and see elsewhere on this page for more about that).

Either way, the A6 impresses in and of itself. It’s not quite so sweet to drive as the BMW i5, nor is it quite so refined as the new E-Class, but it sits in a fairly comfortable middle ground between the two. It’s smooth and soothing, and yet capable of providing precision and a soupcon of entertainment over a twisty road.

Audi A6

That engine is incredibly refined and quiet, and yet has an impressively solid 400Nm torque kick when you need to pick up the pace. You might baulk at it being fuelled by liquid dinosaurs, but it’s an exemplar of the combustion engineer’s art. It’s also notably more affordable in its basic form. You can get a basic A6 for €58,925 and this S-Line model starts from €67,890. Even our specced-up test car’s €76,845 price seems reasonable in the face of what BMW or Mercedes ask for their newer models.

The space inside is excellent, and the A6 feels at least subjectively roomier than the new Merc or BMW in the back seats. Up front, you get firm but supportive S-Line bucket seats, and a dashboard built to the kind of standard that would have Michaelangelo thinking his marble was a bit porous. That said, it’s all a bit black-and-chrome Bauhaus in here, and thus feels a bit cold and not very welcoming – the BMW does it better in that respect.

Respect seems to be the right word. The A6 isn’t a car with which you might fall in love (although my heartstrings would certainly be more aggressively tugged had this been an A6 Avant estate) but it is a car you utterly respect. The A6 e-tron has some big shoes to fill. Being diesel-fuelled may make it seem older than its years, but who would turn down a date with George Clooney?

Lowdown: Audi A6 40 TDI

Power: 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder putting out 204hp and 400Nm of torque through a seven-speed automatic gearbox powering the front wheels.

0-100km/h: 7.9 seconds

Emissions (motor tax): 135g/km (€210 annually)

Fuel consumption: 5.2l/100km (WLTP)

Price: €76,845 as tested (A6 TDI S-Line starts at €67,890)

Our rating: 3/5

Our verdict: Diesel may seem passé but this A6 still commands respect.

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