Here’s a funny story: a few days before Euromobil launched the Audi A6 Hybrid, they called me to test it out for a couple of days. Unbeknownst to me, a dear old reader snapped a picture of yours truly driving the car and sent it to us claiming he had caught a registered A6 hybrid undergoing local tests.
Yes, it was being tested alright. By me. Got to love all you eagled-eyed readers. Thanks and keep them spyshots coming!
Back to the topic at hand, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering if the new tax-free Audi A6 Hybrid is worth all that money? How does it perform? It is any good? What are the drawbacks of a hybrid executive sedan? You’ll find comprehensive answers to all these questions and more right here.
The Audi and I went out early one morning and the roads were still empty and wet from the night. It was kind of a twilight drive, with the impressive full-LED headlamps on main beam, and the lovely instruments with its pin-sharp display lit by that eerie glow that the Germans love.
The engine fires, growls briefly, then settles in a sotto voce rhythm deep within the background that changes volume but not the tune with the position of the loud pedal. Loud here is rhetorical of course. When the hybrid system sees it fit, the engine would turn itself off, letting the battery take care of all the cabin ancillaries.
You can turn the engine on by prodding the throttle pedal, and at 1,500 rpm the combined powerplant already produces more twist action than the A6 3.0 TFSI engine can muster at the peak of its torque curve. You can’t really tell the immediate engine speed, as there is no rev-counter to speak of – the hybrid assist/charge dial shown instead.
In a pleasant, subdued, almost invisible way, this car is like a drug. Even when unleashed, with the whip high up in the air, it retains a perfect jacket and tie composure. By now we really are moving. The A6 is dancing with the road: first leading with firm hands, then gently pushing and pulling in perfect accordance with the course of the concrete parquet.
The car seldom puts a foot wrong. Turn-in is slow – sometimes frustratingly so – but once the nose has started moving towards the apex the Audi hugs the tarmac and clings to the blacktop before it will start scrambling ever so subtly for grip. Keep your foot down if you like, spin that inside wheel, but be prepared to wind off some lock quickly if you hit a rough bump mid-corner, because in an instant the tail will step out in a neat arc.
The throttle action is superb: linear and attentive, making take-off smooth and not at all jerky. Throughout the rev-range, the motor and the accelerator constantly communicate with each other, making it an absolute pleasure to cruise with.
And it’s quick. Real quick. There is already meat on the bone at low revs, but the main course begins at three-quarters into the pedal travel. And it lasts virtually relentlessly until you take your foot off. Amazingly, you almost never feel any upshifts, partly because the eight-speed automatic gearbox is so smooth, plus the fact that there isn’t a rev-meter to tell you the rpm has dropped.
Once the instant torque flows, there is not much that can stop it, and after a while the urge to free more and more revs becomes almost irresistible.
A good engine puts its stamp on a car and shapes its character. That’s exactly what the hybrid combo does to the A6. The petrol/electric powertrain is a joy to rev: smooth, potent and turbine like, it will spin freely without much mechanical or acoustic protest.
The response to the electronic throttle is prompt and progressive. The accelerator is neither laser sharp or supersonic fast but meaty, nicely weighted and beautifully communicative.
Too bad the chassis lets the engine down. It’s not all bad though. Its set-up is controlled and taut and yet its movements are supple, its muscles compliant, and its responses rarely harsh and never exaggerated. It’s just that it’s not much fun to drive through bends. Not at all, actually.
In all its rear-wheel drive rivals bar the mushy Infiniti M, you can play gung-ho by backing off in the middle of a corner tackled with aggression. In the A6 Hybrid, with all that torque coming through the front wheels, such brutal throttle manoeuvres upset the car’s balance too abruptly, the stability control kicking in sharply to control the loss of traction. A BMW 5-Series this is not.
Audi says we’ve entered a new era where it’s composure that counts, not bravery. Yes, you may enjoy a little power oversteer. But lurid tailslides are a thing of the past, apparently, at least as far its cool and not at all flamboyant clientele are concerned. Remember, it’s privileged business types they’re after, not driving enthusiasts looking for the next corner to terrorise.
Most of the time, this hybrid monster will handle in an impeccably neutral fashion. Going time warp fast is a surreal, almost sci-fi-like sensation that combines the unerring directional stability and a slot racer with the pulling power of a gas turbine – vroom, woosh and through, that kind of thing.
A more alert steering wouldn’t hurt, and the brakes are not in the league of the class bests, which at the moment is tied between the BMW 5-Series and Lexus’ latest GS. Worked hard, they sweat plenty of smelly black dust, but neither the stopping power nor feel is anywhere near as sensational as the engine. In fact, it barely keeps up with the mediocre chassis.
Speaking of the brakes, the kinetic energy recuperation system (the main source of recharging the battery) operates in an extremely intrusive manner, jumping into action at the slightest touch of the brake pedal. Slowing down in a smooth, imperceptible manner is a near impossible task, with the braking force actively changing even with constant pedal pressure.
Those who have experienced similar energy regeneration systems on Japanese hybrids will definitely know the disconcerting feeling. Only this time, with significantly more mass to haul down and a much more aggressive recharge regime in play, it’s even worse still. Remember this before you start screaming at your chauffeur for spilling your morning coffee.
It’s old news, but when it comes to drivability, you can’t have enough torque. The A6 Hybrid’s 480 Nm is quite clearly superior to the competition, beating even the most powerful petrol powered 5-Series, E-Class and GS sold here. It definitely beats the latter’s silky smooth but tardy V6 engine.
On paper, the BMW 535i edges the A6 hybrid, but on the road the blown straight-six is more highly strung, much rougher when pushed and definitely noisier than the ultra refined, if marginally slower Audi.
Having said that, this cheeky little hybrid is more than good enough to stand up in more exclusive company.
Measure your throttle input just right to avoid wheelspin, of which there will be plenty if you’re not careful, and the hybrid A6 will launch from a standstill to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds, and rush on to a maximum speed of 240 km/h. A second quicker off the mark and you’re into Porsche Panamera V6 territory; 10 km/h more at the top end and you can dice with the BMW M3s of this world. It really is that close.
As detailed in our launch report, the A6 hybrid uses Audi’s venerable turbocharged direct injection 2.0 litre engine tuned to the state of 211 hp at 4,300 to 6,000 rpm and 350 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 4,200 rpm as its main power source. Providing motive assistance is a large electric motor with an output rating of 54 hp and 210 Nm. Working in tandem, the hybrid powerplant offers up a combined output of 245 hp and 480 Nm of torque. It certainly feels that quick, if not more.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system is a non-qualifier here, as it wouldn’t have fit with the lithium-ion battery pack being housed just above the rear axles. Besides, the weight saving is appreciated too, as the power cells aren’t exactly light. With the electric motor, battery and its cooling peripherals in tow, the A6 hybrid weighs a full 230 kg more than a standard A6 with the same (detuned to 180 hp) engine.
Surely that affects performance and fuel economy, no? Not one bit as it’s now 0.8 seconds quicker to 100 km/h and is capable of going 14 km/h faster than before. Being a performance hybrid, it uses less fuel while going faster too; rated at 6.2 litres per 100 km in the combined cycle versus the standard 2.0’s 6.4 litres per 100 km.
The gains in fuel efficiency are more apparent in the real world than the figures portray, as the hybrid can operate in full EV mode with enough battery charge. Crawling through traffic or climbing up parking lots, in full comforts of air conditioning and stereo no less, uses no fuel at all.
The electric-only mode works at higher speeds too, and is capable of accelerating up to 100 km/h without turning the engine on. Achieving that feat requires a very subdued right foot though, but with enough practice you’ll be gliding on electric power more often than you’re aware of. The maximum range in EV mode is just three full kilometres, but driven sensibly, that’s more that enough to bring substantial fuel savings.
Simply lifting off the throttle while cruising turns off the engine and charges the battery. Gently feeding power, the hybrid system will then try to sustain that speed or even accelerate using just the electric motor. Everything works so seamlessly together that if you’re not paying close attention to the hybrid power display, you’d be completely oblivious to all the hard work it’s doing.
If that doesn’t float your boat, maybe you’ll appreciate the hybrid advantage when you go to overtake a slower vehicle. The mega-magnets assisting the turbo engine will whisk you past more quickly than you can say ‘Michael Faraday’.
It’s not all good news, however. Ironically enough, the single biggest drawback of the A6 hybrid is caused by the very thing that makes it great in the first place – its battery pack. As the A6 was not designed to carry a large battery pack in the first place, the lithium-ion power cells are placed in the boot, forming a large intrusion in the cargo floor.
The available space drops for being near-class leading 530 litres to just 375 litres – and an awkwardly shaped one at that. Mind you, that’s still not as bad as the Infiniti M35h, where the battery more than halves the available boot space.
As it is, the hump on the boot floor deems it completely unusable for plus-size bags or large baby strollers. That’s a big pity as the rest of the A6 is perfectly comfortable for a family of five. On the plus side, drive the A6 Hybrid for long enough and it will teach you and your family the benefits of packing light.
This remarkable entry-level A6 (price-wise, uniquely in Malaysia only) is worthy of a sportier, more performance-appropriate nameplate. But the marketing department decided there is more to gain by pushing the eco-friendly nature of the vehicle.
Why? Because sporty is uncouth and being green is now cool. At least the nomenclature stand out and details the car’s key innovation – its excellent hybrid powertrain which is unique and a rare asset in this price point.
Will all the available performance, the A6 hybrid is the perfect stealthmobile. The only visual cue apart from the discreet lettering on the boot and front fenders is a set of bespoke 18-inch alloy rims which are shod with relatively unassuming tyres (the same Bridgestone Turanzas fitted to the Toyota Camry, in fact).
It’s also unfortunate that the wheel design is directional, by right made to mimic the look of a spinning turbine. They are very aerodynamic and actively cut drag around them, but Audi seems to have forgotten that cars have two opposing sides. The right side of the A6 hybrid is exactly how Audi intended it to look – chic, modern and dynamic. Seen from the other side however, it looks like it’s reversing all the time. At high speed.
The wheels and badges apart, the high performance crackerjack looks as low profile as a humble A6 2.0 TFSI with its paltry 180 hp. Which is part of the fun, because nobody expects a dull German executive sedan to perform like the hybrid does. After all, this wolf in sheep’s clothing accelerates quicker than a BMW 320d and is faster through the gears than a Volkswagen Golf GTI!
Its in-gear pulling power is really something else, which is partly due to the electric motor’s instantaneous power delivery. Allowed to kick down a couple of gears, which you’ll hardly feel anyway, it will match the heart-thumping accelerative ferocity of more overtly sporting vehicles costing far more.
The main strength of the A6 Hybrid lies not with its dynamic flair, which is lacklustre at best, but with its well-honed surefootedness, the amazing degree of mechanical refinement, its speed, efficiency and best of all, an interior that is to die for. From the instrument cluster to the intricately detailed MMI controls, the cabin exudes class that none of its German rivals can match.
The aluminium trim see here is specific to the hybrid variant, as more traditional wood fittings would look out of place in a car that’s supposed to be adored by tree-huggers. A standard fit on the hybrid, the uber cool MMI Touch interface can be slightly clunky to use at first but you’ll soon get the hang of it, even if it’s better positioned for lefties in this right-hand drive configuration.
This upper-crust Audi also marks the return of the A6 as a Q-car – they’ve gone all glitzy and showboaty recently, haven’t they?
It not only looks like an undercover road rocket, but it also keeps its actions, acoustics and attitudes to a bare minimum. Put your foot down in a Mini Cooper S and the whole street will turn around and gape. Corner hard in a BMW 328i and the guy in the oncoming car will almost invariably back off. Rev a Renault Megane RS to the limiter and watch the pavement crackle. Press along in a VW Scirocco R and your passengers’ teeth are likely to rattle in sync with the potholes. You get the drift.
In the A6 hybrid, you will experience not one iota of this. The unassuming Audi simply goes where you point it with as much efficiency and as little drama as possible. There is no tyre squeal during take-off (unless you provoke it), no angry pops during gearchanges, no jarring suspension crunch down the railway crossing, no X-rated intake roar, not even excessive body roll when cornering at full pelt.
Wisecracks wearing bright polo-tees with the collar popped and garish sunglasses indoors may call this car boring but, believe me, they are missing the point. It may not provide the ultimate kick in terms of its fun factor, but when you want to go fast from A to B without attracting attention and without indulging in Senna-esque car control, this potent Audi is a seductive and complete tool.
It doesn’t have the raw driving appeal of the BMW 5-Series, the serenity of the Mercedes E-Class, or even a boot to match much smaller cars. But on the whole it is a commendably competent machine that oozes sophistication and quality inside and out. Not to mention the delicious combination of speed and efficiency.
Factor the price in and it becomes a deserved winner, even with all its flaws. Affordability is relative of course and no, at RM288,000 as tested (fitted with the optional comfort key and reverse camera) it’s not exactly cheap. But then again, it’s an Audi. Not a Volkswagen. The fact is, Audis are never cheap, nor should they be. Not here in Malaysia, and not anywhere else.
Try buying one outside of Malaysia and you’ll be paying A6 3.0 TFSI money for one. Here, taking full advantage of the tax break for hybrids with engines smaller than 2.0 litre, the A6 Hybrid is priced a considerable RM235,000 less than the flagship model (RM515,000 before options), even undercutting the base 2.0 TFSI model by RM65,000.
And that’s despite being far better specced than either of them. The fancy full-LED headlamps, while standard on the A6 hybrid, would cost RM13,000 extra on petrol-only variants. Satellite navigation and MMI Touch are both standard fit on the A6 hybrid only too.
Everything considered, the A6 hybrid is a premium product with suitably premium pricing, but that it undercuts all of its class rivals and even some from the class below makes it an absolute no-brainer for those shopping in this price bracket. Go on then, go check out the car’s boot space. Because that’s the only tangible reason I can think of to not buy the Audi A6 hybrid.
Read our launch report of the Audi A6 Hybrid.