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Against seemingly unfavourable odds — given the rise of a certain Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid and its tax-free status, and the all-conquering BMW 5 SeriesAudi Malaysia took up a bold and opposing stance against the obvious local favourites when it launched its latest iteration of the fourth-gen Audi A6.

The facelifted C7 was first revealed to the world in September 2014, and arrived on our shores just last August (2015) as a fully-imported (CBU) unit from Neckarsulm, Germany.

Two local variants of the A6 were made available from launch: the base-spec 1.8 TFSI and a more potent and equipment-heavy 3.0 TFSI quattro. The example we’ve been out and reviewing is the more approachable 1.8 TFSI variant, which retails at RM324,900 (OTR, without insurance).

Bear in mind, though, that this particular unit is equipped with the RM23k optional “Tech Pack” upgrade, which introduces a set of 18-inch alloy wheels (17-inch is standard), mid-line LED headlamps (up from the base bi-xenons, one level below the Matrix LEDs – another RM10k extra), MMI navigation plus with MMI touch system, Audi connect in-car WiFi connectivity, a reverse camera, and two additional airbags (rear sides) that bring the total count to eight. The full price of what you see here amounts to RM347,900.

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It’s still a very tempting proposition, considering that the comparable BMW 520i will set you back RM367,800, while the diesel 520d starts from RM354,800. The Mercedes-Benz E 200 slices the two, asking RM364,888. The A6 1.8 TFSI also faces stiff competition in the form of the tax-free E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid, which retails at RM338,888.

The updated A6 here offers subtle revisions, more so on the exterior rather than its interior. Particularly, you’ll notice a new Singleframe front grille, redesigned front bumper, thinner headlamps, new LED tail light graphics and reprofiled rear bumper, all topped-off with a very pretty set of 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels, wrapped in 245/45R18 Bridgestone Turanza rubbers. Without the optional Tech Pack, you get 17-inch 10-spoke alloys wrapped in 225/55 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres.

Arguably, you could say that the exterior changes adopted here don’t bring too much new to the table at first glance, and it’s a shame that the cooler and more advanced optional Matrix LEDs have been given a miss on our review unit. The E-Class and 5 Series get away with full LEDs at no extra cost.

Either way, this writer does maintain a fancy for the A6’s subtle styling revisions, which certainly keep the car fresh enough for contention against the latest round of facelifts introduced on its key German competitors. It also reinvigorates the executive sedan with a look on par with trends sported by Audi’s latest models, such as the new A4, TT and Q7.

You could argue that a more considerable effort was made when Mercedes-Benz treated its current W212 E-Class to a facelift, swapping the entire front end of the car for a new look. BMW’s F10 5er LCI on the other hand, probably adopted fewer changes to itself, less so than what has been implemented on the A6 here.

Inside, the cabin has been left largely untouched by the facelift’s doing, continuing a fine presentation of Audi sophistication and elegance through its standard-fit Milano leather seats, four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, an electrically-retractable 6.5-inch MMI display screen and splashes of aluminium accents over basic black upholstery.

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No different to what other markets around the globe get, it’s still a shame that the A6 missed the boat on the new Audi Virtual Cockpit instrument display screen like we’ve seen in the new A4 and local-market TT.

The car does make somewhat up for it with a partially-digital instrument cluster, featuring a seven-inch Driver Information System (DIS) positioned between the two analogue dials. A range of displays are possible here (as you’ll notice in the gallery below), from navigation and audio views, to trip computer readouts.

Having navigational displays in the instrument panel is always a bonus, keeping your head directed straight ahead, and eyes pointing where they need to be. In comparison, BMW’s F10 520i has a full LCD instrument panel, while the W212 E-Class range gets traditional dials, with a multi-info display screen in the centre.

The rest of the cabin is very much identical to that of its predecessor, save for the new gear lever design. Speaking of which, the A6 remains the sole German executive sedan to maintain a traditional mechanical lever – the E-Class has a Direct Select lever on the steering column, while the 5 Series has long changed to a joystick-like gear selector.

In combination, and just as the pre-facelift model, the interior appointments leave the A6 with an intellectual and ergonomic charm. The control buttons on the steering wheel are nicely positioned, and the wheel itself feels thick and firm to grip.

The dash isn’t leather-covered like it is in the E-Class, finished in a soft-touch material instead, retracting a little bit from the premium quality and feel. The switchgear is a clear attempt at wanting to maintain a minimalist yet functional approach, and is certainly presentable. The A6 also has Audi’s unique button “click” feel, which is a hit or miss for many. This writer doesn’t quite fancy the lacking depth of the clicks, like typically available in most premium sedans.

Elsewhere, it’s all naturally impressive stuff. It’s only until you look lower towards the centre console that things start to get a bit ergonomically hairy.

Personally, while it’s understood that Audi has a tendency to place their engine start buttons further away from the steering wheel and closer to the front passenger than it is to the driver, this writer would prefer it positioned more conventionally — away too from a passenger’s potentially misplaced fingers. On top of the obvious insecurities, it’s also an unusual stretch every time you to start the engine or switch it off again.

The MMI infotainment system has sharp graphics with nicely saturated colours that are easy on the eyes. Unfortunately, the operating logic isn’t the most intuitive to use – it’ll take some time for drivers to acclimatise themselves to the four-corner, four-button shortcuts, unlike the benchmark BMW iDrive system with its simpler up-down, forwards-backwards menu scrolling logic. In all fairness, Audi has reworked the system, and you’ll see a revised, simpler, two-button layout featured in the coming A4.

Bar the tall transmission tunnel that’s certain to get in the way of a fifth adult passenger’s leg room, rear occupants are otherwise treated to ample head, shoulder and legroom (for two adults on each end of the seat bench). There’s also a dedicated two-way automatic air-conditioning system in the back, with a total of four air vents – two on the centre tunnel, two on the B-pillars. It has to be said that the A6 looks to us like it’s better off for rear spaciousness when compared to the W212 E-Class and F10 BMW 5 Series.

While there is enough room up front for a passenger to sit cosily for an hour or so, drivers, especially those of a similar stature to my six-feet-tall, generously wide self, may find it a bit unsettling over a long haul.

There isn’t enough lateral support from the driver’s seat to keep you firmly in one place should you attempt a few brisk corners in the A6. The flat and firm cushioning makes it difficult to find a sweet spot for your back and bottom. The firm cushioning is extended to the rest of the padded areas such as the arm and headrests. While you may not notice it at first, the stiff padding can take a toll on your overall driving experience, leaving you fatigued and restless far sooner than you’d think.

Quite the opposite, we recall that while the Mercedes-Benz E-Class may not offer the most spaciously satisfying experience, its cushioning was spot on. The BMW 5 Series on the other hand didn’t do too poorly for space itself, but the seats were far more impressively sculpted.

Behind the wheel and with our foot on the throttle now, and we quickly noticed that the 1.8 TFSI, while offering 10 hp more than the pre-facelift 2.0 TFSI variant it replaced here, still isn’t as punchy as we’d hoped. On paper, the four-pot turbo is rated at 190 hp at 4,200 to 6,200 rpm, and 320 Nm of torque from as low as 1,400 rpm, sustained all the way to 4,100 rpm.

Out with the 2.0 TFSI that used to be, followed the eight-speed multitronic CVT transmission. The new base variant’s 1.8 litre engine gets paired with a fast-shifting seven-speed wet dual-clutch S tronic automatic transmission. Audi claims that translates to a 0-100 km/h time of 7.9 seconds, en route to a top speed of 233 km/h.

In reality, the power doesn’t feel as flattering as it’s listed to be, and its delivery isn’t as refined as its key German rivals. You can urge more out of the car’s performance by selecting the ‘Dynamic’ mode on the Audi Drive Select system, but that only yielded harsher gear shifts and a further unrefined throttle response.

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Should more power be something you want, Mercedes-Benz and BMW offer the RM403,888 E 250 Avantgarde and RM417,800 528i M Sport variants as optional step ups, while the only other option for the Audi is its 3.0 TFSI quattro variant, which is estimated to be priced just under RM500k. Pity that Audi Malaysia doesn’t offer the mid-range 2.0 TFSI variant here, which pushes 252 hp and 370 Nm of torque – dominating the E 250’s 211 hp/350 Nm, and the 528i’s 245 hp/350 Nm.

Back to the class’ base models, Mercedes-Benz has the art of refined power delivery honed to exemplary standards, while the BMW is renowned for offering the best of both worlds thanks to its fantastic Driving Experience Control function and adaptive suspension. For example, when you do floor the throttle in any of the E-Class’ petrol-powered variants, there’s a calm yet aggressive sensation of swelling away with speed, rather than a “bitey” jerk and an unruly drop shift that you’d experience in the A6.

Audi claims that the A6 1.8 TFSI is good for an average fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres per 100 km based on the unrealistic NEDC test cycle. Little surprise then, that we managed real-world averages of between 8.9 and 11.4 l/100 km over mix routes that included stretches of highway and traffic crawls.

Once you do acclimatise yourself with the throttle and transmission’s habits and start to explore a few bends, the front-wheel drive A6 reveals a very composed chassis, though the steering feel isn’t as sharp as is the business on a 5 Series.

Without pushing the car near any track-like limits, it’s hard for us to tell just how the chassis stacks up against the pace-setting BMW. There are, however, underlying hints even at lower speeds that the 5er would have this challenge in the bag – the BMW is also the only car in the class with fully adaptive suspension (even from the base 520d variant) mind you.

The 245/45 Bridgestone Turanza rubbers do offer lots of grip. Keep in mind, though, that the A6 1.8 TFSI isn’t quattro-equipped, making it the only front-wheel driven car next to its rear-wheel drive German rivals.

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On long stretches of a highway, the A6 is nicely sprung to keep comfort levels at a high. There is a considerable amount of tyre roar that seeps into the cabin from gaps in the underbody’s insulation, but surrounding noises are very well kept outside.

At lower speeds, driving in more urban territories, terribly uneven Malaysian roads do little to complement the car’s otherwise decent damping. There is a certain harshness with the A6 that leaves a lot to be desired, especially against the 5 Series, which, thanks to its adaptive suspension, has its ride comfort sorted out to another level.

In any case, while the the RM324,900 A6 1.8 TFSI does leave some things to be desired in terms of overall refinement, it is undoubtedly one of the sharpest-looking premium executive sedans in the market, and is, however you look at it, the most affordable of the lot. After all, even with the optional Tech Pack, you’d still walk away with paying a lower price than the two directly comparable Germans.

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Is it the cream of the German crop available here? Well, it’s impressive how well Audi Malaysia has managed to keep the A6’s price low, without sacrificing many gains. On the other hand, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have tried and tested alternatives that make very solid cases for themselves.

To ultimately say one is better than the better isn’t something this writer would boldly attempt. The E-Class is probably the one I’d bet on to provide an unprovocative, underwhelming and understated drive – and there’s absolutely no harm in the dependability of that. The 5 Series on the other hand, presents itself as quite the opposite: dynamic prowess, the benchmark performer, and a heritage of thrills.

The rejuvenated A6 – Tech Pack included – certainly makes a solid case for itself with sharp looks, excellent features, and the lowest price point of the three German rivals, among other points. Surprisingly, picking against the A6 today is a lot harder than initially seemed.