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An Audi-licious encounter

An Audi-licious encounter
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First Published: Tue, Feb 15 2011. 08 48 PM IST

Super saver: The Audi A6 has an ‘efficiency’ setting that allows it to be driven in the most optimal way.
Super saver: The Audi A6 has an ‘efficiency’ setting that allows it to be driven in the most optimal way.
Updated: Tue, Feb 15 2011. 08 48 PM IST
Wouldn’t the Italian mafia have loved the new Audi A6 as a getaway car! The reason for these whimsical thoughts is that I was in Sicily a few days ago, testing Audi’s latest creation. Contrary to popular assumption, it is this segment of premium automobiles that actually outsells the entry premium sedans such as the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, in most markets. This makes the A6 a big deal for Audi and, indeed, for its new strategy for India.
I will come to that new strategy in just a bit. First let me tell you all about the new car. Coming on the heels of the very well-engineered and well kitted out A8, the new A6 is every bit its smaller sibling. The new seventh generation of the A6 is indeed a smaller A8. While that’s usually not a flattering thing to say about any car, the likeness in this case is actually a plus point. Why? Well, because the A8 has established new benchmarks in comfort and luxury, and so the fact that the A6 is designed in that vein is a good thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean you get reclining rear seats. What you do get is a whole truckload of optional and standard equipment.
Super saver: The Audi A6 has an ‘efficiency’ setting that allows it to be driven in the most optimal way.
To be honest, there are a lot of these things I would expect in a car in this segment. And a lot of the gadgetry—despite being relatively new—has people glossing over it already. We’re talking about stuff such as “adaptive cruise control”, which monitors your set speed in relation to other traffic, parking sensors with reverse cameras, LED lighting and head-up display. Some of these are firsts for the A6 as they were not present in the outgoing sixth-generation car. The new A6 aims squarely at the dominance of the latest generations of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the 2010 new-gen BMW 5 Series. So being swankier, sharper and more fully loaded is a given in this competition. The BMW 5 Series maintains its leadership in the arena of performance, sporty dynamic and agility. The E-Class, meanwhile, has a plush and comfortable feel—more suited to the rear-seat car owners. Audi’s “drive select” (introduced in the A4 a couple of years ago) has tried to bridge that gap.
The system allows you to adjust everything from throttle response and gear changes to suspension and steering settings—to give you the kind of ride and handling you want. So if you want sporty performance, you switch to dynamic mode, or stay in comfort mode for the smooth, cushy ride. And then you can individualize the settings or simply leave the function in “auto mode” and let the car decide what settings are optimal for the given road conditions or driving style. But here comes the new bit—the “efficiency” setting allows the car to drive in the most optimal manner to save fuel—right from gear and accelerator response to steering and ride. Now that’s clever, in a world where being green is suddenly “it”!
Other clever stuff includes safety features such as cameras mounted in the front that monitor the road, and help steer the car into your lane if you drive waywardly. Or the night-vision setting that shows any thermal signatures, and alerts you if any pedestrian or animals are in your path on a poorly lit stretch. Also new are the intelligent LED headlamps that sense the driving conditions and automatically provide optimal light—so a further spread for the highway, a broader sweep of light (even on the sides) for an intersection, and a low beam for city driving. These can be controlled even more effectively through the car’s navigation system that runs on Google Maps, so the car literally knows where you are and throws light accordingly.
All of this means that the reliance on technology is mind-boggling. Thankfully, despite that it’s the sheer driving that one can still appreciate. And with the new A6 that part too is satisfactory. I drove the 3-litre diesel engine extensively along Sicily’s winding roads and undulating countryside and this, along with the 2-litre diesel, as well as the 2.8- and 3-litre petrol variants, will make it to India. We’re talking ample power and torque at hand, as well as the option of Audi’s Quattro system, or all-wheel drive. Prices should stay close to the rivals, so expect variants from Rs 35-55 lakh.
A quick word on the strategy now—Audi knows that while it’s got the SUV end of the premium car market cornered with the A7 and A5, the sedans have been lagging behind. That is why Audi has started the year with the new A8, aiming at the market top down. The A7 sportback coupe will be the next launch around May, and then the A6 will drive in around the festive season. The good news for buyers will be that through this Audi-cious assault, the competition will not be sitting idle, so expect some fireworks and firepower from the other two German car makers, and possibly even Jaguar.
I want to end with a little surprise—the fact that India could also very well get the powerful and sporty RS5 from Audi, currently under feasibility study for India. This is the racy, sports-car version of the A5 coupe, and with its 440 bhp of power, it could shake things up by offering sports car dynamics and yet a sedan-like silhouette (as also a not-so-generous rear seat for the children, unlike other two-seaters). Hopefully, the car will be priced competitively vis-à-vis cars such as the BMW M3 and Jaguar XFR—which is relative since we are still talking anywhere from Rs 75-85 lakh. The car drives very well, courtesy the 4.2-litre FSI V8 engine and seven-speed, S-tronic gearbox, and sounds every bit the sports car too! The retractable rear spoiler adds to the sporty and cool quotient.
Phew! So that’s quite a lot of metal covered. As I said, Audi’s game changers will mean further competition and more fun in the premium car space. But given recent launches such as the BMW X1, and aggressive plans for further lowering the price threshold in the premium space, Audi will also have to concentrate on that end of the market sooner than later, so that it doesn’t lag in the volumes game while holding up the technology flag.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Feb 15 2011. 08 48 PM IST