The ancient Mercedes-Benz 300SD puffing along in the right lane of the freeway, belching smoke, cruising sedately at the posted speed limit, perfectly underscored why my 2014 Audi A6 3.0 TDI test car had large “Clean Diesel TDI” lettering emblazoned upon its front doors. Diesel is different today.
Back in the 1980s, when the smoking but durable Benz was built, and when General Motors produced horribly inept diesel-powered V-6 and V-8 engines that turned an entire generation of car buyers off to the technology, diesel engines were smelly, smoky, clattering weaklings. Today’s diesel engines meet strict emissions regulations, even those in the ultra-green state of California, and they’ve got impressive power. The key to appreciating a diesel engine beyond fuel economy numbers, though, is to understand why torque is just is as important as horsepower to your daily driving.
Most people focus on horsepower as a measure of potential performance, but torque is what you feel from behind the wheel when you’re accelerating, and is a significant contributor to that sense of gathering momentum and thrust when you mash the accelerator. Those old diesel V-8 engines installed in Cadillacs and Mercedes-Benzes struggled to make 200 pound-feet of the stuff, and their horsepower ratings didn’t help, hovering right around the 120-hp mark.
This Audi? It’s cranking double the amount of horsepower and torque through all four of the A6’s wheels, and gets to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds while returning an EPA-estimated 29 mpg in combined driving. Sound good? Keep reading.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: About Our Test Car
A new model for 2014, the A6 3.0 TDI starts at $58,395, including a destination charge of $895. That represents a premium of $10,100 over the A6 2.0 TFSI model, and a surcharge of $2,400 over the A6 3.0 TFSI model.
Premium Plus trim is standard for the TDI, and my test car added Prestige equipment for an extra $2,800. That cash buys a remarkably long list of worthy upgrades, including adaptive Xenon Plus headlights, LED running lights, a blind-spot warning system, Audi Pre-Sense Rear technology, power folding side mirrors, and an S-line exterior appearance upgrade. Inside, the A6 3.0 TDI Prestige is equipped with perforated leather upholstery, a 14-speaker surround sound audio system, 4-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and 12-way power front seats with heat, ventilation, and 4-way power lumbar adjustment.
Metallic paint is an option, but my test car had Ibis White paint, which costs nothing extra. This particular A6 3.0 TDI’s black perforated leather and Fine Grain Ash natural wood inlays wouldn’t vacuum extra cash from a wallet, either. The ultra-cool Black Optic Package ($2,800) added a 3-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles, a sport suspension, a blacked-out grille, body-color side mirrors, and beautiful 5-arm, rotor-style, 20-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 255/35 Pirelli Pzero performance tires.
To this, my test car added a Driver Assistance Package containing active lane assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, a top- and corner-view camera system, and Audi Pre-Sense Plus technology. The grand total came to $66,795.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Styling and Design
The funny thing about Audis is that they look and feel like they really ought to cost more than what the window sticker says, and in almost every measure, my A6 3.0 TDI test car met that expectation.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you the A6 is a great looking car, easily the most appealing of Audi’s current crop of sedans, and especially with the S-line treatment and the Black Optic Package. There’s nothing overt or outlandish about an A6, which might lead some to call it boring or dull, but despite its clean, balanced, and understated design it stands apart from other midsize luxury sedans on the strength of its relative rarity and unmistakable cues such as the single-frame grille, appealing wheel selections, and signature tapering roofline and greenhouse.
Where the A6 really impresses is inside the cabin. The interior is a study in elegance, exhibiting subdued tones and textures with just the right amount of ornamentation to provide a definitive sense of luxury. The matte-finish Fine Grain Ash natural wood inlay trim inside of my test car wouldn’t be my first choice, as I prefer the available brushed aluminum trim, but it looked absolutely terrific. From my perspective, the only displeasing element is the plastic used for the front seat-base trim. It looks like it came out of a 2005 Chevy Cobalt.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Comfort and Cargo
Once you’re seated behind the A6 3.0 TDI’s steering wheel, you can’t see the plastic on the seat bases, so it is easily forgotten. My test car’s 12-way power front seats provided exceptional comfort, assisted by a center console armrest that adjusts for height to accommodate drivers of different sizes who have varying seat position preferences. Included in the Black Optic package, the 3-spoke steering wheel is a genuine joy to hold, and offers useful places to grip the rim at the 10-and-2, 9-and-3, and 8-and-4 positions.
If you can avoid it, don’t climb into the A6’s rear seat, especially if you’re tall and lanky. The problem isn’t legroom or foot room; the A6 supplies plenty of both. Rather, the rear seat cushion is mounted too low, and doesn’t provide enough thigh support. As a result, I sat splay-legged in the car, which is disappointing considering how well-suited the A6 3.0 TDI is to long-distance travel, and also in light of Audi’s thoughtful inclusion of a 4-zone climate control system in Prestige models.
Most of my time with the car, little kids were riding in the back, and they were happy. Parents of pre-kindergarteners will be pleased to know that it is exceptionally easy to install a forward-facing child safety seat thanks to easily accessible LATCH anchors. I also had no trouble tightening the straps to virtually eliminate safety seat movement.
Here’s another unexpected disappointment with the A6: The trunk is on the small side at 14.1 cu.-ft. Pop the trunk using the remote, and it swings all the way open, exposing a cube-shaped cargo area equipped with a large ski pass-through and 60/40-split folding rear seat.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Features and Controls
I’m torn when it comes to Audi’s control layout. On the one hand, it is artfully arranged, and with acclimation is easy to use. The gauges, the center information display, and the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) display screen provide crisp, clear, visually appealing graphics, and the available Google Maps overlay for the navigation system is remarkably helpful for understanding local topography and placing the vehicle in unfamiliar surroundings.
On the other hand, it makes no sense for Audi to put the MMI controls on the center console between the shifter and the cupholders. As is true of almost anything, with acclimation you learn where everything is located and you eventually stop looking down and away from the road to find the proper button to call up the navigation menu, or the radio menu, or the phone menu. But until that time arrives, this approach represents a dangerous, and unnecessary, distraction.
In a recent review of the Audi A3, I didn’t complain much about MMI. That’s because the A3’s dashboard doesn’t have any unused real estate, so placing the MMI controls on the center console makes more sense. Plus, that car has a simpler, next-generation MMI design, and the cupholders are located nowhere near the MMI controls.
In the A6, though, the cupholders are right next to the MMI controls. Spill anything sticky, and you’ll regret it for a long time. Audi could move the MMI controls if it wanted to, relocating them right above the climate controls on the dashboard where a big, blank panel currently resides. That panel opens to reveal two SD card slots and a SIM card slot, features largely unused by the driver. My recommendation to Audi would be to put the primary MMI controls here, where the driver can reference them while keeping traffic in their peripheral vision.
Here’s another problem. I’ve got a fairly new iPhone, and I wanted to plug it in to a USB port to charge it while driving. I could not find a USB port in this nearly $70,000 automobile. There are dual SD card slots. There is an Audi Music Interface cable in the center console, one that’s incompatible with my phone. But no USB port, as far as I can determine.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Safety Matters
Because the A6 3.0 TDI includes Premium Plus trim as standard equipment, the car has a reversing camera as well as front and rear parking sensors. Rear side-impact airbags are optional, bringing the total count to 10, along with a blind spot information system and Audi’s Pre-Sense Rear technology, which prepares the A6 and its occupants for a potential rear-impact collision by closing the windows, shutting the sunroof, tightening the seat belts, and in some models repositioning the seats for improved protection against injury.
Prestige models include the blind spot information and Pre-Sense Rear systems, and are exclusively available with night vision technology that includes pedestrian detection capability. Audi’s active lane assist system, which encourages a driver to remain within his or her lane of travel, is also offered for the A6 Prestige, as well as Pre-Sense Plus technology, which identifies potential for a collision and can actively brake the car in order to reduce vehicle speed prior to impact.
If you can’t avoid a collision, know that the A6 receives the highest possible crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), turning in a 5-star performance in every single assessment including the rollover resistance test. It doesn’t get better than that.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is impressed, too, giving the A6 a “Top Safety Pick” rating combined with an “Advanced” front crash prevention rating when Pre-Sense Plus is installed in the car. However, note that the IIHS has not tested the A6 in the small overlap frontal-impact evaluation as this review is written, making the car ineligible for a “Top Safety Pick+” rating.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Driving Impressions
Test-driving day was perfect for an Audi equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive. A blanket of low clouds hugged the California coastline, reducing visibility and dampening the roads on my usual test loop. That meant taking extra care, of course, but it also showcased several of this A6 model’s many dynamic strengths.
Before we get to details of the drive, let’s talk about the A6 3.0 TDI’s engine. As indicated by its alphanumeric name, this car is packing a 3.0-liter, turbo-diesel V-6 that generates 240 horsepower from 3,500 rpm to 3,750 rpm, and 428 lb.-ft. torque from 1,750 rpm to 2,250 rpm.
An 8-speed automatic transmission manages the power, feeding it to all four wheels through a standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system with a rear-biased power split. An automatic stop-start system is also on-board, helping to conserve fuel, and Audi pays for the car’s first scheduled maintenance visit to the dealership.
According to the EPA, the A6 3.0 TDI is rated to get 24 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 29.8 mpg over the course of a 225-mile test drive, with an average speed of 36 mph, so those estimates appear to be relatively accurate.
There’s one other thing you should know about this version of the A6. Audi says it will accelerate to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. That’s only one second slower than the performance-tuned S6 model, and is almost as quick as the A6 3.0 TFSI model with its supercharged V-6. So, umm, yeah, in terms of performance, there’s not much downside to getting the diesel.
Starting off in suburbia and a drive-thru line to get a cup of coffee, the A6 proved easy to maneuver in cramped quarters. Despite the sizable, and quite attractive, 20-inch wheels, the A6 could also be whipped into parking spaces with ease thanks to its tight turning radius.
Around town, and especially on granulated pavement, road noise was more evident than I expected, but I chalk that up to the performance rubber on my test car. The brakes, too, were loud, grumbling as the car came to a stop, but they could have been worn as my tester had almost 12,000 miles showing on the odometer.
There’s a reason for the giant “Clean Diesel TDI” stickers on my test car’s front doors. Audi wants people to notice how quick this car is, and journalists driving it are quickly addicted to its effortless surge of low-rpm power, masterfully put to the pavement by a Quattro system that allows zero wheelspin and produces no torque steer.
It takes just a moment for the engine to rev high enough to deliver maximum torque, and then all 428 lb.-ft. of twist thrusts the A6 forward like Columbia’s James Rodriguez just whacked the back of the car with an instep kick. As a result, one of my favorite things to do with this A6 was to turn right into small opportunities in traffic, the car almost instantly matching the pace of urban and suburban commuter flow.
When gaining revs and velocity, such as when accelerating to get on a freeway, the car feels less energetic, but still powerful. Cruise at 80 mph and the A6 3.0 TDI is effectively napping, and while Audi governs the TDI to a top speed of 130 mph, the A6 is certainly capable of more than that.
In any case, the slippery 0.28 coefficient of drag keeps wind noise to a minimum, leaving road noise the primary source of aural annoyance. Turn on the Bose surround sound audio system to eliminate that bother, though if you’re a true audiophile I would strongly urge you to spend the $5,900 for the Prestige model’s optional Bang & Olufsen audio system. It is so worth it, especially when you’re already dropping 60 grand on a new set of wheels.
Enthusiast drivers need not worry about whether or not the A6 3.0 TDI can tackle a twisty road. This car is enormously capable, effortlessly climbing from sea level to nearly 2,000 feet of elevation, and I already know that an A6 with Quattro, a sport suspension, and 20-inch wheels and tires can eagerly devour 2-lane blacktop, feeling utterly secure and confident every step of the way.
Admittedly, this time around I needed to proceed with greater caution. The thick cloud deck prevented me from attaining my usual velocities or exploring adhesive properties, but the A6 nevertheless cut a swift path through the murk, exhibiting exceptional grace every step of the way, in the process demonstrating exactly why it is an excellent 4-season luxury sport sedan. Even with the turbo-diesel engine.
2014 Audi A6 TDI: Final Thoughts
Despite a few cabin warts, I adore the Audi A6, and this test of the 3.0 TDI convinced me that there’s no downside to buying the turbo-diesel. Sure, it costs an extra $2,400 up front, but if you drive 15,000 miles annually you’ll consume 164 fewer gallons of gas every year. Translated, you’ll recoup that price premium in less than four years, saving more than $650 annually thereafter.
And if you pile on lots of highway miles, you’ll get to that savings point sooner rather than later.
Audi provided the 2014 A6 3.0 TDI for this review
2014 Audi A6 3.0 TDI photos by Christian Wardlaw