ALAN CANDY’S ROAD TEST: New lightweight champ - the Audi A6

AUDI launches its latest assault on the mid-sized executive market in the UK with the stunning A6 saloon.

With its low-slung appearance and sweeping back window, the A6 is elegant and refined, while adhering to Audi’s honourable history of understatement that chimes so well with its owners.

And beauty isn’t just skin deep. The new A6 is the lightest car in its class, thanks to wider use of aluminium and steel hybrid construction. And although it is 12mm shorter overall than the outgoing car, better packaging provides passengers with more leg, shoulder and headroom.

For those with a decent budget and looking at performance matched to economy, the model I have been driving is well worth a look at.

The A6 3.0 TDI quattro S line S tronic (£41,450) zips smoothly to 62mph in a very rapid 6.1 seconds, with a limited 155mph top speed. Yet its turbocharged V6 diesel engine still returns 47.1mpg, which is pretty impressive for a car of this size.

Despite its imposing length, the A6 is very much a driver’s car, which is its key attraction for me.

That and that fact that it boasts the best driving position of any luxury car I have tested this year and is equipped with fabulously comfortable seats.

The view of the whole wide expanse of elegant bonnet makes the whole business of pointing and aiming the car that much more involving and easy to accurately judge and has been largely made possible by the slim, low-level dashboard.

The S line rides 30mm lower than a standard SE-spec car, which effectively pins the car to the road for strong adhesion, aided by the legendary quattro experience.

Fitted with the S-Tronic twin clutch gearbox, the test car swaps ratios with dizzying speed, always hunting for the most economic gear for the situation, yet the whole operation is almost inaudible to occupants.

There’s virtually no impression of diesel noise, either, as Audi has made such a good job of engine insulation. Wind noise is almost non existent because of the car’s low drag co-efficient of just 0.26, but there is noticeable tyre noise which picks up drumming over all sorts of road surfaces.

Even by Audi’s own high standards, build and interior quality reaches new heights of excellence in the A6.

The cabin is built to last the test of time, yet materials are tactile and fit and finish is superb.

Crystal clear main dials in the curvy, stylish dash have neon-sharp brightness with essential digital info also displayed – the centre console houses a large amount off controls, with auto lever, handbrake tab, stop-start button, radio and information controls all operated by the driver’s left hand. Not all of it is logical, though – siting of the start-stop button and on-off/volume control button over the passenger side of the car has a strong whiff of an original left-hand drive design set-up.

The super-smooth big V6 engine is deceptively quick, with lightning early pick-up while the versatile gearbox set-up offers the choice or fully auto, sequential changes for more control or the racing car-style paddle shifts behind the steering wheel rim.

The stop-start arrangement for traffic halts is barely noticeable in operation and does its bit for extra economy. Powering through the country lanes is a highly pleasurable experience in the big A6, which belies its size with a nimble, light feel and surprisingly tight turning circle.

Highest praise is also due for the ultra-comfortable, high-backed

all leather sports seats, featuring

large, wide cushions, all-electric adjustment for the ultimate driving position and generous side wings to hold you comfortably through the bends.

For those who need the luggage capacity for the travelling executive, the A6 doesn’t disappoint, with a vast storage are in the boot which tunnels a long way into the car. Full width and tie-down hooks make the most of the available space and how it is used and there’s the extra security of a lip at the end of the luggage floor to help keep everything on board.

The A6 looks the part, excels as a driver’s car and its new levels of sophistication gives it a fresh edge that executives are looking for with the ultimate executive saloon in this class.