The new A6 gets much sharper lines including a wide grille similar to that on the Prologue concept. Picture: AUDI
The new A6 gets much sharper lines including a wide grille similar to that on the Prologue concept. Picture: AUDI

Audi is sneaking in ahead of the Geneva motor show rush with studio images of what it promises is the sportiest A6 it has ever designed.

Promising more luxury and refinement than ever before, the fifth-generation A6 is about to launch a much-needed attack on BMW’s 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s rampant E-Class limousine.

To be launched in SA in the first quarter of 2019, the A6 will be heavily based on the just-launched A7. Positioned midway between the A7 and the A8 limousine, the A6 will carry over the bulk of the A7’s critically acclaimed interior design, but with a greater focus on luxury than its sportier stablemate.

It will all be packaged into a car that’s longer and wider than before, with a 12mm stretch in the wheelbase, a 13mm lift in rear passenger legroom and a 21mm longer cabin area.

Like its traditional domestic German foes, it’s switching touchscreen operation for its new, larger infotainment system. It’s all based around a new electronic architecture designed to support everything from full Level 3 autonomy to LTE connectivity and car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications. The navigation system’s routes will no longer be calculated by the car, but by a server.

The A6 will bring the A7’s new chassis tricks to the fight, at least on its higher priced, larger engined models. That means three-stage air suspension, active electronically controlled antiroll bars to keep the body flat in hard cornering situations and four-wheel steering. It will also lower the fuel consumption of its petrol-powered engine ranges thanks to a standard 48V mild-hybrid system, which uses a belt-driven starter-generator to both capture otherwise wasted braking energy and provide added urge for the engine when it needs torque most.

The interior is largely from the A7 featuring more touchscreen and more technology. Picture: AUDI
The interior is largely from the A7 featuring more touchscreen and more technology. Picture: AUDI

At the start of its sales life there will only be two engines — one petrol and one diesel — and neither of them feature plug-in hybrid technology. Audi insists the electrically boosted fuel savers are coming, but for now customers will have to make do with mild-hybrid assistance for the turbocharged petrol V6.

In an exact replica of its A7 powertrain strategy, the A6 will begin life as a 55 TFSI, with a 250kW and 500Nm V6 3.0l petrol motor, developed in a joint venture with Porsche. It will be aided by a mild-hybrid that is strong enough to allow the engine to be switched off in low-torque situations between 55km/h and 150km/h for up to 40 seconds. It also allows the A6 to use stop/start from 22km/h right up to the car’s top speed to let the car "sail" to save fuel.

Over in Audi’s troubled diesel division, they’ve delivered the 55 TDI, with 210kW of power and 620Nm of torque. This is problematic on two fronts. First, diesel power is not popular in the halls of power or courtrooms in Germany and, second, Audi still can’t figure out how to deliver this very same diesel engine to its customers (Porsche and Volkswagen) without emissions-cheating engine codes.

There are plans for a cheaper 170kW/500Nm version of this same engine (dubbed 45 TDI), while there’s a 150kW/400Nm four-cylinder 40 TDI coming later. This last A6 is the odd one out, because it will arrive first as a front-wheel drive (though it will have all-wheel drive as a later option).

It’s probably easier to clean up internal combustion emissions if there is less internal combustion, so Audi is likely to show its first A6 plug-in hybrid (and a long-wheelbase layout) in electrification-crazy China during April’s Beijing motor show.

The rear gets even more of an executive look together with trick lighting options. Picture: AUDI
The rear gets even more of an executive look together with trick lighting options. Picture: AUDI

Audi showed its Prologue at the 2015 Los Angeles motor show with no intention of putting it into production, but to give its own designers a baseline to use when they penned the A6, A7 and A8, in particular.

It uses a huge single-framed grille, which is punctuated by lidar, radar and ultrasonic scanners, and is confrontingly similar to the Prologue’s grille.

The visible feature Audi is forcing people to notice is the enormous rear wheelarch blister, which it hopes smells a bit of the original Quattro. Some of its core visual signatures were quite late arriving, particularly its edgy, full-length greenhouse shoulder line that begins at the trailing edge of the headlight and blends in to the OLED taillight.

Audi claims the shoulder line works to reduce the visual height of the car and enlarge the blisters over the rear wheels, but its real job is to make it appear a class bigger than it really is.

It has had its side mirrors moved from the window frames to the door panels, largely to cut down the wind noise.

The S-Line versions will have different styling packages, with far busier front aprons than the standard cars, and they’ll be on sale at launch.

The company admits it more or less lifted the interior straight from the A7, which is no bad thing, really.

That means a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster, a 10.1-inch touchscreen for the multimedia system and a 8.6-inch touchscreen unit for the climate control, which doubles at a writing pad.

The new A8 and A7 and now the A6 all use Audi’s zFAS central computer to cram all of the Level 3 autonomous driving sensor data, including five radars, one LiDar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, five cameras and a night-vision camera and convert it all into action, instantly.

While no country yet allows the car to utilise the self-driving capability it has to its maximum, Audi allows the car to run as a Level 2 car (so the driver is in control, officially) for up to 30 seconds, with the car controlling all braking, steering and accelerating and lane-keeping.

To do this, it doesn’t just rely on data from the car’s sensors (plus steering throttle, braking and accelerometer data), but from the navigation system’s centimetre-accurate mapping data from Here and swarm intelligence via the LTE system.

It has 38 driver assistance systems tucked into the higher-level models, but that changes across three car setup packages a Parking pack, a City pack and a Long-Distance pack.

Local models and specifications still have to be worked out for the South African market but Audi SA says that more details will be available after the new A6 has its international launch around the middle of 2018.