Audi A6 TDI — Diesel taken to a new level

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Audi's reputation for building some of the most desirable cars in the world continues to grow with stylish remakes of mid-sized vehicles that stand out with automotive sophistication, delightful interiors and impeccable driving demeanors. And now the A6 for 2014 with a new fuel-efficient 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission makes it even better.

The A6 TDI is as sophisticated as any mid-sized we've encountered. With 240 horsepower and a prodigious 428 pound-feet of torque available, the engine is powerful and responsive, clocked from 0-to-60 in a scant 5.5 seconds. Mileage is exemplary rated at 24 mpg city, 38 highway and 29 combined. We averaged 35 mpg — not bad for a couple of heavy footers. And the new engine is almost totally devoid of the smells and sounds normally associated with diesel engines of the past.

Diesel engines help automakers meet the new federal fuel-economy standards because they generally use about 30 percent less fuel than a similar-size gas engine. And in the case of Audi, the new V-6 presents the customer with an attractive alternative. But there are some downsides to a diesel. Audi is asking a $2,400 price premium for the engine and it's only offered in the top two trim levels. And diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline, usually costing a few cents more per gallon than premium because of state and federal taxes.

As intriguing as the diesel sounds, if you find yourself not quite ready to make the move, Audi has two gas engines that are solid choices. The base engine is the award-winning 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission. This configuration yields excellent fuel economy of 25 mpg city and 33 mpg on the highway. The 2.0-liter can also be purchased in quattro (all-wheel drive) with an eight-speed automatic. The other option is a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It is fast (0-to-60 in 5.2 seconds) and fuel efficient at 18/27.

We found the diesel amenable in all types of driving situations with excellent road manners. We discovered that the steering effort level increased at higher speeds and in rural-road twists and turns giving the A6 pleasing handling. The ride proved smooth in most conditions with some harshness over the more severe road imperfections.

Interior space is generous especially benefiting rear-seat passengers who have stretch-out leg room. Up front, we found the Audi seats extremely comfortable, and reaching the correct driving position easy.

It's amazing how far German engineering has come since the first joystick-controlled switchgear came on the scene more than a decade ago. While the Audi is feature intensive, it is relatively simple to comprehend. Audi's latest MMI Plus Interface has one of the industry's most unique features, an eight-inch screen that raises from the dashboard — canted toward the driver — when the ignition is switched on. It consolidates audio, navigation and telephone functions in an extremely easy-to-read display. A highlight of the navigation system is a new feature with Google earth mapping. Also new is optional in-car Wi-Fi.

The center console controller is intuitive, and while a perusal of the owner's manual is always recommended one can handily catch on to the basic audio and climate controls without consultation with the book.

There are six trim levels starting at $43,995 including destination. The standard equipment list is long and comprehensive including Audi Drive Select (adjustable modes for steering, throttle and transmission response), sunroof, triple-zone climate control, heated front seats with eight-way power, leather upholstery, the MMI electronics interface with a 6.5-inch display, and a 10-speaker sound system with satellite radio. Our test car's optional Bose surround sound audio system is one of the best in the business and was enjoyed every time we cranked up the car.

The TDI Premium Plus trim starts at $58,395 (including the $2,400 noted above). Be advised that even at this trim level with a plethora of standard features, options are numerous and can send the bottom line surging toward $70,000. Our test vehicle carried a bottom line of $67,295 with such options as Driver's Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control, active lane assist and top view camera), and the Prestige Package (including the Bose system plus four-zone climate control, and numerous other features).

The Audi A6 is a solid choice when shopping for a luxury mid-sized sedan, and the addition of a world-class diesel engine makes the roomy sedan an even more intriguing vehicle.

Base price: $58,395; as driven, $67,295
Engine: 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel
Horsepower: 240 @ 3,500 rpm
Torque: 428 foot-pounds @ 1,750 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 114.7 inches
Length: 193.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,178 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: NA (diesel)
EPA rating: 38 highway, 24 city
0-60: 5.5 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Mercedes E-Class Diesel, BMW 5-Series Diesel, Lexus GS450h

The Good
• Powerful, fuel-efficient diesel engine
• Classy interior
• Sporty handling

The Bad
• Diesel upgrade: $2,400

The Ugly
• High cost of diesel fuel