Wednesday 26 October 2016

Why Audi A6 estate raises tough questions

Can estates compete with crossovers

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

Audi A6 Estate - the best there is in its size.
Audi A6 Estate - the best there is in its size.

Driving this estate version of the Audi A6 raised a few tough questions and comparisons. Call me a sentimental old fool but I've always felt there was something 'terribly nice' about a big, spacious luxury estate.

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Yet we have to face the reality that the genre may well be an endangered species.

That's because there's a tidal wave of crossovers and SUVs threatening to sweep them away with their multi-faceted ability to be all things to all men and women.

Even within the Avant's cosseted leather cabin there was no escaping the brutal fact that every bit of market research and expert calculation I've read, or had explained to me, foretells of more wondrous shapes and sizes of crossovers that will leave your traditional saloon or estate in their trails.

Not alone that but, hand-in-hand with it will be such an unprecedented proliferation of options and 'personalisation' that few cars will be exactly the same any more.

I've seen it already in options lists bursting at the seams with bits and bobs to make cars, tiny and large, more individually 'yours'.

What chance has your estate against all that?

Well, I don't think all is lost quite yet. For a start, it mightn't be able to change its shape with ease but it sure can still pack in the options. And boy did the Avant have a list of them.

Pride of place for me was the head-up display (as part of a Tech Pack). I think these devices should be made compulsory. Indeed, I was surprised it was among the options on such an executive motor.

With it, you never have to take your eyes off the road because the key information you normally find on your dash (speed, fuel consumption etc) are there in your line of sight.

I would certainly pay to have head-up if I were buying a new car.

That will never happen but it got me asking if I would buy an estate or SUV/crossover in the unlikely event of being able to afford one.

The Audi A6 I tested was big, long, roomy and extremely comfortable; the sort of comfort that does, and should, come with a €60,000-plus price tag.

But I could just as easily make an argument for choosing a crossover against it. So I'd dither.

But there are others who wouldn't. The one factor all the gurus have overlooked is that there are people who truly like estates and the flexible practicality they bring to their everyday and lifestyles.

They would point, for example, to the amount of luggage/lifestyle gear this could haul in its monstrous cargo area.

And I did have a fine 190bhp diesel under the bonnet with strength and pulling power. I reckon I could have enjoyed a 1,000km stint on a tank of diesel at my ease. I can't emphasise enough how comfortable and cosy it could be.

Yet it didn't light up my driving; didn't give me a special reason to say I'd opt for it over a SUV.

More clinically, it didn't give me reason to say I'd have it over its key competitor, the BMW 5-series Touring.

The latter, when last I drove it, had me feeling I could enjoy its edgier drive and chassis and that lower-centre-of-gravity energy you don't get from a crossover or SUV.

Such are the fine margins when you talk cars of any sort these days.

By the same token, the A6 undoubtedly has the better cabin of the two - indeed of many SUVs I've driven too - in terms of layout, design and ease of use of switches and interfaces.

As of now it is the best there is in this size of motor, though I think its reign will be threatened when Mercedes bring in their new E-Class estate in September.

The A6 did serve to do one thing in particular. In putting a small focus on a potentially endangered species, it highlighted how different a journey you can take in one. I'm not saying it was wonderful or fulfilling. I don't remember extolling any outstanding virtue other than its room, engine and comfortable practicality.

But it was sufficiently different from your crossover for me to see, again, why some people I know wouldn't consider anything else.

Based on all the evidence, most people given the option of spending €60,000 on a crossover or estate, would opt for the former.

That's the reality of a world going crazy on crossovers.

But like vinyl records, I have a sneaky feeling there will always be people who like to stick with the originals.

Facts & figures

Audi A6 Avant 2-litre TDi 190 S Line quattro S-Tronic auto; 5.1 litr/100kmh, 132/km €280 road tax.

Prices start at €48,350 (SE, 190bhp). On test: €64,244.

Spec includes: cruise, climate control; front/rear acoustic park assist, foglights, light/rain sensors, S Line suspension, Bluetooth, Drive Select, iPod connectivity, sports seats. Options included: 20ins alloys, MMI Nav Plus (touchpad), Bose sound system, Audi Connect, reverse camera, head-up display, matrix LED headlights, black Valcona leather.

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