Playing catch up: is the new Audi A6 good enough to really rival old foes?
It is our nature to find fault - indeed it's part of my job. The secret is finding a proper balance between the good and the bad. Or, as is increasingly the case with cars nowadays, between the good and the not-so-good (ever finer lines distinguish them as standards rise).
I've had a run of some really good cars of late and was expecting it to come to an end with the new Audi A6 saloon (I refuse to call it a sedan; dreadful word).
That's because I think Audi have been well behind with the likes of the A4 and A6 in terms of modern looks and (sometimes) dynamics, choosing 'safe' options in a market screaming for individuality.
And as soon as I saw the new A6 in the flesh, I reckoned I'd detected the possibility of one major drawback.
Let me explain. The previous model had been around for a long time; it seemed to have had more facelifts than a fading Hollywood diva.
It really was about time they got this new one on the road considering the advances the new Mercedes E-Class and, to a lesser extent, the BMW 5-series have made recently.
I've always had a grudging respect for the previous A6's more dogged nature. It got on with the job, but was a car one drove rather than enthused about (I'm talking affordable versions, not some super-powered models).
But that's not enough any more. Not when rivals are streaking away on dynamics and innovation; and not when executive SUVs and crossovers are welcoming so many to their high-drive positions and adventurous shapes.
So what have Audi done to counter that with the new A6? Well I thought they'd made a major faux pas with design. I thought that in trying to be that bit more 'daring' - which isn't ever radical in a largely conservative segment - they'd robbed me of the one thing I crave in a car. I like to be able to see the extremities of the front - the 'corners' as I call them.
I dread, as I anticipated with this A6, the prospect of guessing or gauging where the 'real' front is when obscured, in this case, by a bonnet whose striking, rotund design resembled a mini mound. Don't get me wrong; it gives the car a great look and normally I'd welcome such flair, but would it compound my fears for forward visibility?
Before I took off to find out, I got my seating position sorted quickly, as well as familiarity with screens, instrumentation, dials and gear shift. I was surprised by the speed of acquaintance. That's a compliment. Simplicity is an art not practised by many; I often jostle at length for seating position. But what about the bonnet? Warily, I drove off only to soon discover, as is the case with many matters these days, I needn't have worried. Somehow it wasn't an issue. Don't ask me why. I instinctively sensed the distance. Reassurance flowed from that. So I settled to enjoy the car and to discover just how significantly improved a proposition it has become.
Not alone was I not bothered about forward perspectives, I was paying far more attention to elements I hadn't expected to. Such as a greater sense of vibrancy in this than in any mainstream A6 I can remember. I admit I kept it in the more dynamic driving modes, but I did so knowing there was an excellent chassis as a basis. I still think the BMW 5-series beats it on dynamics, but it is a much closer race than heretofore. It had a lovely light touch and response.
I also think it is now neck-and-neck with the exemplary Mercedes E-Class saloon on cabin refinement, interactivity and space. I would go so far as to say it has come from nearly nowhere to challenge both rivals in a big way. It may have arrived late, but the wait has been worth it. This is a smart A6 now, a sign of the brand realising how urgently it needed to get up to speed.
A few words of caution nonetheless. Watch for how the extras add up. And, despite earlier praise on design, it is quite underwhelming from the rear.
And while four large adults were decently catered for on a couple of long journeys, rear leg room wasn't anything exceptional for us. The boot is long and reasonably deep - okay for the golf clubs.
Above all, I was impressed by the two-litre diesel, especially its quiet power push.
The A6 isn't without drawback - rear visibility (would you believe?) wasn't great (not with two six footers in the back seats) - but it represents a major stride forward.
I think it outguns the 5-series on cabin and display; and the E-Class on dynamics. That's a lot of catching up in one fell swoop.
Facts & figures
Audi A6 saloon 2.0TDi quattro
7spd S-tronic, S Line, 204hp, €200 tax, 4.7l /100km.
Standard spec: 19ins alloys, 12-volt mild hybrid system, Audi connect, Pre-Sense City, front sports/heated seats, Matrix LED headlights, leather/alcantara upholstery, sports suspension.
Options: wireless charging, virtual cockpit, four-zone deluxe air con.
Price with options €59,618. Range from €50,800.