The overall design of the new Audi A6 is in many ways flawless – the proportions near perfect and the pinching and concaving of metal adding a little bit of sculpture for emotional appeal. By shortening the length and height by a fraction from the car it replaces, while slightly broadening the width and raising the beltline, plus shedding 80kg in weight, the new car immediately appears lighter, more compact and sportier.
This is very much in line with current Audi thinking. A strict set of design guidelines purposely generates a visual synergy between the various models, regardless of their size. Audi gave us the brand new entry-level A1 and the rather elegant four-door coupé A7 Sportback at the end of 2010. Their new model onslaught continues through 2011 with the all-new A6 – a very important car for the marque and a stylish contender in the competitive sedan business car segment that includes the BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-class, Jaguar XF and Infiniti M. You're more likely to be driven in an A6 than drive one but that doesn't mean it shouldn't make a fine first impression.
The car's 'face' carries the trademark singleframe Audi grille, and acts as a canvas for the marque's signature jewelled light design. 'We want our cars to be distinguished day and night by these lights,' says Wolfgang Egger, the head of Audi Group design. These all-LED headlamps are not just a styling element, they are also at the forefront of lighting technology – communicating with satellite navigation systems to adjust their operations according to driving conditions. Tested at night on Sicilian rural roads on the A6's international launch they certainly lived up to their promise.
There are countless sophisticated safety systems on-board the A6 to aid the driver in a subtle unobtrusive way so as not to interfere with the joy of driving. This includes the latest lane assist technology, which gently nudges the wheel in case the driver drifts, and speed control to ensure a safe distance is kept from other road users.
It is inside, however, where Audi continues to excel, fusing tactile material and high-tech graphics imbedded in a simple, yet ergonomically near-perfect wraparound package. Much like the A7, the A6 introduced new materials and trims including a veneer of layered oak cut from a single block in which extremely thin layers alternate between untreated and dark-stained wood. 'We are taking a further step towards hand finishing,' says Egger. Together with the ambiance lighting, the wood helps creates a rather homely cabin.
Audi offers the car with as many as 11 exterior colours and a vast combination of interior trim levels. It also provides an almost unlimited host of options – both technological and visual – that can be purchased post sale. One of the Audi engineers explains that it makes sense to build-in all the optional extras at production phase, removing them according to customer choice. This way, he adds, it's much less costly to reinstall if they so wish to purchase them at a later date.
This statement, as well as the pleasure of simply driving this immaculate piece of engineered machine around the rough, wet roads of Sicily, are the proof as to how Audi has sailed through the recent rough financial years. Whilst many car manufacturers have seen a noticeable dip in sales, the marque sold over 100,000 cars in the UK alone, rose to its highest peak in the US selling just under 100,000, and scored a big victory in one of its most crucial markets, China, where sales reached 228,000, making Audi one of the most successful export brands.
Yet despite the sales success and the all-consuming brand identity, it seems the marque feels it is time to move ever onwards. Design director Egger confides that having spent many years honing Audi design to have visual synergy, his job now is to give each and every one of his cars their own individual visual identity. He says the confidence is there now to create unique voices with each and every future model.
Eggers hints at an even wider model spectrum that will probably include the coveted quattro concept seen at last year's Paris Motor Show, as well as future models based on the e-tron electric drive concepts. Audi will still have to balance this desired uniqueness of character with the strict Audi code of design and drive quality. 'The legacy of Audi is its emotionality. We will retain this and make it even stronger,' he concludes.