Does a car with a bold, confident grille make its owner feel the same way? Audi likes to think so, its latest models projecting a thrusting, latticed and chrome-rimmed orifice of flower-pot shape. If the effect is spoiled by the number plate that bisects it, you can no longer accuse an Audi of looking bland. The body of the new A6, an executive alternative to the BMW 5-
series, Mercedes E-class and Jaguar S-Type, is designed around this grille and contains almost entirely new mechanicals and a fresh interior.
Unlike the big A8 and the small A2, the A6 does not benefit from a lightweight aluminium body structure but is fashioned from steel. Add the weight of the four-wheel-drive quattro system and this Audi is not especially light. But there's compensation in its high-tech new engine. A 3.2 litre V6 labelled FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection), this direct-injection petrol engine is more efficient than the indirect variety. It issues a robust 253 bhp, sufficient to propel the Audi to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and on to a governed top speed of 155 mph. Consumption in the high 20s is feasible too.
Accelerating is easy. This Audi comes with a six-speed automatic transmission that changes gear with alacrity, although you can intervene by flicking at the Formula One-style paddle shifts behind the steering wheel, which are amusing to use if you are of sportif mind.
The A6 responds well to eager driving, the four-wheel drive system transferring its substantial power to the road without unseemly tyre-scrabblings. Such athleticism makes the A6 an enjoyable companion on a twisting road, not least because its engine, which revs to an unusually sporting 7,300 rpm, is a game ally.
But cars like these are more often bought for their ability to balm your cares away after a testing day at the office, and to smooth tedious motorway journeys. Which is where the A6 comes unstuck. It might be quiet, it might have fine seats, but its ride is shockingly abrupt at times, its wheels sometimes crashing over bumps as if it had no springs. It's inconsistent, absorbing some impacts serenely, others with no finesse – a major failing in a car that's supposed to be about luxury and refinement.
On the plus side, room is ample. Back-benchers enjoy genuine lounging space, the boot is big enough to lose stuff in and you'll be generously accommodated up-front.
The dashboard is different from Audi's previous versions, the instruments and controls being grouped within a large binnacle angled towards the driver. It makes greater ergonomic sense, but there's something dated about it. No question marks about finish, though – it's assembled with the same precision and materials quality that has earned the company the respect of the industry.
Were it not for the thumpingly inconsistent ride, the A6 would be one of the best cars in its class. This aspect is likely to strike you more forcibly than that assertive new grille.
Max power 253 bhp
Max torque 243 lb ft
Max speed 155 mph
0-62 mph 7.5 sec
Fuel consumption 25.6 mpg
CO2 emissions 264 g/km
BMW 530i SE £31,725
Also possessed of some odd styling flourishes and a choppy ride, but more accomplished.
Jaguar S-type 3.0 V6 £32,270
A facelift has transformed it into the most civil car, but it's cramped and looks dated.