2008 Audi A6 2.0 TDi S-Line (GB)

Securing variety from a Hertz rental car in the UK seems to be far harder than just about anywhere else in the world where I have tried to do this. Although their UK fleet is dominated – at least in volume terms – by the Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo, they do once again seem to have a number of other models in just about each booking class, so I thought I would try. Imagine my surprise, and delight, when I called the Bristol location early in the morning of the day I was supposed to collect a Group D (“1.8 Mondeo-sized”) car to be told that an Audi A6 had my name on it, and was available whenever I wanted to come down and get it.

As I sat in the office, excitedly contemplating this prospect, it then occurred to me that I could end up feeling quite disappointed. You see, the last car I had driven from this model range was the S6, just 4 weeks ago, and with the memories of that fresh in my mind, a lesser model from the same range was almost bound to disappoint. Anyway, I duly arrived, collected the paperwork, the key and got into a blue (yes, despite what you might think from the pictures, the official colour of this car is Aurora Blue Metallic!) 2.0 TDi Automatic. I drove home. All 8 miles of it. Then I did a much more thorough examination of the car.

From the inside, it was clear that I was in an Audi. The dash is indeed very similar to what you find in an S6, but with a few less features, of course. The test car was in S-Line trim, which endows it with a similar steering wheel, but this model does not have the full set of functions in the MMI system – a system with which I am now becoming somewhat familiar having experienced it in a series of different Audis during my 2008 testing – and there are a few less buttons on the brushed-aluminium effect centre console, and associated with the air conditioning system (no heated seats switches account for two blanks, but I am not sure what some of the others would have been). Nevertheless, what I found was a clearly presented dashboard, beautifully made from high quality materials. I still think the out-going A4/S4 dash, which was particularly simple and unfussy, works even better as a design, but this one is not bad, either, even if it does have a few oddities, like a large button to the left of the MMI display which releases the glovebox lid. Everything else will be familiar to an Audi driver, with the same column stalks, light switch mounted high on the dash to the right of the wheel and buttons on the steering wheel hub as you will find in other models in the range. The dials are clear and easy to read, and everything has a quality to feel to the touch, with the leather-wrapped S-Line steering wheel being particularly pleasant.

Another difference from the S6 concerns the seats. S-Line trim means that they have leather outers, and a rather tough cloth centre to them. Although they do not look bad, they clearly are not quite to the same quality (or cost!) as the silk nappa leather that is (optionally) in my own S4. More of a concern, though, was the fact that the seat cushion proved quite long, in fact, slightly too long, leaving me feeling after a 100 mile journey that I had not been quite as comfortable as I should have been. Other A6/S6 virtues remain, of course. This is a large car, for sure, but even so, there is masses or space in it. Those in the rear seats will find that there s plenty of leg room, even if the front seats are set well back. Position them to suite my driving position, and there really is a lot of space here. Width is ample for three, though there is quite a bulky central tunnel, so the middle seat occupant would have to sit with their legs to either side of this. Occupants here do get their own vents on the rear of the console, but in this trim there is no central armrest are nor are there nets or pockets on the back of the front seats so the only place for odds and ends are the door bins. The boot is vast, so deep from back to front that I would never be able to reach anything that ended up nestling against the rear bulkhead. The slightly smaller wheels on this model also mean that there is no raised hump in the boot floor to accommodate the full-sized spare wheel and you would be able to tuck a few odds and ends around it, under the floor. Inside the cabin there is a generously sized glovebox, a cubby under the central armrest and bins on the doors.

So far, so good. What was it like to drive? The paperwork informed me that this was actually an entry level 2.0 TDi model. The 138bhp VAG diesel engine is not particularly highly regarded, and generally for good reason, as it tends to be gruff, and not that responsive. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the disappointing characteristics that are so evident in other cars where it is installed seem to have been toned down here. To some extent, that could be because the test car also came with the Multitronic CVT transmission. I’ve not been particularly impressed by many of the CVT-endowed cars I have sampled in the past, but here the transmission, and its combination with the 2.0 TDi engine seems to work. Certainly, this is not a particularly quick car, just as you would expect, but it did get off the line adequately, and whenever a sudden burst of acceleration was called for – after being baulked on a motorway by someone abruptly pulling out infront of me, for instance – it was there. This is doubtless to the fact that the car is always, effectively, in the “right” gear at all times. More importantly, the gearing is such that at a steady motorway cruise of just under 80 mph, it was only pulling 2000 rpm. This had the effect of making the car quiet, relaxing, and also pleasingly economical. Rental cars are always supplied with a fuel gauge that reads full, but which usually moves down as soon as you move off, so it is hard to get an accurate consumption figure on less than a single tank. Assuming the car was returned with no more fuel in it than as it was supplied, I got 39 mpg from it. I suspect the reality was actually better than that.

Two other comments on the dynamics. Like many modern Audis, this one is fitted with an electronic handbrake. However, as it is an automatic, all my frustrations about these wretched devices do not apply. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the ride. The S-Line suspension does the car no favours, and the ride was not only hard, but seemed particularly susceptible to picking up every bump, crack and ridge on the less than smooth M4 motorway. Quite why someone would select this suspension to go with the 2.0 TDi engine and an automatic gearbox is a bit of a puzzle, as I would have thought that this car would be selected for its comfort as a long haul cruiser.

Indeed, as I handed over the keys at Hertz’ Heathrow depot, that was my conclusion. Far from being disappointed, l actually liked this car a lot. It’s not particularly fast, but if you want a comfortable express to whisk you and several others with their luggage from A to B, where they are a long way apart, a non-S-Line A6 would make a lot of sense. Even a 2.0 TDi version.

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