To boost fuel economy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, automakers have embraced downsizing engine displacement, but has this movement gone too far? Case in point, the 2016 Audi A6 sedan, weighing almost 4,000 pounds, powered by a little 2-liter four-cylinder engine.
To test the hypothesis, Audi invited me to drive the Audi A6 2.0T along the steep canyon roads outside Malibu.
Audi gave its A6 model what it termed a ‘facelift’ for the 2016 model year, restyling grille and parking lights, updating the infotainment system and increasing the engine power output. As you might guess, the 2-liter engine comes in at the bottom of the model line-up, and can be had in front-wheel-drive format or with Quattro all-wheel drive.
In the A6’s favor, the 2-liter in question uses a turbocharger and direct injection, with refinements bringing the output up to 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, representing a 32-horsepower gain over the previous version of this engine. The engine’s turbocharger uses an electric waste gate, formerly mechanically controlled, which lets Audi better control turbo pressure and different engine speeds. An electric thermostat on the engine also lets Audi vary coolant flow, improving efficiency.
And although the 2-liter is the least powerful of the available engines, which also include gasoline and diesel 3-liter V-6es, Audi still posts a zero-to-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds for a Quattro-equipped model. That version comes with an eight speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive models, using a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, come in a bit slower at 6.7 seconds.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California, the A6 2.0T felt every bit as comfortable as I would expect from an Audi. The ride quality felt very good and very little exterior noise penetrated the cabin. This was a car I could imagine enjoying during a daily commute, especially with the cabin’s spacious feeling.
Enhancing the drive experience was Audi’s Multimedia Interface system, a generational update using Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip for fast processing and a dedicated 4G data connection. Along with cool things like Google Earth imagery in the navigation system and Audi Connect services which include the ability to enter destinations from a geo-tagged photo and integration with the Audi Connect app, Audi added a Google Earth screen to the instrument cluster display. While driving, I found it convenient to zoom in the instrument cluster display, so I could see upcoming turns, and zoom out the center display so I could see more of the route.
The A6 2.0T lost some of its luster every time I had to stomp on the accelerator. Turbo lag stepped in noticeably, creating initial hesitation, then the engine snarled like a rat terrier, breaking the previous calm afforded by the car’s comfortable cabin. In the Quattro version I drove, acceleration felt good once the turbo spooled up, but it lacked the calmly confident feeling a larger engine would offer.
On the very twisty canyon roads near Malibu, the A6 2.0T wasn’t up to the task of serious sport driving. The suspension revealed its soft tuning, letting the car body roll too much in the corners and the engine couldn’t provide the immediate power you want at the apex of a turn. Quattro can do an excellent job assisting handling, but I didn’t feel I could push this car hard enough to take advantage of all-wheel drive on these twisty, dry roads.
A look at the Audi DriveSelect screen on the infotainment system, which lets you choose between Comfort and Dynamic settings for various car systems, showed that this A6 2.0T only offered settings for the electric power steering and throttle/transmission tuning. More sport-oriented Audi models offer settings for up to six performance systems.
The 2016 Audi A6 2.0T won’t satisfy the type-A sport driver, but will reward those who want a comfortable car with a high-tech cabin for the kind of daily driving that takes up most of our lives. The primary advantage of the A6 2.0T comes in fuel economy, with the Quattro version drumming up 4 to 5 mpg better than the A6 with the gasoline 3-liter V-6 engine (the front-wheel-drive A6 2.0T only shows a gain of 2 mpg). Of course, the top fuel-economy performer among the A6 line remains the diesel-fueled TDI, but it only comes in a couple of mpg better than the 2.0T.
Price will also prove a big factor, as the base front-wheel-drive A6 2.0T goes for $46,200 (the gasoline-fueled A6 is not sold in the UK, while Australia gets a base A6 with a 1.8-liter engine). Add $2,200 to the base price for the A6 2.0T with Quattro.