If you’re in the market for an executive car and can’t quite decide which one is right for you, it’s likely that a few people might point you towards an Audi A6. After all, critics generally agree that it’s a mightily impressive package, as do the many owners who rate their A6s very highly.
The same story applies to the latest Audi A4. Weighing a massive 120kg less than its predecessor, it promises to be faster, more refined and more efficient than ever. So which is the better car? Let’s find out if the A6 can justify the extra premium, or if a better specified A4 is the smarter choice.
Park the A4 and A6 side-by-side, and even petrolheads will be hard-pressed to tell which is which without resorting to checking the badges on the boot. A closer look reveals that the A4 is the tauter, sharper design of the two – its bold hexagonal grill is a little more angular, while the LED headlights carry a more distinctive lighting signature.
It’s some of the details which aren’t obviously apparent – reshaped door mirrors, a sharp cut off to the bootlid, a flat floor – which help the A4 to boast the lowest aerodynamic drag figure in its class, a feat which boosts both fuel efficiency and performance.
At least both look contemporary and, if you like one, then you’re probably going to like the other. In recent Audi tradition, most even-numbered models have been dominated by two body variations: the standard saloon, and the estate versions dubbed the A4 Avant and A6 Avant.
If there’s one thing Audi is renowned for, it’s for designing and building beautifully made cabins. When it comes to overall fit-and-finish, few competitors can claim to match the Ingolstadt firm. From a design point of view, it still takes a reasonably keen eye to separate the two car’s interiors.
Both feature a large infotainment screen sat on top of the dash, and a broad sweep of trim housing the air vents runs the width of each. The newer A4 gains one feature lacking in the A6 – Virtual Cockpit which replaces the regular analogue dials for a 12.3-inch TFT screen, allowing the driver to customise the information displayed to their own taste. It’s an optional extra which looks great and works brilliantly.
The most notable differences between the two come courtesy of the A6’s larger exterior proportions. It allows for a wider transmission tunnel, so the front seat occupants feel more spread out in the front. As you’d expect with an additional 92mm between the front and rear wheels, the A6 has the A4 beaten for interior space. However, the A4 is by no means cramped, and is one of the roomiest cars in its own class.
The same goes for boot space, too. The A4 offers 500 litres – again, impressive in isolation – but the A6 is 40 litres larger. The gap between Avant versions is even greater – 505 litres versus 565.
While many details separate the two cars under the skin, the basics are very similar overall. More basic A4 and A6 models come in front-wheel drive form only, with more powerful engines equipped with the firm’s fabled quattro all-wheel-drive system. Both get six-speed manual gearboxes as standard, and for a fee, most can be upgraded to the S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic.
From a driving point of view, neither the A4 or the A6 are particularly thrilling – buyers looking for some fun should look at BMW’s 3 and 5 Series, or the Jaguar’s XE and XF. In the case of the A4, Audi has listened to the requests of its customers, who desired a more comfortable car than the bumpy predecessor. The addition of special acoustic glass and that slippery shape also help make it a brilliant long distance cruiser.
Testers frequently commend the bigger A6 for riding smoothly in most situations, but the A4 is now arguably the more comfortable and refined of the two. If you select the off-road biased A6 Allroad, things improve further – the raised ride height makes it a wonderfully cosseting companion.
The A4 is offered with a choice four diesel and three petrol engines, with the range beginning with a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol. Producing 148hp, it completes the 0-62mph dash in 8.7 seconds, yet is still capable of returning 53.3mpg. The most frugal A4 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which returns a class-leading 74.3mpg. At the top of the range, the 268hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel can consider the BMW 330d as its closest rival.
The A6 engine lineup shares some units from the smaller car. The same 187hp 2.0-litre diesel features here in eco-minded ‘Ultra’ trim. Thanks to efficiency tweaks, it’s capable of returning 65.7mpg – or a couple more if equipped with the optional DSG automatic gearbox. The same unit in the A4 returns 72.4mpg.
The A6’s star asset is the 309hp, 44mpg twin-turbo 3.0 BiTDI. Sure, it won’t be the engine of choice for most buyers, but few cars can offer such a strong blend of performance and economy.
Buyers looking for the most extreme performance should look no further than the RS6. The 552hp, all-wheel drive super-estate is capable of dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in an astonishing 3.9 seconds. A slightly more sane performance model – the 420hp S6 – is also available. Audi has revealed that the S4 will get 354hp and will be similarly psychotically quick.
Value for money
By all means, the Audi A4 is a decent package in entry-level spec. Sure, it’ll look a bit more sparse inside compared to models with every Teutonic bell and whistle, but it’s still a lovely place in which to commute. The same goes for the A6 – a DAB radio, plush leather upholstery, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and the like may be the expected norm in a car of this type, but it’s still enough to wear down some of the rough edges that make long drives a chore.
Price will definitely play a big factor between the two. The entry point to the A4 range, the 1.4 TSI Sport, costs £25,900 – more than £6,000 less than the cheapest A6. Even on a day to day basis, the A4 will be cheaper thanks to its better running costs.
Company car users will be drawn to the smaller car, too. Thanks to those improvements in efficiency, the most frugal A4 sits in a company car tax bracket three per cent lower than any A6, making a huge difference to annual costs.
While the A6 is undoubtedly a very capable car – being comfortable, refined and fairly frugal – it can’t compete with the newer, smaller A4. This is shown clearly in our wowscores – these aggregated scores from the UK’s motoring press rate the A6 7.8 out of 10, while the A4 bags an impressive 8.5.
Considering the A4 vies for position in such a competitive corner of the market, Audi has made sure that everything it knows has been crammed into its latest compact exec, and the results are very impressive. It sets a new benchmark in the class for comfort and refinement, while fuel efficiency competes with the very best its rivals have to offer.
The A6 offers more room inside and, in the form of the RS6, it’s one of the most devastatingly rapid performance executives money can buy. At the more sensible end of the scale, though, our money would be spent on the A4.
Put either the Audi A4 or the Audi A6 in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, visit our deals page or, if you’re still struggling to pick your next car, check out our car chooser.