The Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series are consummate all-rounders and two of the finest cars in the real-world since the late 1990s. Though the two cars come in different flavours, the general recipe for success is the same: clean lines, strong engines, and classy interiors. Over the last 15 years, both have remained at the top of their very competitive class of automobiles. Rare is the year that one of these cars does not merit the title “best in class”.
The competition continues, and the latest A6 and 5 Series are both up to challenge. Finding fault with either car is not easy to do. In almost every area, it’s a question of good, better, or best.
“Evolution” is the word when considering the style of both these cars. If you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years, and the last versions of these models you remember are pre-2000 models, you shouldn’t have much trouble identifying the new models. The grilles are a little bigger, and the wheels certainly are, but otherwise, the basic formula is still intact.
The previous generation 5 series was a bit staid in the styling department. It looked slow, planted, and even a bit boring. None of that is the case with this latest generation. BMW got this car right. Even such details as the exterior mirrors contribute to the overall impression of effortless, and elegant, speed.
Meanwhile, the A6 stays much truer to its classic shape. While BMW prefers to modestly alter the shape of the 5 Series with each redesign, Audi generally just tinkers at the edges.
While no one is calling the A6 ugly, it is not exactly eye-catching. Parked next to the 5 Series, the differences are stark. In this category, the BMW is more likely to invoke an emotive response from buyers. The A6, on the other hand, is just another saloon car.
Interior and practicality
Audi is on much more solid footing with the A6’s interior. Widely praised by the motoring press and owners alike, the car is comfortable to ride in and easy to operate. Build quality is exceptional, as are the materials used throughout the cabin. The A6 offers a very quiet ride, enabling passengers to talk with their inside voices. Another strong point is cabin and boot space – the A6 offers copious amounts of both.
If there was a knock on the 5 Series in past years, it was that the comfort afforded the driver and front seat passenger did not extend to those in the back seat. Indeed, 5 Series of yore offered smallest in class backseat space. BMW seems to have finally fixed the problem. This latest 5 Series offers a backseat comparable to the A6 and others in this class. Of course, the rest of the interior is exquisite. Every piece offers the kind of look and feel that one would expect in this class.
When push comes to shove, the Audi just barely edges out the BMW in this category, but practically speaking, both interiors are brilliant.
The 5 Series has a well-earned reputation for being a driver’s car, and not much has changed in that department. Handling is still top notch, but ride quality and refinement have been noticeably improved. One area where the 5 Series has lost a step is in steering feel. Numerous reviewers have commented on the noticeable lack of feedback through the wheel rim. The 5 Series is now easier to drive over pot-holed city streets, but not quite the joy it once was in terms of handling prowess.
Given an opening, Audi was not able to take advantage. The A6 drives nicely in everyday conditions, but it too lacks steering feel. The main problem with the A6 is that it just isn’t setup to be driven very quickly. A sport saloon this car is not. Ultimately, the drivability of this car will be measured by the driver’s tastes. Those looking for some fun will be disappointed, while those looking for a ride smooth enough to keep the baby in the backseat asleep will be more than satisfied.
We’ve already established that the A6 is quiet in the cabin. While sound dampening is certainly good, a major reason is that the engines themselves are quiet. And that includes the diesels, of which Audi offers a few, in both four- and six-cylinder configurations. The 3.0 BiTDI, with its twin-turbos, generates more power than most diesels this size. Petrol options include a turbo four-cylinder and twin-turbo V8. Over the long-term, the diesels will be cheaper to operate, but Audi offers quality engines for all preferences.
If the Audi diesels are good, the BMW diesels are better. Fuel economy is excellent, and it doesn’t come at a price in performance, as BMW’s diesels still outpace the competition. Refinement is another strength, though in fairness, the A6 diesels are equally refined. Oil burning engines have really come a long way, as exhibited in both of these cars. The petrol 5 Series cars are as a strong as ever, and they help BMW maintain a slight edge in this department.
Value for money and running costs
Few will slight BMW on the value of their cars – they are very well made, high quality automobiles. But they can be rather expensive. While the 5 Series is in the same price range as the A6 and other competitors, its options do tend be pricier. And owning a 5 Series isn’t cheap either. The car has a good reputation for build quality in all areas, but when parts do need to be replaced, doing so will not be cheap, neither in parts or labour.
The A6 scores a few points in this category on the back of its economical stable of engines, which help hold down long-term costs. The 2.0 TDI is fun to drive and offers excellent fuel economy – it’s no wonder that many drivers choose this engine.
Overall pricing of the A6 is competitive for this class, although the options are a bit less expensive than those of the BMW. Audis do a great job of holding their value over the long-term, so should you choose to upgrade to the newest model 10 years from now, you could still expect a decent return on this car. So the edge here goes to the A6, and this is the only category in which the Audi noticeably bests the BMW.
The 5 Series takes three out of the five comparison categories and, when considered on the whole, proves to be the better car. But that isn’t to say the A6 doesn’t deserve your attention. Although it ranks second in a comparison of two, it would likely rank second or third in a comparison of ten. Both of these cars are world-class in just about every way. For buyers looking for a sportier drive, the BMW will likely prove the more attractive choice. Those more interested in long haul driving, perhaps with a family, and in keeping running costs down are more likely to favour the Audi.
When considering two of the top cars in the world, one can hardly go wrong with either. However, this is a comparison and only one car can win. That car, the BMW 5 Series, takes the victory due in large part to superior styling, powerful engines, and a better balance between road and track.