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Audi's A6 gets the plug-in hybrid treatment and the results are impressive.
Audi MMI Touch dashboard screen, Virtual Cockpit configurable instrument display, Audi Connect and smartphone interface, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors with rear camera, acoustic windscreen, heated front seats with electric lumbar support.
Petrol plug-in hybrid:
Sport, S Line, Black Edition, Vorsprung
Seven-speed S-tronic auto
Audi could be accused of a bit of complacency when it comes to plug-in hybrids. It was one of the first to market with the A3 Sportback E-tron in 2014 - a model developed alongside the Volkswagen Golf GTE - but since then the brand's activity has been quieter than that of its premium rivals.
To be fair, the benefits of running plug-in hybrids as company cars compared with fuel-efficient diesels haven't been quite as stark as they are in 2020, as PHEV prices don't appear tremendously higher than diesel equivalents, while - if the EV range and figures are right - BIK tax bands are now substantially lower.
People choosing the BMW 5 Series have been giving up on diesel versions in favour of the 530e plug-in hybrid, while Mercedes-Benz offers both petrol and diesel plug-in hybrid versions of the E-Class.
Volvo has also expanded its V90 range to include a Recharge T6 as well as a Recharge T8 (although the S90 saloon continues only with the T8). So it seems offering customers a plug-in choice in this sector is important.
Jaguar hasn't quite got in on the act yet with the XF, but the F-Pace will soon be available as a plug-in hybrid, while the new saloon from DS Automobiles next year, the DS 9, will offer a choice of plug-in hybrid power units.
Enter the Audi A6 50 TFSI e, soon to be joined by a 55 TFSI e. This basically means customers can choose between 299hp (50 TFSI e) and 367hp (55 TFSI e) versions of the A6, and as well as the saloon we're trying here, it will soon be available as an Avant estate.
With Audi's long history of extolling the virtues of Quattro four-wheel drive, all variants of the A6 TFSI e are Quattro models, with the engine torque powering the front wheels, while the electric motor looks after the rear wheels.
But it also means Quattro all-wheel drive is not permanent, as using a single power source will only drive the front or rear axle. But it can be controlled by the driver by switching through the different modes.
Audi is also keen to make this version of the A6 as accessible as possible, with the model available in mid-grade Sport spec, as well as S Line, Black Edition and range-topping Vorsprung.
But the Sport grade has a good level of kit, including LED lights, front and rear parking sensors with a rear-view camera, heated front seats with electric lumbar support, virtual cockpit configurable instrument display, and much more.
Boot space above the floor doesn't suffer at all as a result of the hybrid technology, although there is no additional storage beneath the floor. Maximum capacity behind the rear seats is 360 litres, which doesn't sound like much for a large saloon, but the hybrid components are less intrusive than in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The Audi's battery capacity of 14.1kWh allows it to be charged from a 7kW home charger in just over a couple of hours - similar to rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, whose battery capacities are in the same ballpark but a little lower.
The A6 will travel 34 miles on electric after a full charge, according to the WLTP data, and has CO2 emissions of 36g/km. The rivals selected on the right have CO2 emissions a little higher than the Audi, but all less than 50g/km, and with similar electric ranges on a full charge, all exceeding 30 miles, there is little to choose in BIK tax, with them all falling into the 10% bracket.
It's been a couple of years since we tried the Audi A6 - in fact, that was around the time this generation launched in the UK. Maybe it's partly due to range proliferation and the stronger appeal of SUVs, and partly to do with Audi not putting the same level of models in short-cycle rental, but the A6 doesn't seem to have been quite as common as its German rivals on the roads.
But it's still an excellent performer, and disappointing that this isn't appreciated more. It's spacious and comfortable (my first journey in the car was 100 miles as a rear-seat passenger), and even our S Line on 19in wheels was surprisingly composed over rippled and undulating surfaces.
It's a heavy car, so perhaps that helps limit the rebound action of the dampers on most minor bumps.
Refinement is impressive - it never feels like it's missing a couple of cylinders, and although a noise intrusion-reducing 'acoustic windscreen' is probably not strictly necessary, it probably helps mask the switch between EV mode and the engine firing up.
The A6 feels brisk under hard acceleration as both power sources push the car forward, although the overall refinement of the system is still evident.
The model is a genuine player in this sector and will put the A6 back on the map for senior executives who want something with status that will also reduce their BIK tax bills.