It was only about ten years ago that hybrid meant economy car. A Prius, for instance. Today, it means almost every new model luxury sedan – like this 2022 Audi A6 – as well as its primary rivals, the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class sedans.
These three all cost twice as much as a Prius. Nor do they deliver particularly impressive gas mileage numbers.
Which doesn’t make them very economical.
But the hybrid configuration does make them possible.
The A6 is Audi’s mid-sized entrant in the luxury sport-sedan class. It traditionally competes with others in the class like the BMW 5 and Mercedes E by touting its standard all-wheel-drive (the BMW and Benz offer AWD) as well as its more subtly affluent demeanor.
Prices start at $55,900 for the Premium trim equipped with a 2.0 liter/hybrid (and all-wheel-drive) powertrain; there’s an option to replace the 2.0 liter engine with a much more powerful 3.0 liter V6 – also paired up with a hybrid/AWD rest of the drivetrain.
It stickers for $59,800
Next up is the Premium Plus – which also offers the choice of either the 2.0 or the 3.0 hybrid/AWD powertrain and comes standard with the heated steering wheel and wireless charging which are optional with the Premium trim – and adds an upgraded 16 speaker audio system, LED headlights and the option to buy the Executive Package, which bundles four-way climate control, heated rear seats, a power trunk opener and configurable interior LED lighting.
It stickers for $59,800 with the 2.0 engine and $63,700 with the 3.0 V6.
A top-of-the-line Prestige trim comes standard with the V6 (and AWD) as well as everything that’s optional in the Premium Plus – including the Executive Package – plus power soft-closing doors like those used in the top-of-the-line A8, power rear and side sunshades and the option to get massaging seats – a feature you used to have to buy the top-of-the-line (and larger) A8 to get.
The Black Optics Sport package – which includes 20-inch wheels and a lowered ride height – is now available with any of the three trims.
The standard Virtual Cockpit Plus digital instrument panel has also been upgraded in all trims.
Standard AWD – for about as much as rivals charge for the rear-drive versions of their A6 competitors.
Strongest standard four in the class.
Options – such as massaging seats – you didn’t used to be able to get in this class.
What’s Not So Good
Hybrid drivetrains don’t do much for gas mileage.
Not much space in the trunk (13.7 cubic feet).
Digital dashboard may not age well.
Like most of the rest in this class – including the BMW 5 and Mercedes E – the A6 comes standard with a hybrid drivetrain.
But not so much for the sake of gas mileage – as in the case of traditional hybrids like the Prius.
The A6’s standard hybrid drivetrain consists of a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine paired with a seven speed automatic and AWD. The hybrid part of the set-up is a 48 volt electrical system and high-torque belt-driven starter that cycles the gas engine off and on depending on the need for it to be on or not.
It works on the same principle as the mild hybrid systems used in the BMW 5 and the Benz E, which use a 48 volt electrical system to power a flywheel-mounted starter/generator that serves the same purpose. The idea being – chiefly – to reduce the emissions of gas (carbon dioxide) than the use of gas, using a more complex (but less noticeable, to the driver) extrapolation of the stop-start systems being used in almost all new cars that aren’t electric cars.
The reason for all of that being the regulatory pressure car companies are under to find a way to continue selling gas engines at all. The government is Hell-bent on driving them off the roads by driving them out of the showrooms – in favor of cars that emit no gas at all – at the tailpipe – i.e., electric cars. So it’s not about gas mileage – or consumer demand. It is about complying with the demands of the government.
The high-torque belt starter (like the flywheel-mounted starter-generator used by BMW and Benz) can spin the gas engine back to life much more quickly (and quietly) than a traditional starter bolted to the flywheel and powered by just 12 volts. It can also turn the engine off – and back on – more often. As when the car is decelerating, for instance. Pretty much anytime the driver takes his foot off the gas, the gas engine is shut down.
It comes on again, as needed – without noticeable sturm or drang.
Also without much noticeable gas mileage uptick.
The 2.0 hybrid-powered version of the A6 carries an EPA rating of 23 city, 32 highway. To give you a sense of how much – or rather, how little – has changed – in terms of MPGs – the 2017 A6, which came with just the 2.0 liter engine (paired with an eight speed automatic) rated 22 city, 32 highway.
The new/hybridized version of the 2.0 engine does however carry a higher horsepower rating – 273 vs. 252, previously. But this gain is largely cancelled out by the additional weight (and cost) of the 48 volt battery pack.
It’s a similar story with the optional 3.0 liter V6.
In mild hybrid form this engine makes 335 horsepower and delivers 21 city, 30 highway. In old form – with a supercharger rather than a 48 volt electrical system and belt-driven starter – the 3.0 engine made 333 horsepower (back in 2017) and delivered 21 city, 29 highway.
Split the no difference.
So what is the gain?
Speak, rather of reduction – of gas. The dread gas, C02 – held to be turning the planet into a soon-to-be-flooded waterworld, notwithstanding that the politicians who claim it’s so continue to buy properties on the water.
Hmmmmm. . .
Regardless, the car companies must feign belief in this new religion – or at least, find a way to comply with the regs demanding the emitting of less and less of the dread gas. Going hybrid to one degree or another is the only way to do that – shy of going all-electric – and most of the car buying public cannot afford (or doesn’t want) that because it doesn’t want to hang around a “fast” charger for 30-45 minutes playing Candy Crush when they could just gas up and be gone in five minutes or less.
Desperation can produce near-miracles.
During the last months of WWII, the Germans managed to get bat-winged jet interceptors flying and had been launching the first ballistic missiles, precursors to those which sent Americans to the Moon a quarter-century after the Germans lost the war. The new war – agains internal combustion – has imposed similar desperation and resulted in similar near-miracles to keep the gas engine going, at least a little while longer.
The belt starter system developed by Audi and the functionally similar systems developed by Mercedes and BMW do a miraculous job of maintaining the miracle of internal combustion – with all its ease and convenience – in the face of the relentless push (by the government) to replace it with the inconvenience of electric powertrains.
What’s happening under the hood – as you drive – is a microcosm of what’s going on in the world, which is a struggle to the death between IC and EV, with the IC being pressured to take a dive by the bookies. The gas engine powers off – a kind of micro-death – and the car coasts on, propelled by the inertia provided by the gas engine, the life of accessories maintained via the electrics until the gas engine comes on, again.
You do not notice these transitions unless you’re paying very close attention – mostly to the instruments, which reveal the cycling on and off. It is hard to discern them by feel or ear – which is the miracle. For now, you get to have what you want – that being not having to stop for 30-45 minutes to play Candy Crush at the “fast” charger every other day while your electric car recovers some of its charge. And you have the enjoyment – for those who still enjoy such things – of engine sounds rather than the sound of silence.
There is also shifting, which is something most EVs don’t do because most EVs do not have transmissions. They are direct drive, which is the same as single speed. The motor spins, the wheels turn – that’s it. Some admire this while others rue it – missing the orchestra of movement that until now defined the experience of driving a car as opposed to driving a golf cart.
Interestingly, the Audi’s seven speed automatic has one less gear than the old (pre-hybrid) Audi had, which was eight. The new Audi makes up for the loss of one overdrive gear via the more efficient gearing of the seven speed’s dual clutch set-up, which shifts gears faster and so more efficiently than the old A6’s conventional/hydraulic transmission with its planetary gears. It doesn’t translate into any meaningful mileage gains – as per above – but it does feel snapper when it shifts, which is meaningful in another way.
There used to be a very noticeable difference between cars – like Audis – built on a front-drive-based layout (with transverse or sideways-mounted) engines and rear-drive-based cars (with longitudinal or front-to-rear-mounted engines) like the Benz E and BMW 5, even when both were equipped with AWD.
The FWD-based cars tended to oversteer when pushed while the RWD-based cars were more inclined to oversteer – the latter being considered more enjoyable by people who enjoy pushing a car in the curves. But the near-ubiquity of AWD has greatly mellowed out these former differences and the ubiquity of electronics that cancel out wheelspin and torque steer render the differences almost indistinguishable – unless you go to the trouble of turning off the electronics (if you’re allowed to) and have the gumption to really push the car – which most people can’t due to traffic, fear of cops or simple common sense.
The Audi’s chassis differences – vs. the rear-drive-based Benz and BMW – are thus rendered near-irrelevances.
What’s pertinent is that this Audi comes standard with the AWD that is optional in the above – and for substantially less than it costs to equip the above with their available AWD systems.
Arguably, AWD has been oversold as most people do not live in the Rockies – or even Minnesota – and don’t have to ford their way through heavy snow for months out of every year.
But at least here, it sells for less.
One thing that remains traditional is the understated appearance of the Audi’s exterior. It is well-dressed, not over-dressed. Some of the others have the look of a guy wearing a tuxedo to Chipotle.
Or parachute pants to church.
It is on the inside that this Audi gets radical.
Everything is displayed virtually – which is really a misnomer since the information is actually displayed. But it is displayed electronically, via flat screens. This of course is not unique to Audis – this one or other ones. All new luxury cars and even many just cars now have similar “virtual” cockpits.
Where the Audi differs is in how the information is displayed. Particularly road/GPS info, which is overlaid in what is arguably the most visually attractive and functionally coherent “Google Earth” style you’ll find in any car. You view what’s ahead almost as if you were viewing it from a satellite, focusing in (or out) on what’s coming up or all around. It is a legitimate adjunct to driving, rather than a distraction from it.
There are two additional touchscreens, too – both mounted to the right of the driver, in the center stack. One is for the climate controls and the other is for the audio/infotainment/apps. At night, with all three glowing cheerily, you can imagine yourself as Mr. Data laying in a course for the Alpha Quadrant on the bridge of the Enterprise – Next Generation.
Being able to get massaging seats in a mid-tier luxury sedan is a happy thing; formerly, these were available only in top-of-the-line sedans, such as the A8 (in Audi’s case) and the Benz S and BMW 7, in those cases.
One thing you can’t get in this Audi is more trunk space, which is probably this car’s main deficit. Just 13.7 cubic feet, which is about what you’d typically find in a compact-sized sedan and much less than you’ll find in some other luxury sedans in the mid-sized class, such as the BMW 5 (which has a huge 18.7 cubic foot trunk).
On the other hand, some of the others in this class – like the Benz E sedan – have even smaller (13.1 cubic feet) trunks.
On the other (other) hand, Audi could remedy this failing by offering the wagon (Avant) version of the A6 you can buy in Europe – but which isn’t available here.
The Bottom Line
The tug-of-war between gas – and electric – continues.
Too bad it’s not a fair fight.
. . .
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