Gone are the days when one naturally assumed that owners of fancy cars don't have to bother about fuel expenses. In these dark times of the government having us by the marbles with their fuel prices it's just not acceptable for a car to be inefficient simply because it's expensive. Audi and BMW realize that tugging at the heart strings isn't enough anymore so here are two of their cars that will also appeal to the left side of your brain.
The 2011 Audi A6 2.0TDi in India and 2011 BMW 520d in India both share the same logic. Offer most of the goodies from their elder siblings mated to an engine that returns efficiency figures that could put a small hatch to shame. It's a great formula, but which one implements it better?
The 2011 Audi A6 initially strikes you as the sexier one. Those headlamps up front with the light scatter tech LEDs day time lights look brilliant. The squared off haunches and firm clean shoulder lines culminate in the typically strong Audi rear. The squared rear also makes smart use of LEDs to make for one handsome car. It's a very technical design, almost like it was entirely conjured up by an engineer armed with nothing but a geometry box.
Inside, the dashboard continues the wraparound theme from the A8 and A6 three litre. Fine highly polished strips of aluminium border the steering controls and aircon vents for a premium feel. All cars now feature a wood finish like the 5 series. It's a fresh look and lends a sophisticated yet sporty air to the cabin. The same pop up MMI screen lives on and combined with the beautifully detailed graphics gives you a rich user experience, one that is over all a tad better system than BMW's iDrive. The reverse camera, MMI touch pad and 6 DVD changer is part of the Audi Advanced package that will set you back by Rs2,63,900. The tasty full LED headlamps meanwhile cost Rs2,74,100.
The 2011 BMW 5 series on the other hand is less in your face and more elegant and flowing. The front featuring BMW's signature corona ring headlamp looks every bit as captivating as the Audi. I like the slightly protruding grille that pays subtle homage to the legendary CSL. The lines while sinewy lack the Audi's aggression but flow beautifully into the rear which is the best looking angle on the new car. It's like comparing a hot centrefold model with a beauty contest winner. There's no clear winner and it's all down to one's taste. I for one would choose the pin up model, err Audi.
The Bimmer's interiors look similar to its elder sibling but the omissions are more glaring in here. For example you don't get the large ten-inch iDrive screen from the 530d but a smaller 7.1-inch unit that uses a pair of rather ugly looking plastic blanks on either side to mask the unused space. The cabin still feels plush though and the light cream leather here gives an airy feel. The signature BMW gear lever makes for a great focal point and has to be the highlight in the cabin. But all in all it's the Audi that wins this round.
Audi's 1968cc engine has undergone some considerable reworking. The engine uses two balancer shafts running in opposite directions in the crankcase that helps keep vibes and noise down to a minimum. The turbo features adjustable vanes that helps in a quick build up of torque from low revs.
All this tech translates to a power output of 177PS at 4200rpm while 380Nm of torque is produced between 1750 and 2500rpm. The power is transmitted to the front wheels via Audi's CVT multitronic gearbox. And therein lies the peculiarity with this car as it is rare to see those two things in a car of this category but we will come back to that later. Performance is adequately brisk, 100kmph coming up in 9.3 seconds while the car tops out at 214.6kmph.
At 184PS the 1995cc turbo diesel unit under the 520d's bonnet makes 7PS more than the A6 while torque is an identical 380Nm. The 5 however feels much more eager, it revs faster and feels quite sharper. What really makes the difference is BMW's excellent 8-speed Steptronic transmission. It offers shifts nearly as quick as a twin clutch box while retaining the inherent slushy feel of a torque convertor. Ask for a down shift and you instantly get one. Ask for one at an unreasonably high rpm entering a corner and the box acually waits till the revs drop to a safe level before complying. In terms of numbers, the BMW takes a quicker 8.58 seconds to the ton while it tops out at a slightly lower 209.2kmph.
For all its energetic responsiveness the BMW diesel mill makes a fair bit more racket than the Audi. Perhaps it's down to better dampening but the Audi sounds considerably more refined and silent inside. In terms of fuel efficiency the BMW has an ARAI certified figure of 18.4kmpl while the Audi is rated at 18.9kmpl.
Ride and Handling
The air suspension in the Audi really shines when it comes to ride quality. Put it in Comfort mode and you have supple suspension that gently soaks up imperfections in the road and transmits very little of it into the cabin. The steering is comfortably light and you can practically glide down roads with only the harsher imperfections finding their way to your backside.
Switch into dynamic mode and the suspension stiffens up, throttle response sharpens and the steering gains some weight as well. However, push the car hard into a bend and understeer gatecrashes the party. Now understeer has been evident even on some Quattro driven Audis at the limit but this front-wheel drive A6 suffers from a fair bit of it. Then there's the CVT gearbox which though a good unit will still be noticed by a keen driver, especially at part throttle where the revs stay constant but the speed builds up, kind of like an old Kinetic Honda. Mash the throttle from a standstill and you get mild torque steer. It isn't unmanageable or scary but you just don't expect this on a car of this class.
Step into the 5 series after a drive in the A6 and the change is drastic. The 5 instantly feels stiffer, be it the suspension or the steering. There's more road noise transmitted to the cabin as well. The stiff setup results in some bobbing and pitching. Braking can also get a little skittish on a bumpy road because the suspension is fighting the road instead of embracing it. While things have been sobered down from the previous gen 5 and its rock hard suspension and steering there's still some way to go before it gets as comfy as the Audi.
However on a well paved twisty everything changes, the steering suddenly drips with feel and the suspension now feels perfectly set up. Drive her smoothly through a corner and she holds a perfect line. Get aggressive with the wheel and the tail steps out before the traction control reigns it in. The only downside is the lack of paddle shifters which is a big let down in a car as fun as this.
At Rs41.06 lakh (on road Mumbai) in standard trim the A6 costs a whole three lakh rupees less than the Rs44 lakh 520d. And that more or less seals the deal in favour of the Audi. It looks great, has a beautiful interior, rides excellently, performs well enough and makes you feel great every time you look at the fuel guage. If you're an enthusiast willing to make a small trade off in terms of ride or handling then the BMW makes sense. If not, Audi is the car for you. Truth be told, it would have still won even if the prices were on par.