Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra, BMW 520d Touring, Front view 21 Photos Zoom

Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra vs. BMW 520d Touring: Can the BMW out-save the Audi?

A high level of prestige, sufficient load capacity and yet minimal consumption: this is what the estate versions of the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series are expected to offer. Each with a 187 HP turbo-diesel, they are both nonetheless far removed from genuine frugality. Which saves better, the 2.0 TDI Ultra or 520d?

Exactly ten years ago, something revolutionary happened within the German luxury car market: the Audi A6 Avant, launched in the C6 generation in 2005, ended the decades-long dominance of BMW and Mercedes; for the first time ever outselling its rivals the 5 Series and the E-Class. Ever since then the premium trio have been neck and neck when it comes to sales figures, with the A6 once again out in front in 2014, and the 5 Series recording just 800 or so fewer sales.

The Audi A6 Avant produces 188 HP

The BMW has, like the Audi A6 Avant, been very recently upgraded, both featuring new engines and a considerable number of high-tech assistance systems. Those who carry out a closer inspection of the price list will, among other findings, discover that in both luxury class offerings, the traditional manual transmission is on the retreat. As such, in the case of the Audi it is now only offered for the four-cylinder basic engines, while at BMW there is still a six-cylinder petrol engine available as a classic manual, alongside the four-cylinder models.

This thus constitutes good reason as to why the two test candidates step up here without clutch pedals, the Audi A6 Avant with the seven-speed S-Tronic (dual clutch transmission) and the 5 Series with the well-known and sophisticated eight-speed automatic torque converter transmission. Both the S-Tronic in the A6 and the eight-speed autmoatic in the 5 Series cost an additional 2,250 Euros. In both cases the transmission systems are combined with 188 HP two-litre turbodiesel engines, a step above the self-igniting entry level engines, each with 148 HP.

Incidentally, the S-tronic appears in this drive configuration for the first time. It replaces the unpopular Multitronic and is – in so far as can be told in advance – a clear asset. The fact that manual transmission systems are dwindling in significance within this vehicle category is also highlighted by the proportion of total A6 sales in Germany featuring automatic transmission: more than 92 percent.

Audi A6 Avant from 45,850 Euros

Of course, with such a high base price people are going to be so keen on having to shift gear themselves. The Audi A6 Avant with S-tronic is priced from 45,850 Euros, the BMW from 47,650 Euros. 1,800 Euros more - a margin that may not be decisive when flying at this altitude. Admittedly, the price of the 520d in this test is increased by a further 4,200 Euros by the not-strictly-necessary Luxury-Line equipment. And it shouldn't come as a great surprise that cars could cost well over 50,000 Euros, with more opulent, but no more extravagant equipment.

Therefore the BMW must now pull some tricks out of the bag to come good against the more economically priced Audi. Astonishingly the Audi A6 Avant doesn't manage to remain ahead of the 520d in the bodywork assessment. Granted, in many of the criteria the Audi is a few millimetres or litres better, but the BMW claims the vital points with its slightly more compact external dimensions, better operability and more clearly designed instruments. Incidentally, both are rather moderately spacious estate cars. With maximum load capacities of 1,680 (Audi) and 1,670 litres (BMW), they are well behind the Mercedes E-Class with 1,855 litres.

BMW scores points with its iDrive system

When it comes to assistance systems, the two estates are almost on a par. The 5 Series has the slight edge, with its congestion assistant piloting the vehicle independently up to a speed of 60 km/h (Driving Assist Plus package, 1,990 Euros). Even though the Audi A6 Avant doesn't offer such a thing, on the whole its drivers have barely any reason for complaint, with the luxury class estate offering the same range of multimedia options, such as real time traffic services or music streaming, aside from just a few minor exceptions.

The main advantage of the BMW in this regard: the superior operability of the iDrive system. True, Audi is systematically redeveloping the MMI operating system, but one thing is repeatedly evident: the more there is to control and interact with in a car (see online services or assistance systems), the more convincing the iDrive system is. It is more intuitive and safe to operate than other user interfaces in premium automobiles. And this is what it is all about.

Whereupon it is now time to follow in the footsteps of football philosopher Alfred Preißler (Bundesliga promotion as a trainer with Rot-Weiß Oberhausen 1968), according to whose words the following is crucial: how do the two now play – so in this case drive – with their two-litre diesel engines?

The Audi A6 Avant consumes 5.0 l/100 km in city traffic

The differences in test consumption are minimal, with the Audi A6 Avant claiming a slight advantage of 0.2 litres, which will no doubt please climate savers, but over a period of use of 100,000 kilometres is merely equivalent to the value of an annual pass for the main stand at the aforementioned regional league football club (264 Euros).

Thus, the slightly smoother performance of the BMW four-cylinder may be more significant, although it too fails to conceal the fact that it is now a diesel inline four-cylinder and therefore cannot provide any miracles with regard to smooth running. However, the so often and so rightly praised eight-speed automatic transmission compensates for this, always delivering the correct gear, very attentively, almost imperceptibly and without showing any agitation.

The BMW 5 Series with better handling

The seven-speed S-tronic in the Audi A6 Avant doesn't pull this off quite so perfectly, occasionally giving in to abrasiveness when moving off and when making quick movements on the accelerator. Viewed in this light, the additional 150 Euros for the steering wheel with shift paddles would be money well spent: now and then you want to take manual control of the S-tronic. The BMW also pleases with its handling, which is, objectively speaking, barely any faster, but is subjectively more sophisticated and more agile. This is down not only to the rear-wheel drive, but also, and in particular, to the sensitive steering.

This isn't achieved with quite such perfection in the Audi A6 Avant, which steers terribly lightly and without resistance in Comfort mode, only to increase the holding forces without improving the feedback in Sport mode. However, this doesn't change the fact that both estate cars are impeccably safe to drive.

With regard to drive comfort, the 520d is again more convincing, with softer suspension than the Audi A6 Avant, although it does allow rough bumps through on highly uneven road surfaces and when under heavy load. Nonetheless, the BMW is a few points ahead of the Audi here, unlike when it comes to sales figures.


Hans-Dieter Seufert


14 August 2015
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