The premium estate car, or the station wagon as it was earlier called, is the vehicle of choice for corporate executives who want to make a statement on fuel economy and lower carbon emissions while maintaining the image of understated luxury and good taste. Though the SUV's outsell it in the family car segment, estate cars still dominate corporate car parks. The sleeker looks and the drive experience of estate cars clearly scores over the utilitarian SUV for this market segment.
The 2011 Audi A6 Avant is the new entrant into this arena challenging the Mercedes E-class that has been dominant in this segment since its introduction in 2009.
The 2011 Audi A6 Avant
The Audi generally has had the reputation of being unremarkable in its looks, lacking the distinct profile of the rival Mercedes or BMW cars. The 2011 Audi A6 has a new sporty look, that is pleasing to the eye. The wedge shape is accentuated by the external lines and the overall impression is of a well put-together car that commands attention.
The interiors are much better finished and more luxurious than previous Audi models. The one major innovation is gesture-activated controls. For example, the car boot can be opened with a foot gesture if the car key is in the pocket.
Safety features are top of the line, with dual air bags on the front, side air bags, ABS on all wheels, electronic steering assist and so on.
The Mercedes E-class
The Mercedes E-class has the signature Mercedes profile, superior to almost any other car. It looks luxurious, safe, and conservative and appeals to all buyer segments. The estate wagon is no different, though some people have questioned the relevance of the aluminum rails on the roof.
The Mercedes interiors always accentuate understated elegance and the E-class is no exception. Like all modern cars, the infotainment and connectivity features are top of the line, many as standard fitments with others as options.
The Audi A6 Avant is available in six different engine configurations. Over 75 percent of sale is expected in the most fuel efficient 2.0 liter four cylinder version. The other five versions all use a six-cylinder engine with the top of the line being a 3.0-liter V6. All engines feature direct fuel injection. All versions feature preheating of fuel and oil to optimize combustion.
The Mercedes E-class also has multiple engine variants in both petrol and diesel. The most popular model uses the 3.0-liter V6 diesel. The Mercedes engines also have their proprietary ECO start/stop function. In previous years, the 3.5 liter was more popular, showing the trend to smaller engine sizes in this segment.
Winner: Based on the most prevalent engine size, the Mercedes has the larger capacity engine.
Power & torque
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 174 bhp at 4200 RPM and a maximum torque of 258 foot-lb at 1750 to 2500 RPM. The four-wheel drive is a clear benefit for handling steep terrain and for wet or slippery road conditions.
The 3.0 liter V6 diesel on the Mercedes E-class, being larger, delivers both higher power at 210 hp and higher torque at 400 foot-lb.
Winner: The Mercedes, with its larger engine, delivers better power and torque.
0-60 mph run and top speed
Estate wagon buyers are not looking at fast acceleration or top speed as factors that determine the choice of car. These numbers are useful only as indicators of engine performance.
The Audi A6 with the 2.0-liter TDI engine achieves 60 mph speed start in 8.8 to 9.2 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph.
The Mercedes E with the 3.0-liter engine achieves 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds and the top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
Winner: Both cars are about equal on this score, with the Mercedes being a shade ahead due to its faster acceleration, no doubt due to the higher power.
The Audi A6, featuring VW's advanced diesel engine technology delivers 40.3 mpg for highway driving. The Mercedes E-class with its larger engine comes in at 34.6 mpg. The Audi A6 is some 230 lb lighter than earlier versions, due to the use of aluminum and steel structures for the body that helps the fuel economy.
Winner: The Audi A6 is the winner if the difference in engine size is ignored.
This again is a talking point for car buyers in this segment to demonstrate environment consciousness. In addition, many countries have imposed a carbon tax linked to fuel economy that adds to car operating costs.
The Audi A6 has higher CO2 emissions of 189 grams per kilometer compared to 159 grams per kilometer in the Mercedes E-class.
Winner: The Mercedes is a winner by a large margin, despite the higher capacity engine.
The Audi A6 with the 2.0 liter at $53,000 is significantly lower in price than the $68,000 price tag of the Mercedes E-class with the 3.0-liter engine.
The range of options in both cars in terms of infotainment systems and other accessories is so large that the actual price comparison would require a much more detailed evaluation.