There are enough people out there for whom the statement a proper luxury saloon makes is far more important than how quickly it gets to 100kph. Of course build, quality and the luxury experience are important as well. Want proof? The four-cylinder A6 outsells its V6 brother by a huge margin. Need more proof? Mercedes is so convinced of this fact that it offers the facelifted E-class with just four-cylinder engines – there’s no V6 anymore.
Then there’s the case for the two cars here. Both drink petrol and are for people who cannot stand the thought of their luxury saloon droning and clattering away like a diesel. Not as important but still an attraction are their lower price-tags, and the Mercedes E 200 CGI and the Audi A6 2.0 TFSI cost a bit less than their diesel counterparts.
The A6 2.0 TFSI and the E 200 CGI are the latest in this segment and that’s why we’ve got them together. Which one will give you the better experience?
From the front seats, it’s hard to decide. The A6’s cabin is thoroughly modern – attractive, technical dials, big screen for the MMI system and Audi’s typically futuristic dashboard. But then you notice the door-shut is quite light (thanks to the weight-saving aluminium doors), the paddle-shifters have a decidedly plasticky feel about them, and the shiny wood trim on the dash isn’t as attractive as it used to be. The E-class has the more traditional dashboard – the COMAND system is nowhere near as slick to operate as Audi’s MMI, the screen is much smaller and the dash design is rather cluttered and lacks the neatness of the A6. Then you notice inherent Mercedes traits – the ones we’ve always loved – like the vault-like door-shut and perfectly judged heft for all the controls. Even the inner door-handles feel like they’ve been cut out from one solid block of metal. The matte wood finish on the dash is particularly appealing and lends true elegance to the cabin, which is finished off by the analogue clock in the middle.
Move to the rear seats and it’s the E 200 that has the decided advantage. It has, for starters, better thigh support, a higher seating position and an optimally angled backrest as opposed to the A6’s slight lack of thigh support, lower seats and slightly upright seating position.
Our test A6 is well specced – this ‘Technology pack’ variant has controls for the front passenger seat at the rear, reverse camera, BOSE sound system and full LED headlights in addition to a reverse camera, four-zone climate control, air suspension with a raise function and Bluetooth connectivity. All this kit pushed the price up to Rs 48.53 lakh.
The E 200 Avantgarde doesn’t have a lot of the A6’s frills, but it does get three-zone climate control, parking sensors, a sunroof and powered seats, steering adjust and the full gamut of Merc’s safety features like NECK-PRO and PRE-SAFE, for a much cheaper Rs 42.95 lakh. That said, an A6 without the frills retails for a bit less than the E 200 at Rs 41.95 lakh.
Under the hood, both cars have rather diminutive 2.0-litre engines that are beefed up by a turbocharger, direct-injection technology and enough ratios in their respective transmissions to give a math equation a serious complex.
To allay any fears you still might have about these two cars being underpowered, we need to talk performance. Both cars will cross the 100kph mark in under 10sec – the A6 takes 9.2sec and the E 200, 9.5sec. And, thanks to the A6’s 177bhp, 32.6kgm of torque and 1565kg kerb weight (the E 200 comes in at 184bhp, 30.6kgm and 1660kg), the A6 will get to 180kph two seconds before the E-class.
These figures are respectable but more importantly, there are differences in their real-world performance. The E 200’s motor isn’t as quick to respond to throttle inputs like the A6’s. The former has a microscopic delay in response when you press the throttle at low speeds after which power builds linearly and smoothly. The A6 is more alert, readily responding to light taps at the throttle; it’s something that’s expected. The A6 has an eight-step continuously variable transmission that’s always at the optimum ‘ratio’ for responsiveness. It’s quite an impressive transmission – under normal conditions, its stepless, smooth progress is exactly what you need in a car like this. It’s even smoother than the E 200’s seven-speed automatic and that is saying something. The A6’s transmission is not an entire letdown when you’re in the mood for some spirited driving – pull on the paddle-shifts and it behaves remarkably like there are eight gears in the transmission case. However, there is a hint of that undesirable ‘rubber band’ effect when you suddenly floor it; the revs rise faster than the road speed. On the other hand, the E 200’s torque converter engages too abruptly for our liking, especially in ‘S’ mode. Floor the throttle, there’s a bit of delay followed by a sudden surge forward.
Both cars will hold triple-digit speeds easily and it’s only when you want a quick burst of power from high speeds that you miss the extra torque their diesel counterparts have.
Both saloons are also incredibly refined although the E 200 is slightly more audible at idle and has a sporty snarl near the redline. The A6’s engine is incredibly silent right through and a tad smoother as well. However, the engine’s refinement highlights one of the A6’s decidedly un-luxury-car characteristics – there’s a fair bit of road noise, especially over coarse tarmac. And, because the A6 is purely front-wheel drive, there is some torque steer coming through the steering wheel under hard acceleration. The E 200’s rear-wheel-drive layout ensures power is delivered smoothly and unfussily to the road.
It’s the E-class that’s nicer to drive with its fluid steering and fantastic body control but, on its conventional steel springs, doesn’t have the adjustability the A6’s different drive modes offer. Set the A6 in ‘dynamic’ mode and the suspension tightens up, the steering weights up and, despite not having a quattro system, displays good grip. However, it’s not as feel-some to drive as the E 200 as there’s a certain aloofness to the way the A6 responds to driver inputs.
Turn the drive select system to ‘comfort’ though and there’s little the A6 gives away in ride comfort to the E-class. That said, we preferred the E 200’s overall ride – the trick dampers that automatically adjust to whatever surface you are driving over give it a flatter ride at speed. Except for sharp edges which thump through and are not as well rounded off in the A6, the silent suspension and a sense of solidity the E-class exudes is something that the A6 simply can’t match. Body movements of the E 200 over broken surfaces are well controlled and, unlike the A6, the suspension works silently.
In the end, both cars are very evenly matched. Given that similarly specced version of both cars are closely priced, we can leave equipment levels out of the equation.
So, in slight degrees of separation, we like the A6’s smoother powertrain and more appealing interiors. We also suspect the A6 will be a bit more fuel efficient, thanks to its lighter kerb weight and efficient transmission.
The E 200 CGI has a strong suite of strengths too. It just feels more of a luxury car thanks to its tank-like build, the commanding manner in which it rides over our roads, the way in which it isolates you from the outside world, and the fact that it has the better rear seats. The E 200 CGI just feels a notch superior by offering a better luxury car experience to win this test, but only just.