This is the Audi A6 Ultra saloon, the first car from Audi to benefit from the 'Ultra' tweaks that include lower fuel consumption. From plug-in supercars like the Porsche 918 Spyder to three-cylinder superminis like the new Volkswagen Polo, in the car world efficiency is now the name of the game.

The A6 Ultra is fitted with the familiar 2.0-litre TDI engine, but emissions are cut from 132g/km in the outgoing 175bhp model to just 114g/km.

That means although our S line test car costs the same £34,365 as before, you’ll save £28 a month on company car tax if you’re a higher rate taxpayer. Fuel economy also improves, from 55.4mpg to 64.2mpg – meaning Audi gets one over on BMW’s 520d SE auto, which claims 62.8mpg and 119g/km – while there’s a £125 saving on road tax, too.

Fortunately, these improvements haven’t been achieved with unsightly aero modifications, firm low-rolling-resistance tyres and laborious longer gearing, but purely mechanical tweaks.

A smooth, seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch gearbox replaces the old eight-speed Multitronic CVT, while the latest TDI technology and advanced exhaust system have also been added. That boost in efficiency is even more impressive given that power from the 2.0-litre TDI has risen from 175bhp to 187bhp, and torque is also up by 20Nm to 400Nm.

The A6 Ultra can’t match a BMW 5 Series for driving thrills, partly because its front- not rear-wheel drive, but the new gearbox and boost in performance make it a more accomplished and relaxing cruiser. Leave the gearbox in auto and it shuffles effortlessly through the gears, while the steering wheel-mounted paddles offer more involvement and urgency when you need it.

For a four-cylinder diesel, the engine in the A6 Ultra is nothing short of outstanding, with a surge of power available at all revs. Even at high motorway speeds, it never feels hurried, pulling just above 1,500rpm at 70mph.

Over rougher roads, the suspension shrugs off the worst of the bumps and potholes, but a little more feel in the steering would improve the overall package. Although it’s nice and light around town, the weight added by selecting Dynamic mode doesn’t really do enough to turn the A6 into a keen driver’s delight.

A shortage of handling sparkle is compensated for by the beautifully finished cabin. There may be a splurge of buttons on the centre console, but the logical layout of Audi’s MMI system proves the touchscreen revolution isn’t necessary or particularly useful.

Ultra models come in familiar SE, S line and Black Edition trims, and each is fitted with sat-nav, DAB radio, leather seats, keyless go and a 6.5-inch retractable colour display as standard.

There’s plenty of space up front with masses of head and legroom, but those in the back may find it a little cramped, especially with the transmission tunnel limiting space. Still, boot capacity is still impressive at 530 litres, and rises to 995 litres with the rear seats folded.

The Ultra makes the A6 a more convincing alternative to the 5 Series, giving buyers extra without demanding anything in return. And as Audi readies Ultra versions of the A4 and A5, it’s closing the gap on its Bavarian rival.

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