The executive sport-sedan is a jack-of-all-trades that can fit neatly between a flagship vehicle and an entry-level model. The Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class borrow heavily from their big siblings (the A8 and S-Class) but offer a true luxury experience for buyers who aren’t looking to spend 100s of thousands of dollars. Choosing a better vehicle between the two is no easy task.
Some might try to find meaning in their styling, but neither car is particularly flashy or over the top. These buyers prefer exuding professionalism, so naturally, these two sedans fly under the radar in terms of styling.
The A6’s design is characterized by very crisp lines, tight proportions, and excellent lighting elements. While some will suggest that there are no frills in this design and that everything was put here for a very specific Germanic reason derived from spreadsheets and charts, it’s hard not to love details like the LED headlights up front and the animated LED turn signals.
The Mercedes’ design is much softer all around, with almost no hard creases to be found. The E-Class has a more elegant look, while the Audi seems to be making a louder statement. The E-Class only came out a few years ago, but it’s already starting to look a bit old.
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New School Power Plants or Tried and True?
Under the hood, there are some contrasts as well. The Audi uses 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 making 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mated to Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Audi also uses a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which helps improve fuel economy among other things. Expect about 25 MPG combined out of this executive sedan, and for it to sprint to highway speeds in 5.1 seconds.
See Also: Audi Details new 48V Electrical System
Now, the E 450 we have doesn’t feature a fancy 48-volt system or a dual-clutch transmission. Like the Audi, it uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, but this one is paired to a nine-speed automatic and the brands 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It makes a bit more horsepower at 362 ponies but features the same torque output. It’s a tenth of a second faster to 60 than the Audi, but two MPGs less fuel-efficient.
Spaceage interior with luxuries galore
The cars further differentiate themselves when it comes to the interior. An Audi just wouldn’t be an Audi if it didn’t have the most excellently put together interior. When you get into an Audi, you see that it sets a certain tone. Not only is it luxurious (everything you touch feels expensive), but it is so high tech and has a lot of features to impress your friends.
There are barely any buttons in the Audi, it instead uses two touchscreens. Normally, multiple screens are a confusing, distracting headache, but the way Audi has done it makes a lot of sense, so it ends up being fairly intuitive. Real buttons are still far easier to use, especially while driving, but this setup is superior to Audi’s old MMI system, that used a knob to control everything. It helps that the screens are responsive and all the menus make sense but one downside is that your fingerprints get everywhere and it ends up looking terrible.
Another highlight in the A6 is the virtual cockpit, which looks amazing. Drivers can customize it to focus on navigation or media or trip information.
Driving the A6
The Audi A6 drives remarkably well, everything just works so seamlessly and cohesively, that in comparison, every other car out there ends up feeling janky. It’s just so well sorted – the steering, throttle response, adaptive air suspension – and it all jives together, delivering an extremely coherent and balanced driving experience.
However, you do have to get used to the steering. The A6 has four-wheel steering and a variable ratio rack, which can surprise you sometimes because the behavior can change suddenly without warning. The steering just never feels the same, and the inconsistency impacts the smooth ride of this sedan.
One pleasant surprise is the acceleration – the A6 with the 48-volt mild hybrid just feels so quick with only the slightest hesitation when you hammer the throttle. And under full acceleration, you can hardly feel the transmission, the shifts are so smooth. This dual-clutch is one of the best transmissions out there.
These 48-volt mild hybrid setups are an interesting new trend in cars, with many benefits. The obvious upside is better fuel economy, but there is also an extremely smooth and quick stop/start system. In 90 percent of cars we test, this feature gets turned off quickly, because they’re so jarring. However, the one in the Audi operates so smoothly, you rarely notice it. Another benefit of this hybrid system is that it augments performance, so instead of waiting for a turbo to spool up for that dreaded turbo lag, the acceleration feels much more instantaneous.
All of that said, I know the Audi is remarkably good, it is crazy how good this car is, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s kind of serious feeling. Professionalism shouldn’t be limited to feeling so stoic. This can impact the personality, leaving the A6 to feel cold and boring. If you want a car with personality, this isn’t the one for you. This might be one of the most serious cars I’ve ever driven. The A6 starts at $59,895, which isn’t too bad, but this well-equipped example is $82,190 which is a serious price tag.
Familiar, Classy Mercedes Interior
The E-Class has a different vibe all-around. For example, the interior will mesh with buyers who dislike change. It’s a familiar cabin, one that’s not overloaded with technology. It features real buttons and toggle switches, so it feels very normal and is easy to use in motion. This car doesn’t yet have the new MBUX infotainment system, so it uses this rotary knob, which sums up this dated looking cabin. At least it comes with Android Auto and Apple Car Play support.
However, there are two giant screens which are vibrant and easy to see. As good and customizable as the digital dash is, it just doesn’t compare to the virtual cockpit in the Audi.
Buyers will like features like the wireless phone charger, as well as the fancy ambient lighting, but one aspect that always goes overlooked is how much attention Mercedes pays to safety. Even though this car is loaded with all kinds of safety features to prevent an accident, it is still an incredibly safe car for when an accident is unavoidable. The Pre-safe features prepare the cabin and actually move passengers to mitigate injuries and help prevent issues like hearing loss in the case of a collision, which is very impressive.
Smooth and Confident
On the road, the E-Class is special because it drives like a smaller, less excessive S-Class. It’s high end, versatile and smooth, making it a solid daily driver, and one that you can have a bit of fun with.
While the V6 engine in the E 450 isn’t the fancy inline-six with mild-hybrid tech that’s found in other new Mercedes, it isn’t completely missed here. This V6 is quite good, with a smooth power that makes it a touch faster than the Audi. It’s worth pointing out that the nine-speed auto is less sporty than Audi’s dual-clutch.
On the downside, the E-Class is less fuel-efficient, it also feels less agile and sporty, likely due to its more conventional two-wheel steering. In fact, in this way, it really feels like an S-Class, which is stately and feels old-world in its driving mannerisms, while the A6 feels new-school.
The E-Class can be equipped with air suspension and it feels excellent. It even lowers the car automatically when you hit highway speeds to improve aerodynamics. Even more helpful are the different driving modes, as well as the individual setting which lets you pick and choose different traits for different components.
In the end, however, the E 450 is outgunned by the A6. It has a less sophisticated powertrain, fewer features in the cabin, and feels less special on the road. If there’s one advantage about buying an E-Class it’s that it seems familiar and less overwhelming to drive, which could be an important factor in buying a new car, especially for older buyers. I can see my folks getting up to speed quicker and easier in the cabin of the Mercedes when compared to all the screens and fake buttons in the A6, which might appeal to younger buyers. Starting at $59,950, the E 450 is very competitive with the A6, but our tester costs $75,530 and leaves plenty of equipment behind.
The Verdict: 2020 Audi A6 vs 2019 Mercedes-Benz E 450 Sedan
Both of these cars borrow a lot from the best in their lineups. You can clearly see the influences of the A8 and S-Class in the A6 and E-Class we have here.
But the A6 truly delivers a more modern, fully-featured luxury experience, that still maintains the essence of a flagship sedan. With a newer more efficient powertrain, impressive interior, and fantastic driving experience, it’s the clear winner.
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