Electric powertrains are gradually spreading to Audi's mainstream models. The next-generation A6 will be electric-only, though the current gasoline-burning model will carry on, and a concept named A6 E-Tron unveiled at the 2021 edition of the Shanghai Auto Show gives us an accurate idea of what it will look like and what it will be powered by.
Audi built the A6 E-Tron on the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) architecture it developed jointly with sister company Porsche. It's a highly modular platform, so it can underpin a relatively high-riding model, like the next-generation Macan, and a low-slung sedan, like the Shanghai-bound A6 concept. It can only serve as the basis for electric cars, however, so there will not be a gasoline-, diesel-, or hybrid-powered variant of the next A6.
Exterior dimensions are the only common link between the current A6 and the A6 E-Tron. The design study stretches about 195.2 inches long, 77.1 inches wide, and 56.6 inches tall, measurements that make it approximately an inch longer, three inches wider, and an inch lower than the sedan currently in showrooms. Tellingly, it's almost exactly the same size as a Tesla Model S, which will be one of the production version's closest rivals.
While the A6 is a three-box sedan, the A6 E-Tron wears a fastback-like roof line reminiscent of the A7. Its front end falls in line with other electric members of the Audi range thanks to styling cues like a body-colored insert where we'd normally expect to find a radiator grille and sharp headlights with LED accents. Viewed from the side, the concept's most striking aspect is the black trim added to the bottom of the doors to reduce visual mass. The bulky battery pack is stuffed under the passenger compartment, so the doors are taller than on a gasoline-powered car.
Horizontal OLED lights that stretch into the quarter panels dominate the rear end, though designers also added an air diffuser to help the A6 cheat the wind. It has a 0.22 drag coefficent, which is on par with the Porsche Taycan.
Audi calls the paint Helio Silver, and it didn't choose this color randomly. It's a shade that reflects the thermal radiation found in sunlight to help keep the cabin cool. Users rarely need to use the air conditioning system, according the company, which helps maximize the A6's driving range by reducing draw on the battery pack.
Lighting has played a significant role in defining Audi's design language for years, and the A6 E-Tron takes this feature to the next level. Its exterior lights are customizable, like the Q4 E-Tron's daytime running lights, and the concept gives new meaning to the term "projector headlights." In addition to illuminating the road, the digital matrix LED lights can project media (like a video game or a movie) onto a wall, which allows occupants to pass the time while they wait for the car to charge. Audi designers even developed a video game specifically for the concept.
Whether drivers will have time to beat the game depends on how and where they charge. Built on a 100-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, the A6 E-Tron uses an 800-volt electrical architecture that's compatible with 270-kilowatt fast-charging. Audi says it takes about 10 minutes to zap the battery with around 186 miles of range, and roughly 25 minutes to charge the pack from five to 80%. Maximum driving range checks in at 434 miles, though keep in mind the A6 E-Tron is a concept, and the aforementioned figures remain hypothetical for the time being.
Several powertrain configurations are possible, ranging from a rear-wheel-drive variant with one electric motor and a seven-second sprint from 0 to 60 mph to an all-wheel-drive, dual-motor version that puts 469 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque under the driver's right foot. Audi quotes a sub-four-second sprint to 60 mph for the quickest version, a time that places the A6 E-Tron in the same ballpark as the recently unveiled E-Tron GT.
Autoblog learned the A6 E-Tron won't change much as it morphs into a production model.
"[This concept is] very close to production; we'll keep about 95%. Of course, there are always elements that we'll need to change, this is a show car and it's quite accentuated, but we are very close to what you will see in serial production. The 5% that we'll change are the door handles, for example," Audi designer Wolf Seebers told us.
Audi and Porsche will begin building PPE-based cars in 2022, both in Germany and in a new production facility located in China, and the production version of the A6 E-Tron concept will reach American showrooms before the end of 2023, likely as a 2024 model. When it lands, it will join an electric crossover called Q6 E-Tron, which will make its debut in 2022 and go on sale in 2023, before the A6. It hasn't been unveiled yet, however.
Looking ahead, Audi hinted it plans to bookend the A6 E-Tron with smaller and bigger models built on the PPE platform. It did not provide specific details, but the current A6 is positioned between the A4 and the A8 in the company's sedan range. Reading between the lines suggests both models will get EV replacements in the 2020s.
What happens to the current A6?
Motorists who don't want an EV aren't out of luck — at least not yet. The current A6 will stick around for several years even after its electric successor arrives. Porsche is following the same path with the Macan.
"In the mid-term future, we will continue to offer C-segment cars with a combustion engine," Audi told Autoblog.
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