Wednesday, 10 August 2022

New A6 was ideal for M1 road trip

FROM its towering vantage point the Elizabethan mansion stares disdainfully down upon traffic scurrying along the M1.

FROM its towering vantage point the Elizabethan mansion stares disdainfully down upon traffic scurrying along the M1.

If you are quick, as a motorist travelling north, you get a splendid first view of this incredible stately home, Hardwick Hall, from the motorway.

Described as a building “more glass than wall” Hardwick has graced this Derbyshire valley for more than 400 years.

This is no shrinking violet of a building. Drivers today look pleased as punch when they stick often convoluted personalised number plates on their cars. But Bess of Hardwick, the immensely rich woman who completed Hardwick Hall in 1597, went one better.

She placed her initials, ES — officially she was Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury — plus coronets for good measure, in 14 places atop her magnificent home.

Inside, Bess busied herself hatching an ambitious plan to get her granddaughter Arbella to succeed Queen Elizabeth I on the English throne.

But it all went horribly wrong. Arbella ended up in the Tower of London after marrying in defiance of the royal court and died there in September 1615.

Such were the fascinating intrigues associated with this hall and Elizabethan English history.

And all this is just waiting to be lapped up after a not-so-distant drive from Henley (or in my case the Cotswolds).

This summer I have embarked on an occasional series of road trips that take in interesting places — Britain’s elegant Jurassic Coast in Dorset, Mary Arden’s Farm in Shakespeare country and a superb spring flower show set in the Malvern Hills.

My aim has been to show that these trips can make the most of your car, even if getting there can be a tad fraught because of congested roads.

No matter: the rewards are often great during welcome weekend or mid-week breaks with an overnight stay.

This is certainly the case with Hardwick Hall, which has been owned by the National Trust since 1959.

And it gave me a chance to put this week’s drive, the new Audi A6, through its paces.

The A6 is a consummate performer on this kind of road trip: 137 miles from my home in Gloucestershire and 151 miles from Henley.

We stayed in Nottingham, where we were also visiting relatives. The Audi A6 lapped up the miles with ease. It is not an easy trip mainly on motorways. At a certain times of day these roads are packed to capacity.

The A6’s measured ease of passage helped enormously. Its satnav system never failed us — especially when it came to getting us around Nottingham.

The two-litre turbocharged diesel engine proved economical (I was getting a computer reading of more than 51mpg overall), and was driving the car hard at times, and keeping up a constant speed.

No surprise, really, as this car — the A6 2.0 TDI ultra — is the “efficiency flagship of the executive class A6 range”.

The A6 is understated in looks and interior but I like this: as a motorist first and foremost I appreciated what it was like simply to drive.

That is not to say that Audi does not consider passenger comfort, too — there were no complaints from mine.

The advantage of travelling distances in a car like this is that its cabin ergonomics are intelligently worked out. You feel safe and secure.

It might be argued that you pay for the privilege. The test car came in at £45,645 (basic price £33,140).

If you have the wherewithal to buy such a car then my advice is to go ahead: I don’t think you would ever be disappointed with a car such as the A6.

This is of course saloon car territory, and as I have said before this mode of transport has been around for a very long time (four doors and a boot, basically).

Yet your sport utility vehicles, compact crossovers and the rest are only going to please you if you get driver satisfaction. With the A6, that ingredient is in abundance.

Onlookers who look in the cab, especially when the satnav is engaged, might be flummoxed by the sight of the dials and graphics on the dashboard. But if you bought this car, my advice — again — would be: spend time with it and get to know everything about it.

After all, most people are patient when it comes to learning all about what their smartphones can do (and they do everything these days, don’t they, short of boiling an egg?).

The last word goes to Hardwick Hall. In typical British holiday weather our visit was cut short by a deluge. Staff were wonderful in helping visitors cope with this unexpected torrent (they were also very child-friendly).

We had visited the house but not the gardens, which are apparently splendid. But a return trip is a must. This year Hardwick takes a closer look at the life of Duchess Evelyn, “the last lady of Hardwick”.

But that’s a story for another visit. And like all true Brits, we live in hope of blue skies and sunshine on that occasion.

For more on Hardwick Hall, visit the website

Audi A6 saloon facts:

Audi A6 Saloon 2.0 TDI ultra SE 190 PS S tronic

Total cost of test car: £45,645

Colour: Floret silver, metallic

Black Leather/Alcantara front sport seats

Options fitted:

• Power door closure

• Head-up display

• Electrically adjustable front seats with memory function for driver’s side

• Audi Matrix LED headlights

• Lighting package

• Technology Pack Advanced

• Three-spoke leather-trimmed multi-function sport steering wheel with gear-shift paddles

• Heated front and outer rear seats

• Heated, electrically adjustable and electrically folding, with automatic kerb-view door  mirrors

• 18in ‘5-V-spoke’ design alloy wheels

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