By Kris Hansen
We are in awe. We knew the S6 was good; we had no idea just how good it is though, till we got a chance to spend some quality time with one. Words generally fail to describe the sensation of driving one of these awesome machines, and surely we wont be able to assemble a magic combination that will make the readers hair stand on end, but well try.The S6 is a wickedly good car, no question about it. Fans of brute force raw acceleration will love it. From a dead stop, the car absolutely hurls itself forward, with the kind of acceleration normally reserved for smaller lighter sports cars. And it does so in a way that isnt scary, or tricky. It simply puts a huge grin on your face, every time you put the pedal on the floor. Fair warning, it becomes addictive.
Under the familiar bodywork lives the soul of a genuine sports car, barely restrained and eager to get out and play. The bark from the twin turbo V8 engine speaks loud and clear to that notion, and is one of the nicest engine sounds we’ve heard in a long time. Quite the opposite from the high revving engines in the RS 5 and R8, this engine growls and barks a more baritone sound, which is quite lovely indeed.
To date, we have never driven a sedan that combines such luxurious comfort with such an angry exhaust note. This car manages to coddle and excite its driver simultaneously, in a way that only a larger sports sedan can. For someone who wants raw performance with a silky smooth ride, impeccable build quality with all weather performance and safety, this is the ultimate package.
This is no featherweight sports sedan, nor does it feel like one when a door is closed. This thing is built like a bank vault. Even though roughly 20% of its skin is lightweight aluminum, Audi manages to make the S6 feel heavy and sturdy, while not driving like a heavy car. Use of lightweight aluminum where possible, and high strength steel where needed result in a lighter, stronger and safer car. High tech materials allow this, and Audi have mastered their use.
The S6 is only subtly different than the standard A6 in exterior appearance, with a small lip added to the trunk lid, and a bit more brightwork on the chin spoiler on the front. Our car had a set of great looking 20 inch split 5 spoke wheels, which allowed the massive S6 badged front brake calipers to proudly show through. Only the S6 badges front and rear, and the V8T badges on each front fender hint at this cars true intention.
As you slide into the beautifully trimmed diamond stitched and S6 embossed high back Valcona leather sport seats, you realize this is a special car. The carbon fiber trim, red ringed Engine Start/Stop button, smaller S style steering wheel (with aluminum colored shift paddles) and aluminum pedal covers lend a sportier feel to the normally luxurious interior.
With a press of the Start Stop keyless ignition button, the 4 liter twin turbo V8 winds to life and settles in with a lovely subdued burble. Interestingly, we noticed that the car reduces the redline on the tachometer during the warm up process, something made possible by the S6s ultra modern instruments, which incorporate a row of LEDs to indicate the various functions such as fuel level, engine temperature, and even the redline on the tachometer.
While the engine is warming up, we fiddle with the Audi Drive Select options, to set the car to our liking. The Individual setting allows a driver to fine tune the car to his or her liking, or to the road conditions. Our general preference was all around dynamic (the most aggressive engine/transmission settings), though there were times when comfort was best (such as in a fresh snow, where softer suspension and less aggressive engine and shifting made for more stable handling). Drive Select allows control over nearly all of the S6 Steering, suspension firmness, rear sport differential, engine sound and throttle response, and on and on. Normally we find the dynamic steering to be too heavy, but in the S6 it was perfectly weighted.
Audi says that the S6 produces 420 horsepower, and 406 lb/ft of torque from the 4.0TFSI mill, but in all honesty, it feels like more than that. Hard acceleration results in the occupants being pushed firmly into their seats. The 7 speed S tronic transmission is very crisp, and reacts instantly to upshifts and downshifts (which are accompanied by a cool burp on the upshifts, and rev-matching on the downshifts). Car and Driver magazine recorded a 0-60 run in 3.7 seconds, which seems reasonable to us based on the ferocity of the acceleration we felt. Because our car was fitted with snow tires, we really couldnt get an accurate number, but suffice it to say that this car had NO problem spinning its tires on clear pavement.
The S6 is not exactly a small car, which is fine with us, yet its driving manners belie the 4,398 lb curb weight. A large part of what makes the S6 so willing to carve turns has to do with the rear sport differential. As an active handling aid, the sport rear differential can actually overdrive the outside wheel, turning the S6 into a genuine corner carving machine. On the cold winter roads of New England, the S6 strained the snow tires it was wearing a bit, but thanks again to the active chassis of the sport rear differential, and the more rear biased torque distribution from the 7 speed S-tronics Crown Gear center differential, the car remained incredibly well balanced and stable feeling.
There are several things that we found especially nice about the S6. First, since its blessed with quattro, this car had absolutely no problem on slippery roads. We had opportunity to drive it in accumulated snow, and the car handled as expected given the gigantic snow tires. The air suspension allowed us to raise the ride height of the car to clear deep piles of snow, while comfort mode took the edge off of the throttle response. Driving any car with this kind of power in snow requires a lot of discipline, but the S6 makes it fun, and inspires confidence.
Considering the incredible power of the 4 liter engine, we were amazed at the fuel economy we were seeing. While not being evenly remotely casual in our use of the throttle, we were seeing around 22mpg in mixed driving, and over 24 on a longer haul. Part of this is due to the engines low friction design, and part of it is due to the Cylinder On Demand system. This system uses active motor mounts, as well as the cars sound system to mask the fact that is actually shuts down 4 of the 8 cylinders (effectively turning into a V4 engine by shutting down cylinders 5, 8, 3 and 2 using an electromechanically controlled camshaft and other engine management tricks) during light load. This V4 running mode is indetectible, though it has a noticeable impact on fuel mileage.
To us, the S6 is a perfect day to day sports sedan. It has incredible performance, matched with unrivaled luxury and safety; it would be difficult to imagine a single car that offers as much as the S6 does. Combined with all of the things that we didnt mention in this piece, because weve already raved about them in the A6, its a very complete package. This is not an inexpensive car mind you, but we also feel that the bang for the buck is high with this one. If youre looking for a luxury sedan with a sports car soul, and every day practicality, the S6 is the car for you.