The heart of a Lamborghini supercar in a conservative, luxurious D-segment sedan? Are you mad? The boardroom talk at the Volkswagen Group's head offices must have been interesting when the topic of the
Audi S6 first came up. Barring the V10 in the BMW M5, which was almost exclusively developed for that car, the last time such an unlikely marriage between supercar power and executive comfort took place was in the '80s when Lancia stuck a Ferrari engine into its boxy Thema 8.32. So, does the S6 come across as having a split personality? Or has Audi managed to successfully massage two seemingly incompatible halves together?
Flying under the radarYou can't miss a BMW M5... The big shiny wheels and aggressive aerodynamics shout its presence from many metres away. By comparison the Audi S6 looks very much like any other A6... Until you get up close and realise the changes are quite far-reaching. For one, the 19-inch alloy wheels are eye-catching, as are the sill extensions, re-profiled bumpers and unique grille finish. But even so the S6 is unlikely to be noticed by those who are largely unconcerned by the existence of the super saloon genre. That means the Audi S6 is targeted at individuals who don't like to attract attention too much...
Similarly, changes to the interior are largely limited to a few trim refinements and the odd S6 badge here and there. It remains a mystery that a car with such excellent build quality and beautifully made cabin doesn't attract more sales, but that is seemingly the eternal plight of the A6. All the surfaces boast a tactile quality beyond what
BMW and Mercedes can offer, and the controls work with a very reassuring solidity and slickness. Ergonomically speaking the centre section of the facia looks a tad cluttered, perhaps even dated, but one soon gets the hang of it. Even the MMI control system's menus and buttons seem entirely logical now that we've had time to get used to them.
It goes without saying that the S6 is a full-house package. In fact, going into the details of its standard features list would take up the entire word count of this article...
Italian stallion's muscleFar more important than sat-nav, climate control and a superb sound system, is the glorious engine that resides under the innocent-looking bonnet. The 5.2-litre V10 normally resides in the Lamborghini Gallardo, where it delivers screaming performance. Undoubtedly fettled by Audi's boffins to be more suitable to this performance sedan application, this 90-degree V-engine features variable inlet and exhaust timing and dual camshafts. It also develops a whopping 320 kW and 540 Nm of torque, over a range of 3 000 to 4 000 rpm. The latter figure is somewhat misleading, creating the illusion of lag at the bottom, but there's none. The S6 builds power strongly and progressively from the first touch of the accelerator. In fact, coupled with a sensitive throttle pedal, care has to be taken not to effect full-bore launches when just pulling away from a traffic light!
Even so, it feels slower than the claimed 0-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds may suggest, mostly because of the superb noise insulation of the cabin. Were it not for the addictive, bassy roar of the V10, the driver would be entirely aware of the rate of progress. The engine is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission, which may surprise some petrol heads in this age of sequential and dual-clutch gearboxes. But this transmission actually suits the refined character of the S6, because the ratios seem to be well-suited to the power delivery characteristics of the engine, resulting in relentless acceleration and well-timed shifts. Of course, there is a manual shift option if you wish.
Power is sent to all four wheels via Audi's trademark quattro all-wheel drive system, programmed in its latest guise to send up to 85 % of torque to the rear when required, and 60 % under normal driving conditions. Previous fast Audis with the 50/50 split quattro system tended to be too understeery, and these changes have been made in an effort to curb this behaviour. Be aware, however, that this hasn't turned the S6 into a sideways machine. In fact, you'd have to be a real hooligan to elicit such unruly behaviour.
The effect is in reality quite subtle, with the Audi S6 feeling slightly less keen to push its nose in fast corners, but certainly still being front-biased. If this sounds like a criticism, it is not. The target market is likely to prefer it this way, and the understeer sets in at very high limits, simply because the grip is phenomenal!
VerdictFor a car with the heart of a Lamborghini, the S6 is quite a pussycat. Yes, the performance is sizzling, but you don't experience the ferocity inside the cabin. And while the changes to quattro have given the S6 amazing grip and less of a nose heavy feel, it is still more of a high-speed express than a back-road blaster. It is targeted at sophisticated buyers who want a subtle marriage of high performance and luxury, and in that sense the S6 is almost without peer. In fact, Audi should be applauded for pulling off this most unlikely combination of Italian firepower and German luxury!
We don't like:
Lacks driver engagement
Doesn't look special enough
Engine: 5.2-litre, V10, petrol
Power: 320 kW @ 6 800 rpm
Torque: 540 Nm @ 3 000-4 000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Wheels: 19-inch alloy
Top speed: 250 km/h
0-100 km/h: 5.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 13.4 litres/100 km
Significantly more expensive, but it does offer a lot more power and even more focused dynamics. The SMG transmission makes the M5 a less relaxing daily driver than the S6, however.
More power. More torque. More... just about everything, except for grip. The E63 is a hairy chested brute that reminds strongly of muscle cars of the past. Expensive, too.
The ageing S-Type still has its fans, mostly because of its charismatic styling and crisp handling. But it's down on power and seriously behind in the high-technology arms race currently fought between the Germans. Cabin is eccentric... and dated.