Fast and fun, the 2016 Audi S6 takes a plain-Jane luxury commuter and transforms it into a highly satisfying sport sedan.
For Audi, turning an ordinary, smooth and creamy vanilla milkshake — the Audi A6 — into the tasty mocha-java-chip Frappuccino S6 is a relatively straightforward affair: Use the same strong, stiff base for both, but swap out the A6’s healthy four-cylinder powertrain for a highly caffeinated, twin-turbocharged V-8. Also, widen the track for a much more planted feel, and sprinkle on some visual flair in the form of big wheels, special body panels and a lowered, menacing look. The result is a sport sedan that’s far tastier than the mundane base from which it springs.
Some updates for 2016, mostly centered around the car’s electronics, keep it up to date with competitors in its field. Compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
The changes to Audi’s midsize A6 sedan for 2016 are echoed in the sportier S6. New headlights and taillights are present, with revised LED signatures, and a wider grille up front creates a greater overall feeling of width for the car.
The S6 doesn’t need much improvement, frankly. As ordinary as the A6 looks, the S6 tweaks things just enough to communicate that this is not an ordinary luxury sedan; it’s packing something special under that sheet metal. It’s not as wild as it could be, but that kind of understated subtlety is what Audi buyers seem to be looking for. Its appeal is obvious.
The powertrain and suspension that change the A6 into the S6 totally transform the car. It goes from being a sleepy but solid luxury commuter to a rorty, snorty sport sedan.
It starts with replacing the A6’s four-cylinder or supercharged V-6 with a 450-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive. It’s a wonderfully tractable engine that’s able to cruise freeways at a loping, easygoing pace or blast you through canyon roads at frenetic velocities, switchable in its temperament at the touch of a button.
Well, not actually the touch of one button — not anymore. Audi has strangely eliminated the Audi Drive Select button on the dashboard that used to allow you to cycle between drive modes. Now you have to use the Audi Multi Media Interface controller to find and change the setting from Comfort to Sport in the system’s on-screen menus. Just the transmission can be shifted into a sport mode with a tap on the gear selector, but that changes only the transmission behavior.
With everything in Sport mode, the S6 is enormous fun. The engine delivers tremendous acceleration when called upon, accompanied by a sonorous exhaust note that will find you stabbing the go pedal just to hear the noise it makes. The wider track (the width between the car’s wheels, left to right) creates a much better sense of security and solidity, exhibiting excellent body control. There’s none of the body roll from the A6 when you make quick directional changes, and none of the floatiness that makes that car such a comfortable cruiser.
Part of that can be attributed to the S6’s standard summer performance tires; if you want all-season ability, you’ll have to invest in different tires yourself later on. What you’re left with is a feeling of control, but not necessarily one of precision; steering feedback is still a step below competitors’ levels, and even switching into Sport mode doesn’t help this. All it does is increase the amount of effort required for steering input, not improve feedback at all.
Ride quality is excellent in any of the S6’s modes, with even the firmest setting coming across as perfectly comfortable for passengers. The car is an excellent answer for drivers who want excitement in their commute but aren’t ready to pony up to Audi’s truly hairy-chested RS models — in either image or price.
The S6 has several competitors from many different automakers. One might be tempted to put it up against the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG or BMW M5, but that’s not necessarily a fair fight. Both the E63 and M5 are priced considerably higher than the S6; performance-wise, they’re more competitors for the only-available-in-Europe RS 6.
Instead, consider the Cadillac CTS Vsport, featuring a twin-turbo V-6 but available only with rear-wheel drive. (Note that the Vsport is a new in-between trim level, not to be confused with the CTS-V, which is itself priced closer to the E63 and M5.) The Vsport has the power, looks and handling to go up against the S6, but it’s priced advantageously. The Jaguar XF-R is a bit too expensive, but the XF 5.0 Supercharged matches up well, with sexy bodywork, a classy interior and a powerful supercharged V-8.
An interesting alternative might be the Maserati Ghibli S Q4 — the all-wheel-drive, twin-turbocharged V-6 model. It’s slightly more expensive than the S6 and down a little in horsepower, but it has Italian passion and style that the buttoned-down S6 lacks.
The EPA rates the S6 18/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined, a rather respectable rating given its big engine and speedy capabilities. The S6 leads its competition in this regard. Cadillac’s twin-turbo, V-6 CTS Vsport is a thirstier beast despite its whopping 500-pound weight advantage, rated 16/24/18 mpg. The supercharged V-8 Jaguar XF is even worse, at 15/23/18 mpg, but the twin-turbo V-6 Maserati improves on this slightly, earning a rating of 16/24/19 mpg.
The A6 was already a perfectly pleasant place to spend some time, and the S6 kicks this up another notch or two. Sport seats that are even more comfortable than the standard chairs are present and can be covered in some high-quality hides.
For 2016, a few new colors are available, including a red leather interior that looks absolutely dynamite. Everything is stitched, assembled, placed and glued together with a precision that’s still the benchmark for just about every other luxury brand.
Outward visibility is excellent, with unmarred sight lines in every direction (the A-pillars are a bit thick, however, which can make tight, blind corners a bit of a challenge). The backseat is a bit tight, and while three can fit in a pinch, a pinch it will be for that center-seat passenger. The S6 has a lot of legroom on paper, but it still feels cramped for folks in the backseat.
The Jag has a similar feel, albeit with a little more attention to the artistry of the interior shapes and forms: High-quality wood, leather and metal combine to make the XF an attractive place, but passengers will find it cramped in back. The CTS Vsport is the top-of-the-line for the CTS until you get to the fire-breathing CTS-V, and Cadillac has done some fine work in its material selection for the interior. Sadly, that’s all undone by the black-plastic touch panels that control everything.
Compared with the high-quality, precision feel of the Audi’s switches and controls, the CTS is an ergonomic mess, with no tactile feedback to anything (its haptic feedback vibration is an unsatisfactory substitute). It simply doesn’t feel like a luxury car. The Maserati, however, does, with excellent materials throughout and decent space for front occupants. Backseat riders will find legroom very cramped, however — an astonishing trait given the Ghibli claims to have 10 cubic feet more passenger space than the S6.
Electronics news for 2016 has to do with the new Audi Multi Media Interface system, an updated multimedia package that’s faster, has better graphics resolution and finally features USB ports (two of them) instead of Audi’s proprietary connectors for smartphones. The new MMI retains the same operational feel as the old one, in which four buttons that correspond to the four corners of the screen surround a rotary knob. It’s super easy to use on the fly and doesn’t require you to look at your hand at all.
The new system is visibly faster (not that the old one felt slow), and features like real-time Google Maps for the navigation system seem much more fluid. In contrast, the Cadillac Cadillac User Experience system still requires some improvement. It’s slow to react to voice commands, swipes or even changing tracks on a plugged-in smartphone. Jaguar’s multimedia system feels older and less well-thought-out, even though its functions are fully up to date. The Maserati features a truly disappointing system: FCA’s Uconnect, which was carried over fully intact from your average $23,000 Dodge Dart. Not even the fonts or icons have been changed, and while it works perfectly fine, it looks like it should be in an economy car, not an $80,000 luxury sport sedan. It certainly doesn’t have the sophisticated look or feel of Audi’s MMI system.
The S6 is a fairly large car, and that’s reflected in its luggage capacity of 14.1 cubic feet of truck space. That space is expandable thanks to a standard split, folding rear seat. The CTS is smaller, offering only 13.7 cubic feet, but the Jaguar and Maserati top them both, each offering 17.7 cubic feet. Of the quartet, only the Jaguar doesn’t have a folding rear seat standard at these higher trim levels.
As for crashworthiness, it doesn’t get any better than the 2016 S6’s results. The car scored a full five out of five stars across the board in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. It aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests, as well, earning good ratings (out of a possible poor, marginal, acceptable and good) and a Top Safety Pick Plus award. See the S6’s crash-test results here.
With the updates for 2016 have come a few new electronic safety options, as well. In addition to previously available forward collision warning and blind spot alert, a new lane keeping assist feature now ties in with both, preventing you from changing lanes and accidentally merging into a car traveling in your rear blind spot.
A night-vision system is available, and parking aids like a backup camera plus front and rear sensors are standard. More equipment comes standard on the S6 than the A6 due to its higher price tag; see what you get for your money here.
The 2016 S6 starts at $71,825, a significant premium over the top gasoline-powered A6, which starts at $58,325. That premium has significant content upgrades, however, including the big V-8 engine, a heavily revised suspension and sporty content for the interior and exterior.
That price brings you in at the Premium Plus trim level, but opting for the Prestige trim bumps the price up to $76,225 and adds a Bose audio system, a head-up display, LED interior lighting, a power open/close trunk and sunshades for backseat passengers. Start adding option packages like the Sport or Driver Assistance Plus Packages, the night-vision camera or the Audi design selection interior appearance package and you can raise the price tag to more than $97,000.
The S6’s competitors are similarly capable but not necessarily similarly priced. The CTS Vsport undercuts the S6 by more than $10,000 to start, with a base model priced at $60,335. Opt for a loaded Premium trim and it still only comes to $70,335 — less than the starting price of an S6. Of course, it doesn’t have the same level of luxury equipment the S6 does, nor does it offer all-wheel drive, but it’s still an extraordinarily good driving machine.
The Jaguar XF Supercharged 5.0 starts at $71,870 for a 2015 model, almost identical to the S6’s starting price. There aren’t as many options to add as in an S6, so the Jag tops out at $77,445 but without the level of technology available in the Audi. Finally, the Maserati Ghibli is slightly more expensive — at least in the version that compares to the S6: the Ghibli Q4 S with its supercharged engine. That version starts at $79,150 (including a hefty $1,250 destination fee), but can be optioned up to more than $100,000 when you start picking luxury packages and fancier technology upgrades. Compare all four competitors here.