My week with the S6 flew by as quickly as the car passed semis on the highway — meaning really, really fast. I could say it was fantastic and end the entire review here, but then I wouldn't get to keep my job.
Audi Skin, Lamborghini Muscle
The S6 starts life as a regular A6 sedan, then adds that huge V-10 engine, larger wheels, stiffer shocks and springs, sport seats, body cladding and wicked LED headlights and gets sent off to the lucky customer who can afford the $80,000 (as-tested) price tag. That said, I don't want anyone to think the transformation from luxury executive transport to ridiculously powerful executive transport is some kind of simple modification. The muscle-car battles between Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz today are just as serious as the ones between Chevy and Ford in the 1960s.
Unlike the other German luxury carmakers, Audi has an Italian exotic in the family. Yep, it owns Lamborghini, and that made getting the engine that powers the Gallardo easy. The V-10 also powers Audi's larger S8. Audi used its own Quattro all-wheel-drive system, not Lamborghini's. I drove the S6 in sub-freezing temperatures and never lost confidence, even when the tachometer's red needle was midway through its range.
Surprisingly, the V-10 is quite domesticated. The S6 comes to life with a little warble and the cabin shimmies a bit, but no nasty snarl comes from the engine bay. That doesn't happen until you hammer the accelerator down. When cruising, there's hardly any unique sound at all; the cabin is nice and quiet navigating a rough highway commute.
Swing the S6 out into the left lane with a clear view ahead, drop the accelerator and everything goes by in a flash. The V-10 awakens with a roar, and getting from 55 to 85 mph happens in a blink. Of course, the S6 can go much faster — at least 155 mph — but that would only be legal on the Autobahn. Why pay all that money for a range you won't be able to use that much? Because the S6 makes life below 155 mph that much more exciting.
Unfortunately, drag-strip racers won't have as much fun as highway speed demons. The S6 doesn't launch like a good-old muscle car from a dead stop. Even when using the manual-shift paddles on the steering wheel, it's hard to get the car to realize its full potential. It almost reminds me of a turbo engine with a noticeable delay in über power delivery. Maybe it doesn't matter, because S6 owners should be a bit more mature ... right?
Braking is accomplished with the help of monstrous 15.2-inch rotors up front and 13-inch discs in the back. You'd think applying the slightest amount of pressure to the brake pedal would result in intense grabby-ness, but unlike a lot of high-performance models, braking came at expected levels and at any speed.
Audi knows that serious sports enthusiasts will opt for the RS 4, while sophisticated enthusiasts want to be able to go out to dinner without making their date sick from feeling every road imperfection sent through too-stiff shocks. The S6 plays the balance game extremely well. Besides, after you drop off the date you can regain that driving thrill in the time it takes to drop the gas pedal.
Dressy Interior Not Needed
The interior is very minimalist in design and varies little from the standard A6's available all-black look. Only carbon fiber trim — I prefer the brushed aluminum in the standard A6 — and more-supportive sports seats really differentiate the S6. However, those seats make putting up with the carbon fiber worth it. The driver's seat was supportive but comfortable, and didn't hug too tightly, like those offered by BMW. I could spend hours on end flogging the S6 — and actually, I did just that — with not a crick in the back, neck or underside.
Since the Audi A6 is ranked as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — its highest award — there's no reason the S6 wouldn't garner the same ranking. There are standard side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags and electronic stability control.
S6 in the Market
There's not much that really competes with the Audi S6, besides the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. This trio of high-powered German sedans battles for the dollars of elite car buyers, and having driven both the M5 and S6, I'd lean toward the S6. It doesn't have as much power, but its everyday ride is more pleasant and the styling is more subdued. If you're in the market for any of these cars, the test drives should prove exciting enough for you to want to make your own decision quickly.
At the end of each day, I left the S6 with the feeling that this could be the last car I'd ever need for the rest of my life. Its styling is timeless, and the ride never crossed that thin line into harsh territory. And did I mention the V-10?
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