BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
Audi S6 review (2012 onwards)
Summary: Grown-up sports saloon packs a brilliant Bentley engine into an understated package. It's sophisticated, full of depth and ability, but doesn't quite have the driver involvement enthusiasts are after.
We like: Cultured and sophisticated feel, classy V8 performance, well-judged chassis setup, beautiful interior
We don't like: Lacks performance car feel, could perhaps be more economical still, do enough people 'get' what an Audi S is?
The Audi S6 is a car for Ingolstadt loyalists. The firm doesn't expect to sell many in the UK - perhaps fewer than 100 a year - but those who want one apparently really want one. It's seen as the ultimate mainstream Audi: the one for connoisseurs who want that bit extra without stepping into full-on supercar-saloon Audi RS mode.
It's deliberately understated, again to please Audi fans seeking go, not show. If it weren't for the quad exhausts, massive wheels and trademark S polished aluminium door mirror caps, it's rather hard to split the S from the less potent S line. Only studying it closely reveals the thin-sliver bootlid spoiler, double-strip horizontal grille bars and more muscular side sills.
Creamy in a way only a V8 engine can be
One thing shatters any pretense of understatement, though - the fact it has a Bentley engine. Yes, its new 4.0-litre V8 is a detuned version of the 500hp motor MSN Cars tried in the new Bentley Continental GT V8. Even this is fitting, though: the old S6 had a V10 Lamborghini engine.
By downsizing, cutting the cylinder count and adding on twin turbos, Audi says it is 25% more economical. This means the S6 is ecologically viable, so we are still able to enjoy a big V8-engined A6 - and Audi is able to continue a model line that began with the Audi 100-derived S4 back in 1991. Has packing a Bentley V8 made this one the best yet?
The engine is both subdued for a snorty 420hp V8, but also creamy in a way only a V8 can be. In normal use it's super-refined, save for the ever-present and satisfying deep woofle from the exhausts that helps it always feel that bit more special than standard. At higher revs, it's more vocal, but is too sophisticated to descend into full NASCAR mimicry.
It's a rapid car, but not because of outright horsepower (it's actually 15hpo less powerful than before), but because of torque. It has 405lb ft, available from 1,500rpm right through to 5,200rpm: in other words, more torque than before, available 1,500rpm sooner and spread over a 3,700rpm-wide rev range.
You drive it as such, relying on ample response to small accelerator inputs to give a muscular, big-engine feel. It revs willingly (the limiter-induced upshift is always a surprise), and delivers the searing performance its 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds suggests, but it's the total package of easy performance that's the real draw here.
The seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch auto adds to the gratification with snap-crack shifts and a crackle from the exhaust upon every one. It's as quick-witted as the power delivery: choosing dynamic from the Audi Drive Select menu sees it hold onto gears for longer, tapping into the high-rev performance explosion more easily, but you really don't need to in order to still go fast.
When they're not driving it fast, the other S6 detail people will focus on is its cylinder deactivation. Can you really tell when it's running on four, not eight? Well, if our first drive is indicative, no. There's a light on the dash to say when four cylinders are turned off: without this, we wouldn't know.
Floor the accelerator again when running in this mode and we once noticed a tiny hiccup-shunt through the transmission, but otherwise could tell no difference. Even the noise doesn't change, thanks to active noise cancellation speakers built into the rooflining. Green technology that genuinely is infinitesimal.
Ride and handling
It bites hard into corners and bites harder within them
20mm lower than standard, with adaptive air suspension and, of course, Quattro four-wheel drive (with a slight rear-drive bias), the S6 has more mechanical wizardry to hand than many other models in this sector. In tuning it, Audi has not gone too far down the sporting route - that's the job of the RS - to create perhaps the most well-rounded A6 of all.
Seriously. What strikes you first is the ride quality, all air-damped cushioning and controlled fluidity. There's a tautness that's magnified if you select 'dynamic' on the five-setting control, but the comfort and control it showcases is very impressive indeed. It's a genuinely cosseting high-speed express.
When pressed harder away from the autobahn though, the magnetism of a BMW is lacking. It is too aloof and isolated to be a true performance saloon: it bites hard into corners and bites harder within them, but forgets to include the driver when doing so. Audi won't mind, though. Indeed, this is probably intentional - the S is about a sporting drive, not a high-performance one.
Again, choosing dynamic does tighten things up appreciably: the S6 darts into corners with more agility and generally feels as if the pressure in the air cushion has been stepped up. But still, this is very much a high-sophistication showcase - with all the satisfaction from its inherent accuracy and faithful confidence - rather than a truly involving drive.
Audi's best interior is currently the A6 layout (also seen in the A7), and it's all suitably enhanced in the S6 by even more premium detailing, some bespoke trim materials and a brilliant set of seats. The chairs are just firm enough, beautifully shaped and perfectly bolstered: add super-soft Valcona leather for perhaps the nicest seats we have sat on so far this year.
The big dials are finished in grey and, when the engine is cold, the red LEDs surrounding the rev counter tick down to raise the red line as engine oil warms. This is attention to detail also shown by an S6 logo pressed into it, that's matched on the steering wheel, door kickplates and remote locking key.
The rear is as palatial as the front
It's a roomy car, which will be a particular draw for customers (they like practicality with their performance too). The rear is as palatial as the front - and gets its own climate control unit - while Audi complements this saloon with an S6 Avant estate model for those who need even more room.
Audi says S6 buyers love technology, so it offers the full welter of cutting edge features: lots of these are on the options list but it's still admirable to have Google Earth sat nav maps, in-car WiFi, night vision, head-up display and full LED headlights on offer.
Economy and safety
For a 420hp car to average 29.4mpg is going some. The old one returned less than 23mpg, and it's complemented here by a 225g/km CO2 emissions figure. Trouble is, we're greedy. We feel the Audi should be averaging 30mpg: after all, the ads BMW M5 can do 28.5mpg...
The Audi even has one feature not present on the BMW M - the cylinder deactivation function. According to the dash display, this cut in more than we expected, and Audi says it improve consumption by 10 per cent on a cruise. Be easy on the throttle, keep revs below 3,500rpm and it will cut the cylinders to save - automatically and imperceptibly.
All the mechanical equipment that makes it so able to drive also brings safety advances, supported by ample safety aids both standard and optional. The core strength built into the chassis also helps crash safety integrity.
The MSN Cars verdict
This V8 Audi is a very warm and creamy car to drive, mainly because of that burbling V8. It brings a richness to the A6 that's tremendously appealing, and it's well supported by a very well sorted chassis that has pointy responses and a depth-filled ride. Stability, confidence and performance are all top notch.
We like the subtle focus of the styling too, while the interior is just beautiful. We do feel it should be a little bit more economical still, and we'll have to wait for the mooted RS model for true driver involvement, but the S6 is still a car that's more appealing than we expected: very much one for those in the know, but those few who know it's for them won't be disappointed.
Need to know
Engines (petrol): 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo
Torque: 405lb ft
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG, combined: 29.4mpg
CO2, tax: 225g/km, /35%
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