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Audi S6 review (2006-2011)
V10 Lamborghini Gallardo engine in an A6? Can Audi be serious? Oh yes, deeply so.
While the cynical among you might suggest a bit of "me-too" engineering in the face of BMW's awesome M5, there's little doubt that Audi had this in mind when it designed the V10 for the Gallardo. 5.2 litres, 435bhp, paddle shift gears and four wheel drive. Sounds interesting.
The S6 is the midpoint in Audi's sporting range. S-Line models are regular cars that have been dressed up to look special. They may have a few suspension tweaks here and there, but that's the only thing that makes them faster. At the extreme end is the RS range, of which the previous model RS6 earned itself a fearsome reputation and the new RS4 looks set to so the same.
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Under the bonnet
The V10 gains a couple of hundred ccs over the Italian car's, plus Audi's FSI direct fuel injection which is an attempt at getting halfway decent fuel economy from a massive engine. 21mpg on the combined cycle is hardly impressive, while in real use the computer was reading more like 15mpg. However, the engineering changes also give the Audi much greater torque low down than the Gallardo or any of its rivals, 540Nm is a truly prodigious output.
The transmission is a smooth six-speed auto with paddle shifts mounted behind the steering wheel. Much attention has been paid to making the car respond faithfully and instantly to steering inputs and there is an extensively modified aluminium suspension to help the handling and to (slightly) soften the firm ride.
But while there's lots going on beneath the surface of this Audi, the S6 is visually discrete. Four oval exhausts poking out from beneath the rear bumper and wheels arches so subtly flared that it's barely noticeable are hardly going to set the pulse racing. A V10 badge on each wing and unique 19 inch alloys mark the car out from the side and some rather tasty LED daylight running lights set low down on either side of the front grille signify an S6 is about to overtake you.
It's beautifully built, too. The fascia is sophisticated but straightforward at the same time, well conceived with none of the complication or fussiness of rivals. The Alcantara and leather sports seats, with hefty built-in head rests, are both supportive and supremely comfortable. Another strong selling point is that the S6 is available as a 5dr Avant estate as well as a four-door saloon. The wagon is a handsome car, so no surprise that Audi reckons that it will take 50% of sales.
On the road
We should have been talking about performance long before now, though. On paper it all looks fine and dandy. 0 to 62mph in 5.3 seconds and a limited top speed of 155 mph are a good start. All that torque should help the two tonnes of S6 off the line too. And yet for much of the time the elegance, comfort and sheer sophistication of the S6 overshadow the fact that this is an extremely powerful sports saloon. Certainly it picks up speed with gusto at 100mph and you can be at 130mph in an instant.
But that was in Germany and it's an arguable benefit in the UK. At sub-100mh speeds the S6 just doesn't seem as exciting and soul stirring as a 435bhp, V10 super saloon should be. The engine certainly has the deepest purr of any I have ever driven when you push the revs around to the maximum, but so deceptive is the acceleration on medium throttle that the expected punch into the seat backs never happens.
Have no doubt that this is an extremely effective long distance tool. It handles too, quattro four wheel drive doing its job of distributing the power around four wheels instead of two and minimising the risk of traction loss. Like the RS4, Audi has biased the power more to the rear of the car than before, which gives a slightly more neutral effect in corners and more feel though the steering.
There are some good arguments for the S6, not least the fact that, at £55k, it's nearly £10,000 less than a BMW M5. But while a V10 engine has both technical and one-upmanship merit, the S6 doesn't, arguably, stir the soul enough to justify the price or fuel economy. In my book this car would be far more desirable with Audi's V8 turbo-diesel, leaving the forthcoming turbo-charged RS6 to deal with those looking for performance that really counts.
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