Audi S6
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Story by Paul Williams
Photos by Paul Williams and Audi

Before considering the Audi S6 Avant, let’s get one thing out of the way. Because of its price, most readers won’t be able to locate their posterior in one until at least 2007, when maybe it becomes affordable as a used-car buy.

So why consider it at all?

Because it sets a benchmark. It’s what can be done. The existence of cars like this serves to pull up the level of modestly priced, mass-market vehicles that most of us can afford. It’s a glimpse into the future, as eventually some of the S6’s desirable features will trickle down.

Except for the engine, of course. But we’ll get to that.

The “S” designation for Audi means it’s a limited production sport model based on a vehicle from their standard range — in this case, the A6. Avant is Audi-speak for station wagon.

Although the S6 costs $88,500 plus options, it’s not a car you buy to show money. This car shows wealth. Its design is understated and classy. Most people wouldn’t recognize an S6 Avant if it hit them.

It is a wagon, after all, and it only looks special when you look closely. Big dual exhausts, lowered suspension, tires wide enough for the drag strip, discrete aluminum accents, and the red “S” emblem that the cynical observer can imagine with a vertical line through it.

Audi S6
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Under the hood resides an all-aluminum 4.2-litre V8 engine from the company’s flagship A8. With dual overhead camshafts and five valves per cylinder, this engine makes 340 horsepower at 7000 r.p.m. A stump-pulling 310 lbs.-ft. of torque is available at 3400 r.p.m.

The engine is attached to a sophisticated five-speed automatic transmission that can be operated in three modes. The everyday mode is the familiar “D” for Drive, where the transmission quietly and efficiently does its job. Or you can select “S” for Sport mode. Audi literature describes this as providing “slightly more performance.”

Yes, right. More understatement.

Actually, Sport mode gives the car the personality of a confined dog that’s just been shown an open door. Touch the gas pedal and you’re instantly pinned to the seat. The engine roars and the transmission holds gears until well past 7000 r.p.m.. Your eyes open wide, your palms get sweaty and your mouth dries up.

Normally, you barely get into third gear before the laws of the land compel you to remove your foot from the accelerator. When you do this, you experience various computer programs and complex automotive technologies impatiently revising themselves from “go” to “whoa.” It’s like the car is annoyed with you.

“Did you not say you wanted to go?” it seems to ask in a haughty tone, while rolling its xenon lights.

After experiencing Sport mode, my teenaged son, Attila, thoughtfully opined that maybe “D” was for Dad, and “S” was for son.

Sport mode is, I think, the Audi equivalent of an afterburner. Slight increase, indeed.

Audi S6
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The third mode is a manually operated Tiptronic that can be managed from the console-mounted shifter or from micro-switches located on the steering wheel. This turns out to be fun, especially using the shifting controls on the steering wheel.

But why bother? I confess I typically ran the car in “D” for Dad…er, Drive.

The S6 puts all this power to the wheels through Audi’s respected Quattro all-wheel drive system. This is a permanent system that operates transparently to the driver. It’s extremely competent on all road surfaces. The wheels don’t lose grip even on loose gravel.

The car uses a range of sophisticated active safety features including a proprietary electronic stabilization program, hydraulic brake assist, electronic differential lock, anti lock brakes, and anti-slip regulation. Brakes are four-wheel ventilated discs, with aluminum calipers and four pads per front rotor.

Audi S6
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Additional safety features include dual-threshold, next-generation front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.

On the highway the S6 glides along serenely. To say that acceleration is effortless understates the experience. When you want to pass someone, acceleration is more a mental process than a mechanical one. Basically, you think you’d like to go faster, and you are.

Cornering is precise and flat. At 1825 kg (4024 lbs) this car is no lightweight, but its handling is nimble and truly sporty. The “S” suspension contributes to its surefootedness with aluminum components, stiffer shocks and spring rates, and 40-series, super low profile tires.

The interior is immaculate, businesslike and functional. It features genuine wood accents contrasting with leather and suede upholstery. Even the headliner is proprietary “Alcantara” suede. All controls are at hand, although some of the switches are small.

The power, heated, three-way memory driver and passenger seats are massive, supportive and comfortable. The rear, heated seats are equally obliging. Cargo capacity is generous. In short, the interior is spacious, first-class, and when underway, silent.

Instrumentation is clear and legible during the day, but Audi’s trademark monotone red illumination (except for the white gauge needles) is becoming tiresome. The A4 now uses a combination of white and red illumination that I prefer.

When reversing to park, the passenger rear-view mirror dips to show you the curb – an excellent aid.

Peeves? Mostly niggling, but evident nonetheless. The front cupholder (there’s only one) is a flimsy contraption set too high in the dash. The green illuminated symbol to tell you your lights are on glows even though your headlights are off. It’s not much use for anything. The rear sunscreen is, surprisingly, manually operated.

The biggest issue is the $2000 navigation system that has limited Canadian coverage. The nation’s capital, for example, is outside its range.

Peeves aside, the S6 a wonderful driving machine, unique in its execution. Its appearance, operation and performance are of the highest level throughout.

It’s also a car of contrasts. You get a smooth, compliant ride, but superb, sharp handling; you get an angry bear of an engine that can be thoroughly docile. It’s a legitimate sports machine in the form of a wagon, and it offers genuine luxury and quality in a tasteful, understated package.

Standard features include: remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, “one-touch” up and down for all power windows, auto dimming/folding outside mirrors, auto dimming inside rear view mirror, 12-way power front seats with three memory settings, leather upholstery, Quattro all-wheel drive plus electronic safety systems, anti-lock brakes, electronic trip computer, 6-disc in-dash CD player with Bose 200W sound system, and first aid kit.

Options are solar sunroof, rear-facing children’s bench seat, Audi navigation system, rear side airbags, heated rear seats, and Parktronic parking aid.

The U.S. Insurance Bureau for Highway Safety crashworthiness evaluation is �Acceptable�.

Did I mention it’s $88,500?

Technical Data:

2002 Audi S6 Avant
Base price $88,500
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized luxury wagon
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 4.2 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves
Horsepower 340 @ 7000 r.p.m.
Torque 310 lb-ft @ 3400 r.p.m.
Fuel Premium Unleaded
Transmission 5-speed automatic/Tiptronic
Tires P255/40ZR-17
Curb weight 1825 kg (4024 lb.)
Wheelbase 2759 mm (108.6 in.)
Length 4878 mm (192.0 in.)
Width 1810 mm (71.3 in.)
Height 1479 mm (58.2 in.)
Cargo Capacity 130 litres (4.6 cu. ft.) front trunk; 201 litres (7.1 cu. ft.) rear seats folded
Fuel consumption City: 17.2 l/100 km (16 m.p.g.)
  Hwy: 10.4 l/100 km (27 m.p.g.)

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