January 8, 2007
Like most of you, I imagine, I ended up doing a lot of driving over the holidays. Between trips to the relatives’, last-minute Christmas shopping (is there any other kind?), playing designated driver and trying to get together with everybody that’s in town for only a few days, the December break often felt like one extended road trip. That’s no bad thing if you like driving – and when you get to pick a car to do it all in. It’s a good time to spend an extended period behind the wheel of something special.
And the 435-hp Audi S6 is definitely something special.
I could, if I wanted to, make a very rational case for having chosen to drive the S6 at the end of December. Its spacious cabin and huge trunk would make it a practical and comfortable choice for hauling friends, family and the usual load of holiday packages. Its quattro all-wheel-drive system and four snow tires would provide an added measure of security and safety while logging all those winter kilometres. That, and its powerful V10 and brilliant six-speed automatic transmission would, ahem, expedite all of the inevitable trips I would have to be making.
For $101,900 to start, the S6 is not a cheap car but is also significantly less expensive than natural competition – the BMW M5 at $113,300 and the Mercedes E63 AMG at $119,800. It comes equipped as well or better than either of those cars, with a fully leather-lined interior, fabulous six-disc Bose audio system, navigation system, sunroof, 19-inch wheels and power assists for pretty much everything as standard equipment. The technology package fitted to my test car included a couple of other goodies, most notable of which was a keyless start system, something I got quite used to over the course of a couple of weeks of carrying too many packages with too few hands. You simply touch any of the four the door handles to unlock the car, touch a button at their edge to lock, and touch the trunk lid to open it; a switch by the shift lever starts and stops the engine.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that the S6 delivers noticeably less peak horsepower than its rivals along with its noticeably lower price. At 435 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, the 5.2-litre V10 is handily beaten by the 507-hp V10 in the M5 and the 503-hp naturally aspirated V8 of the E63. It certainly doesn’t feel any less powerful than either of those cars, something to do perhaps with the delicious rumble emanating from the four exhaust tips or the awesome roar that accompanies hard acceleration. Audi claims the S6 will rush to 100 km/h in just 5.1 seconds, a claim that’s easy to believe given how smoothly and quickly the automatic transmission swaps cogs and how eager the V10 is to rev. Even at low speeds, passengers commented on how powerful the car felt and how impressively flexible the engine was; a mere tickle of the gas pedal was enough to have it surging forward.
The S6’s suspension is unabashedly set up for performance. Around on-ramps and off-ramps, my tester generated incredible levels of grip despite being fitted with aggressive winter tires. It slashed along country roads with precision and stability, guided by steering that was light but accurate enough to place the front wheels right where I wanted them. The brakes don’t have fancy mono-block calipers like the E63, but they generate impressive stopping power with a steady, progressive pedal feel. The downside of all this is a ride that’s quite stiff and unyielding: more than one slightly inebriated passenger asked if the company had forgotten to install the springs at the factory. (Many of them also commented on the abundance of engine noise, but everybody thought that the V10’s music was a very good thing indeed.)
Were it not for the ride, the S6 would make a very credible luxury sedan as well as a performance car. As we’ve come to expect from Audi, the interior is beautifully finished, with gorgeous materials – real aluminum, rich leather and a big plank of carbon-fibre on the centre console – and impeccable fit and finish. The Multi Media Interface’s graphics are gorgeous on the central dash-mounted screen, though there are still some quirks in the operating logic of the knob and buttons behind the shifter.
Up front, the high-backed buckets have a wide range of adjustment, so it’s easy to find a great driving position; despite their huge side bolsters, they remain comfortable after many hours behind the wheel. Rear passengers have plenty of head- and legroom, their own set of vents, adjustable head restraints and a fold-down armrest with cupholders and storage, perfect for long hours spent in the car, whether on the highway or in the mall parking lot, trying to find a parking space. Overall, there’s a bit more room in here than either the E63 or the M5 and the large glass area and lighter materials contribute to a feeling of airiness missing in the other two cars’ cabins.
Save for a light dusting of snow one day and a couple of days of heavy rainfall, the weather over the Christmas break never really troubled the S6’s all-wheel-drive system or its standard electronic stability and traction control; in truth, I could have made do with a lot less car given the eventual conditions. But $100,000 performance luxury sedans are, despite their four doors and the justifications you can make for them on practical terms, rarely about being rational. And every time I walked up to the subtly menacing S6, with its egg-crate grille and huge air intakes and knife-edge wheels, I was more than happy to put up with its stiff ride, its egregious fuel consumption and its other small foibles. This is a car that feels great to drive – and you know you look good in it, too.
Manufacturer’s web site