This is the new S6 Quattro saloon, Audi’s rival to the BMW 550i and Jaguar XF V8. It costs £53,995, comes only with Quattro all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and serves up 414bhp and 406lb ft.
That’s a V10 under the 2012 Audi S6's bonnet, isn’t it?
No. The previous Audi S6 did come with a V10, but this new model gets the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that’s closely related to the one Bentley slotted into the entry-level Continental GT. As ever, it’s all to do with improving performance while also upping frugality, but the key technology here is cylinder deactivation: the S6 will shut down four cylinders in certain conditions, but you must be in third gear or higher with 930-3500rpm on the dial, the engine temperature must be at least 30degC, you must be travelling at no less than 15mph and engine torque must be between 87lb ft and 184lb ft. Got that?
The V8 is cleverly packaged, with the twin turbochargers nestled within the engine’s vee, making it a more compact design and shortening the path the gasses take from leaving the turbo to re-entering the engine. And that means more instantaneous responses.
What comes as standard on the S6?
The S6 comes with air suspension all-round, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, 19-inch alloys, a stop/start system, Alcantara and leather upholstery, Xenon headlights, SD-card-based sat-nav and a 10-speaker stereo.
You also get active noise cancelling, which detects unwanted noises and subdues them imperceptibly by adding in counter frequencies via the stereo system.
Options include 20-inch alloys, a 15-speaker Bang and Olufsen hi-fi, adaptive cruise control, adaptive lights, active lane assist, ceramic brakes, variable-ratio steering, panoramic glass sunroof and hard-drive-based sat-nav.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s good, and the engine’s a cracker: it’s smooth, refined and pulls very eagerly from low revs, only the keenness of the mid-range power delivery really letting on that this is a turbocharged engine. The soundtrack is a kind of muffled, woofly thunder, which some might complain isn’t loud enough, but I think it complements the S6’s discreet, under-the-radar persona. The only downside, for me, is that it feels like it could rev for another 1000rpm or so at the top end.
Stop/start worked consistently well through our test, but it was harder – all credit to Audi – to detect the cylinder deactivation at work. This is partly because this car is so quite and refined at low revs that you can’t really hear the engine anyway, and when you put your foot down, you’re immediately calling for all eight cylinders.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is generally very smooth and rapid, but it was unfathomably clunky on at least one occasion and felt consistently out of sorts during part-throttle downshifts: there’s a kind of straining like a clutch slipping, then a sudden release of energy as the powertrain gets its act back together.
How about the chassis and brakes?
The Quattro all-wheel drive hardware normally splits torque 40/60 front-to-rear, but it can send as much as 85% rearwards without traction control intervention, and a full 100% with the chips helping out. The general feeling is of cool, composed, slightly detached competence, but push really hard and you can feel the system quickly juggling torque around, sometimes the front rubber taking extra nibbles and dragging you out of a bend, other times the rear powering you on.
It’s not a particularly great driver’s car, and its near two-tonne kerbweight does makes its presence felt on fast, writhing Tarmac – at which point the S6 can feel a little clumsy – but I suspect it’ll do everything its target owners will ever ask of it without a whimper.
We tried both the standard steel brakes and the optional ceramics. The pedal feel of both is fine – cold ceramics can sometimes have a disconcerting dead spot at the top of the pedal – but if you drive the S6 hard, the ceramics come into their own, resisting fade and wiping off huge chunks of speed where the steels can wilt and trigger the ABS.
The steering and ride quality can be tweaked by Audi’s Drive Select system. For me, ‘comfort’ steering wins, because it’s light and consistent, and actually weights up with some proper resistance when you start to push harder. ‘Dynamic’, in contrast, feels artificially heavy, and you fight against its resistance more when you try to bully the S6 into tighter corners at speed.
Meanwhile, the ride quality in ‘comfort’ on the standard air suspension felt well judged on the generally smooth German Tarmac we got to test it on, but we’d need to assess it on British roads to see how that transitions to the UK.
And it’s practical too, right?
Of course. There’s plenty of head- and legroom for six footers from and rear, the boot swallows an impressive 565 litres – a 5-series estate holds 560 litres, an E-class estate 695 litres – electronic tailgate opening comes as standard, and you can flatten the split-folding rear seats with the merest pull of a latch that’s positioned handily just inside the boot.
The Audi S6 Avant is a great Q car: it offers appealing if slightly anonymous looks, bags of practicality, impressive refinement – those very occasional gearbox jerks aside – a gorgeous interior, and ample performance that’s served up effortlessly, whatever the weather. If you’re looking for something to really thrill, you may be disappointed, but as an all-round package, there’s little to fault here.