Close your eyes for a second. Actually, open them. You can’t read with them closed.
Imagine you’re a partner at a large accounting firm, or maybe a bank manager. You’ve got serious money to spend on a new car, but you don’t want to follow the herd with an SUV.
You want something fast, but not too fast. It needs to look sporty and expensive, but not over-the-top. It needs to be simple to use, but have enough tech for you to brag about. And it needs a desirable badge, naturally.
There are plenty of options out there. Mercedes-Benz will sell you an AMG E53, and BMW offers the M550i with a stealthy exterior and V8 power.
But it could easily be argued the latest Audi S6 is the most desirable executive express out there. The punchy exterior blends DTM arches with crisp, subtle details, and the cabin offers a smorgasbord of screens.
Although the V8 is gone, the turbo’d six under the bonnet packs a healthy punch. Throw in a sharp price, and you’ve got an excellent high-end sedan on your hands.
The new S6 epitomises everything Audi is trying to be in 2020. I like it a lot.
It’s hard to argue any car with a starting price around $150,000 before on-road costs is a bargain, but the Audi S6 comes close to qualifying.
Alright, it isn’t cheap. But a sticker of $149,900 before on-road costs represents a price cut of more than $20,000 compared to its predecessor, and almost everything is standard.
Remember when luxury cars came with a list of options like War and Peace? That’s no longer the case at Audi, which has tried to close the gap with arch-nemeses BMW and Mercedes-Benz by loading its higher-end models to the gills with standard kit.
There are three options available, all of them expensive, none of them must-haves. Carbon Ceramic brakes ($19,000) aren’t really necessary on a car that’ll spend significantly more time in gridlocked Melbourne than on the grid at Winton, especially when the standard steel units pack eye-popping stopping power.
More worthy of consideration is the Dynamic Package ($7700). It adds a sport differential, which actively distributes drive torque to the rear wheel with more traction. It also brings dynamic steering, which can alter the number of turns lock-to-lock depending on drive mode.
An uprated Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound system ($11,700), and the woven carbon fibre trim ($1700) fitted to our tester are both available.
The biggest rival for the S6 comes from BMW, which offers the M550i xDrive Pure for just $134,900 before on-roads with a 4.4-litre V8 pumping out 390kW and 750Nm. There’s no question that’s exceptional value, and the burbly V8 factor will make it a no-brainer for some.
But for a similar interior spec to the S6 you’ll need to pay $149,900 before on-roads for the non-Pure M550i. In other words, there’s not much to split the two.
The other logical challenger is the Mercedes-AMG E53, but its starting price of $173,436 before on-roads is much, much steeper.
At risk of sounding repetitive, pretty much everything. The cabin of the latest Audi S6 is a high-tech gadget box lined with lovely leather, and wants for nothing as standard.
The seats are trimmed in the same soft, waxy leather as the flagship A8 limousine, and the front seats are plush S-branded sports units. Although the sloping-backed S7 has sports seats in the rear, the S6 packs a more practical bench.
As you’d expect, there’s keyless entry and start, wireless phone charging, powered and heated front seats, a powered steering column, four-zone climate control, and a hands-free powered tailgate.
Configurable ambient lighting is on hand to turn the cabin into a rolling disco.
Outside, the body is finished with black highlights as standard, and the car rides on 21-inch alloy wheels. Nine exterior colours are offered at no extra cost, but we’d recommend the Tango Red of our tester or the deeper of the two blue options.
You also three more screens in the front, led by a 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display in place of conventional dials.
The main infotainment touchscreen is a 10.1-inch unit angled towards the driver, sitting above another 8.6-inch screen for climate and other minor functions. Even rear passengers have a little screen for their climate.
Get ready for lots of fingerprints, lots of dust, and the occasional sweary moment when dealing with those screens, but for the most part they’re effective.
The Audi S6 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on scores of 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 81 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 78 per cent for safety assist.
A full suite of active safety features is standard, led by autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. There’s blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, collision avoidance assist, and a system that prevents you from opening the door if traffic or a bike is coming.
As a cyclist who lives in perpetual fear of copping the corner of an inattentive driver’s door in the sternum at 35km/h, that last feature is very, very welcome.
There are plenty of cliches about Audi interiors, and most of them apply. Usually we try to avoid cliches like the plague, but this is my first Audi review, so buckle up for some in-depth touchpoint chat.
For all its high tech sizzle, the S6’s cabin is still fundamentally excellent. Front passengers sit in supportive, low-set sports seats with the right amount of bolstering, and the slim-rimmed steering wheel extends out into the driver’s chest.
Visibility is unusually excellent for a modern car, aided by upright rear pillars and a relatively tall glasshouse. All the leather in the cabin is lovely, all the gloss black plastic feels rock solid, and everything that looks like metal is… metal.
The ambient lighting isn’t as garish as what’s on offer in Mercedes-Benz and BMW’s latest creations, which is no bad thing, and the little LED halos surrounding the seatbelt connectors solve a problem that’s plagued families using all three seats on the rear bench for years.
I do miss the click-clack you got from the cold, knurled climate controls in the Audi S1, but the interior team in Ingolstadt still know what it’s doing, no question, imbuing the latest S6 with a sense of Teutonic modernity its rivals can’t match.
There is a learning curve associated with the touchscreen infotainment system, but for the most part it’s intuitive and snappy. It’s easy to see why the Volkswagen Group has chosen Audi as its next-generation software lead, there’s a real polish to all the systems in the S6 not present in even the latest Volkswagen Touareg.
The top touchscreen is home to your mapping, phone, and media interfaces, and generally handles those functions with aplomb. All the icons are colourful and large so finding them on the move isn’t too much of a struggle, and inputs are backed by a satisfying haptic click.
As for the bottom screen? It’s the best touch-based climate control setup I’ve used, but it isn’t without its quirks. There’s seven spare slots at the top of the display, but for some reason Audi hasn’t seen fit to put the full spread of air conditioning controls up there.
If you want to sync the driver and passenger temperatures – and if you’re a bit obsessive like me, you will – you need to open a sub-menu, which pops up on the top display, which just adds a frustrating, unnecessary extra layer of complication to what should be a simple process.
Finally, the Virtual Cockpit is a revelation. It’s still the best in the business; graphically more sophisticated than Mercedes-Benz can manage, easier to read than what BMW offers, and more polished than the (very good) screens used in lesser Volkswagen Group products. Google Maps should be mandatory in all new cars from now on.
Rear seat passengers are treated to excellent headroom, acceptable legroom, and their own climate control pod with air vents, but the Q7 or A6 Allroad wagon are better ways to lug around a family if that’s your main goal.
Boot space is a handy 530L, with a low loading lip and broad opening making it a practical space for those in the business of hauling things around. A more practical Avant variant is available abroad, but not Down Under.
To round out the journalist cliches, let’s talk build quality. For the most part it’s excellent. Everything you touch feels solid, all the buttons have a pleasing click to them, and the soft-close doors open with a well-judged pop.
But there was a small rattle from behind the infotainment screen in our tester, and a slight body creak from the B-pillar over uneven driveways. Maybe they’re both a product of the fact this particular car was abused by the likes of our very own Anthony Crawford at launch, but worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.
Other gripes? The standard Bang and Olufsen stereo is good, and made the S6 the perfect place to sit and cry over the latest Taylor Swift album (exile is a sad banger, don’t @ me), but the optional 3D sound system is still tempting. A real first world problem, that one.
It’s a case of goodbye 4.0-litre V8, hello turbocharged and hybridised 2.9-litre V6. Losing cylinders is always sad, but there’s no questioning the numbers on offer.
Peak power is 331kW, peak torque is 600Nm. The former is on offer at 6700rpm, the latter hangs around between 1900 and 5000rpm. The upshot is performance essentially all the time, although we’ll dive into that properly very soon.
There’s plenty of trickery afoot to deliver such strong numbers from a smaller displacement, not least of which is the 48V mild-hybrid system.
Not only does it allow the engine to cut out while coasting and provide smoother start/stop in town, it drives an electrically-powered compressor – a form of e-turbo – to offer big boost from low engine speeds, when there’s not enough air flowing through the conventional turbocharger to operate effectively.
Audi debuted the tech in its first SQ7, but the S6 (and related S7) are the first petrol-powered cars to get it.
Power is put to all four wheels through an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. That’s right, no dual-clutch nonsense here.
Performance isn’t eye-popping or butt-clenching, but the S6 is can get a serious move on when required. A trip to the drag strip revealed it’ll will repeatedly pull 4.4-second runs to 100km/h, making this one very accelerative big sedan.
But you wouldn’t necessarily know in day-to-day driving, which is what makes the S6 so impressive as a day-to-day proposition. It starts with a bit of a flourish and the exhaust is vocal through medium-throttle upshifts, but the S6 is otherwise an unassuming, cosseting cruiser.
The air suspension does an impressive job of isolating occupants in Comfort mode, despite the S6 riding on 21-inch alloy wheels. In fact the ride is much, much better than I was expecting, floating over minor lumps and bumps, and keeping all but the biggest of hits from sneaking into the cabin.
It’s never loose or floaty though, with tight body control regardless of drive mode. Whatever’s going on under the skin is fiendishly clever, no question.
With light steering and a gentle throttle tune, Comfort is perfect for day-to-day driving. Lean harder on the accelerator and the S6 shows an impressive turn of speed, but it’s happy just tooling around. It’s effortless.
Even in Sport, with the throttle sharpened, the eight-speed transmission holding a lower gear, the steering in a meatier, more determined state of tune, and the suspension in a firmer mode, it’s completely bearable on most Melbourne roads.
Handling is predictable, and traction is plentiful. There’s nothing in the way of gritty road feedback, but the steering is direct and the nose generally goes where you point it. It’ll always put its power down too, no matter how biblically wet the weather.
The engine is supremely tractable, pulling effortlessly from just off idle and revving out smoothly to its redline. Audi claims a 4.6-second sprint to 100km/h, but it’s the in-gear response that’s most impressive and we managed to clock a time of 4.4 seconds.
Lean on the throttle and it picks up almost instantly, electric compressor spooling instantly to plug any gaps in the torque delivery from the turbo’d petrol engine.
When it isn’t adding to the performance, the 48V system is helping the engine work more efficiently. Whenever you lift off the throttle it allows the engine to cut out – and if it knows there’s a speed limit change or major intersection coming up, the throttle will pulse and encourage the driver to lift off so you can coast more efficiently to a stop.
I usually don’t like being told what to do, but that’s neat. There’s something satisfying about coasting along and silently saving fuel, even if the average owner won’t necessarily care about a 0.1L/100km fuel improvement.
The eight-speed automatic pairs well with the new engine, exhibiting the sort of smooth low-speed behaviour you’d expect of a torque converter, coupled with impressively snappy shifts on the move.
The paddles behind the steering wheel allow drivers to take control, but even when being pushed hard Ingolstadt’s silicon seems to know what it’s doing. Brake hard and it snaps satisfyingly down through the gears, and full bore upshifts are dispatched in the blink of an eye.
Audi’s artificial cracks and pops are nice in Sport but we would like a bit more character from the engine, which sounds anodyne compared to the throaty V8 in the BMW M550i. The gearshifts pops are neat, but the dominant tune is a flat V6 blare that doesn’t quite match the performance.
But I don’t really care. It’s a lazy word, but the S6 is just really nice. It’s a nice car to hop into after a tough day of work, and it’s a nice car to drive to the market on Saturday morning. I’d happily drive it from Melbourne to Sydney, and then keeping trucking on to Townsville.
Forget about numbers because you can’t stick cohesion on a spec sheet, and the S6 is a cohesive, cosseting sedan.
The S6 demands 98RON premium unleaded fuel, which ups your running costs compared to something which, you know, doesn’t.
Unfortunately, Audi hasn’t followed Mercedes-Benz or Volvo in moving to a five-year warranty, instead running with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre coverage period.
Audi maintains its owners aren’t worried about the three-year warranty – as does BMW, which also hasn’t shifted – but we’d be very, very surprised if anyone turned down two more years of peace of mind and the associated lift in resale value.
Audi also offers a three-year service plan for $2350 and five-year plan for $4110.
I didn’t expect to enjoy the Audi S6 as much as I did, but there’s something very satisfying about its competence.
The touchscreens are fingerprint prone and the engine isn’t a patch on the characterful V8 in the BMW M550i, but it’s more than the sum of its parts.
We heard you liked screens
So we put a screen below your screen, and made the dials a screen
Audi has done a great job with the ride, loaded it with standard equipment, and slashed the price for 2020, which is a potent combination.
If it’s an executive express you’re after and your driveway isn’t without touching distance of a racetrack, it’s very hard to look past the S6. It’s just a shame Audi doesn’t bring the Avant to Australia, because that really would be my ideal family car.
But that’s just being picky. The S6 sums up everything Audi wants to be in 2020, and it does it with aplomb.