2011 Audi S6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Refinement, performance, quality, all-season capability.
The Audi A6 continues a legacy of dynamic excellence, exceptional comfort and award-winning style. It is packed with technology, enhancing convenience and driving dynamics without overwhelming. The attention to detail inside and out is impressive, Audi becoming synonymous with benchmark especially as it relates to automotive interiors.
There is much to love about the A6. Its cabin is airy and comfortable, with firm, supportive seats and plenty of room for four. Its styling is a crisp, clean and modern interpretation of the aerodynamic sedan Audi debuted more than 30 years ago.
Underway, the A6 boasts precise steering, fluid engines and transmissions, stout brakes and a firm but comfortable ride. In high-speed corners the quattro models feel like they're on rails, a benefit of Audi's superb all-wheel-drive system. Braking and handling are excellent, whether on dry pavement or hurtling through a torrent of rain.
A6 is available as a sedan or a station wagon (Avant) and both are among the sleekest designs in class. The Avant is powered exclusively by Audi's newest 3-liter supercharged V6 engine.
Two V6s, a V8 and a V10 version of the A6 are available; all but the entry model comes with all-wheel drive. The standard 255-hp 3.2-liter V6 and continuously variable automatic are sufficient for all. The supercharged 3-liter brings 300 horsepower and nearly as much torque as the V8 for similar performance on less fuel. The V10-powered S6 is for serious drivers who don't mind trading comfort for high performance.
New for 2009: New front and rear lighting and a new bumper design; new interior accents. The 3.0T is new for the U.S. The quattro all-wheel-drive system has been updated for more rear bias and more refined driving characteristics. The suspension has been upgraded for optimized comfort and handling. And a blind-spot detection system is now optional on the A6.
The A6 competes primarily against the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Other contenders include the Acura RL, Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, and Lexus GS.
The Audi A6 line offers nine models, six sedans and three Avant wagons defined by engine: The A6 3.2 Premium ($45,100); A6 3.2 Premium Plus ($46,900); A6 3.0T Premium ($50,100); A6 3.0T Premium Plus ($51,600); A6 3.0T Prestige ($55,200); A6 4.2 Prestige ($60,950); A6 Avant 3.0T Premium ($53,310); A6 Avant 3.0T Premium Plus ($54,630); A6 Avant 3.0T Prestige ($58,160); and S6 ($75,900).
A6 3.2 variants are powered by a 3.2-liter 255-hp V6 and come with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission with seven preset gear ratios for manual control; EPA city/highway 18/27 mpg.
A6 3.0T models are powered by a 300-hp supercharged V6 (EPA 18/26 mpg). A6 4.2 models are powered by a 350-hp V8 (EPA 16/23 mpg). A6 3.0T and 4.2 models come with a six-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive.
A6 3.2 Premium comes with leather upholstery, genuine walnut trim, moonroof, and dual-zone automatic climate control with pollen filter. Also standard are power windows, locks and heated mirrors; eight-way power front seats with driver's power lumbar; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; tilt/telescoping column with leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel; cruise control; trip computer; theft deterrent system; AM/FM/6CD/MP3 with 10 speakers; Sirius satellite radio; Bluetooth; iPod interface; rain-sensing variable-intermittent wipers; automatic headlights; headlight washers; front and rear fog lights; and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Avant also gets roof rails, cargo cover, cargo retention system, rear spoiler and rear wash/wipe. Options on premium-grade cars include a cold weather package (heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, $650) and rear side airbags ($350).
Premium Plus trim (3.2 and 3.0T) upgrades with aluminum door sills and window trim, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, 18-inch wheels, driver memory system, and bi-Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Options at this level include cold weather package ($450), rear side airbags, voice-recognition navigation with rearview camera, and a Sports package ($1,500) with 19-inch wheels and performance tires, sports suspension, three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles.
Prestige models add adaptive headlamps, power tilt/telescoping steering column, shift paddles, Advance key, navigation, and Bose surround sound system. Options include rear side airbags and sport package, and only on Prestige trim, Audi Side Assist warning system ($500).
The S6 sports sedan features a 435-hp V10 engine (EPA 14/19), bigger brakes, sports suspension, 19-inch wheels and high-performance tires, S-line bodywork trim, quad tailpipes, gray birch wood, specific three-spoke steering wheel and Nappa leather sport seats with integrated headrests, rear spoiler, and is generally equipped to Prestige specification. Options include carbon fiber trim inlays, rear side airbags, and heated rear seats; additionally, you may specify standard seats in Milano leather and 18-inch wheels with summer tires for areas of iffy infrastructure. Safety features include traction control, electronic stability program, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Passive safety features include two-stage frontal airbags, side-impact front airbags to protect the torso, head-protecting curtain side airbags to protect the head for front and rear outboard passengers; and active front head restraints. Rear side airbags are optional ($350) on all versions and a rearview camera comes with navigation. All except the 3.2 models come with all-wheel drive for added traction under power.
The Audi A6 is a study in excellent design. Flowing lines give the A6 sedan the sleekness of a coupe without the quashed windows and head-enveloping window line. There's simplicity to the upswept door trim and shoulder crease blending into a subtle rear spoiler that suggests elegance and strength. Jewelry and adornment are kept to a minimum; as with an attractive person no additional cosmetics are needed.
A trapezoidal grille and substantial interlocked rings highlight the front, and the grille pattern now continues top to bottom, eliminating the flat license-plate section that spilt previous grilles. Rectangular fog lamps better fit the rectangular side grilles they're in; most models feature a strip of LED running lamps underlining the headlight housing. LED taillights and a single tailpipe on each side characterize the rear end.
The A6 Avant is an especially sleek looking wagon, distinguished by dark center pillars, very mildly tapering side windows and sloping roofline with discrete spoiler incorporating the center brake light. The hatch glass angle is more crossover-like, as opposed to a Volvo wagon's upright box rear end; the defroster will quickly shed snow.
As befits a $50,000 car, body panels fit closely together around the doors, hood and trunk lid, as well as along places such as lamps and door handles. It's a result of close tolerances, as are the reassuring thud when you close anything. You won't even find a rubber strip at the top of windshield, nor strips on the sides of the roof. Door jambs and the trunk and hatch openings are all well-finished, and there are myriad seals to keep dirt and wind noise out. Audi is superior to Mercedes at these sorts of details.
A large color palette and multiple wheel styles and sizes (17-19 inches) help distinguish your A6. The 19-inch wheels on the Avant lend the appearance of Audi's 174-mph RS6 superwagon.
The S6 is distinguished from its less-powerful stablemates by special exterior and interior elements. A different front bumper feeds more cooling air and moves the LED daytime running lights to the top of two lower cooling ducts. The front foglamps are incorporated into the headlight housings with tinted covers, the lower door trim is more pronounced, and the integrated trunk spoiler is a bit larger. Aluminum trim surrounds the side windows and is mirrored in the rearview mirror housings. The S6 also has black brake calipers, dual tailpipes each side, special 19-inch wheels with fat tires, and the requisite S6 and V10 badges. Paint choices are limited to a more discrete palette, a good move as the exhaust note attracts enough attention.
The Audi A6 cabin is spacious, very well finished, and bathed in daylight. While no one builds the perfect interior, Audi is frequently recognized for its interiors. As another car company stylist once observed, 'I could build an interior like this, but I couldn't do it for $45,000.'
Milano leather upholstery is standard across the A6 line, including a very attractive combination of amaretto and black. The amaretto on the seat centers is surrounded by black, and on the door panels makes a nice counterpoint to the also-standard wood trim. By making the dashboard black to avoid reflections and the carpet black to minimize showing dirt, they've made an elegant cabin that's four-season functional as well.
Metallic trim on the dash, air vents, door pulls and many controls is a matte aluminum finish that produces no glare; chrome is used very sparingly. Everything is illuminated, even the door armrests with light pipes hidden under the wood trim. Each door, area above the glovebox and center console are finished in wood, our only concern that the side edges on the console may be more vulnerable to scuffs than leather or vinyl.
The front seats are comfortable, supportive and offer good power adjustment range; fatigue should never be an issue even with the A6's 500-mile cruising range. Wind, road and engine noise are quelled so conversation is easy, even when driving quickly.
The rear seats are comfortable, too. Head and leg room are expansive enough to tote around two clients in comfort even if you and they are all six feet or taller. Getting in and out if the back seats is relatively easy thanks to a back door much taller than most sleek sedans, space between the seat and door post that shames most full-size SUVs, and a foot space big enough to slide under the front seat. There are three adjustable headrests, reading lights that can't be seen in the driver's mirror, front seatback storage, and they fold down with the narrow section behind the driver.
Up front, everything is oriented around the driver. The driver benefits from a nice four-spoke steering wheel or a nicer, sportier three-spoke wheel; both have thumbwheels and buttons for redundant control, a clear view of analog instruments, but only the four-spoke wheel can be heated. The center dash, including the navigation screen, is slightly angled toward the driver. Climate controls are located at the bottom, sophisticated but straightforward and easy to operate. At the top of the stack, above the vents, is a crisp seven-inch screen that displays navigation and other functions. The standard trip computer and Driver Information Center features a digital speed indicator.
Audi's Multi Media Interface, or MMI, features a large knob and 15 buttons set horizontally on the center console to control most interior and many exterior functions. This eliminates a lot of switches, making for an uncluttered dash. Logical grouping eases the acclimation process, yet a few days and familiarization with the owner's manual will you allow you to master MMI quickly and appreciate what you can do with it. As with many new cars you can't just press-and-hold to program a radio preset but it does have a regular round volume knob. The main controller and buttons fall easily to hand right behind the shifter but are not accidentally bumped as on some such system. To ease access by the driver, the glovebox door button is located on the center of dash next to an Off switch for the screen.
High technology can also be found in what have been traditionally mundane controls. The parking brake is electronic; pull the switch up to set it, press to release it. The hood release operates only when the door is open, good to know. The wipers are speed sensitive. A Bluetooth-enabled interface integrates compatible equipment. The rear camera is predictive, showing where the car will go as the steering wheel is turned. And the trunk and fuel door release buttons are in the door pocket and since you have to lift, not push them, there are no mistakes dropping your phone or sunglasses case in the pocket.
The A6 does not offer many places to put stuff, a not-uncommon issue in many mid-size luxury cars. The glovebox is small, especially with the available CD changer and the center armrest storage isn't capacious, but door pockets help. The cup holders are positioned well and contain beverages in spirited driving.
The trunk is deep enough for a 24-inch roller suitcase. Luggage capacity is nearly 16 cubic feet, more than a BMW 5 series or Acura RL and comparable to the 2009 Mercedes E-Class, and it is shaped like most suitcases in 90-degree angles. Details include plenty of tie-down points, bag hangar hooks, a strap to hold the floor up for access, and a rarity these days, a full-size matching spare alloy wheel and tire.
The Avant sport wagon offers essentially the same floor layout as the sedan but with the added space afforded by the extra height. A relatively unknown benefit is that the rear window doesn't fog up as quickly. The luggage compartment offers a variety of configurations and features two securing rails recessed into the floor and four D-rings adjustable over the rail length. The cargo area cover also has a roll-up net to keep cargo or the dog separate from the passengers, and light is sufficient for night loading. Various nets, hooks, straps and posts handle cargo retention duty. The load floor can be folded up and locked in several ways, which provides access to a lower load area lined by a plastic tray, an ideal cubby for stowing wet or muddy gear, and again, a full-sized matching spare.
The hatch opening is roughly 42 inches wide by 29 high, and with the rear seats folded the cargo bay is more than six feet long. Powered hatches may be programmed to stop at any height, such as in low-ceiling residential garages, and a groove to grab the bottom of the hatch runs the entire width of it, rather than just one or two hand pockets.
The S6 cockpit features integral-headrest, heavily bolstered sport seats upholstered in Nappa leather; the standard seats in Milano leather are available for folks who might find the sport seats too confining. The three-spoke, power-adjustable sport steering wheel is trimmed in smooth leather and has a color-contrasting double-stitch. The S6 features unique instrument graphics and badging. Aluminum shift paddles and console shifter knob provide a high-tech contrast to the standard gray birch trim or optional carbon fiber inserts. The S6 offers the same cabin and trunk space as an A6 sedan.
The Audi A6 is every bit as capable as the lithe, athletic look implies. A solid structure, good suspension tuning, and free-revving engines deliver excellent performance, and all but 3.2-liter models benefit from the most recent update to Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The A6 ride is firm but elastic, with large dips and sharp speed bumps laughed off equally well. It's among the best in class in comfort and near the top of its class in handling, notably bettered only by a rear-drive BMW. Regardless of which model you choose and its ultimate level of grip, predictable handling characteristics provide confidence. While many think all-wheel drive adds its own measure of confidence, we remind all-wheel drive does not shorten stopping distance and common sense is more important than any drive system.
Ride quality varies with tire choice, the optional 19-inch wheels less forgiving over sharp bumps, lane divider dots and so on. We would not shy away from upgrading to a model that includes 18s, nor would we advocate using 19s for year-round daily use in the Rust Belt.
The Servotronic steering allows precise control and the A6 goes exactly where the driver wants it. Grip is excellent. Drive the car to its limit and you'll encounter a small amount of understeer. The Avant exhibits the same characteristics though enthusiast drivers may appreciate the extra rear weight that better balances the car. The highly rigid chassis gives the car the feeling of being carved from one block of material. This rigidity allowed Audi engineers to precisely tune the suspension. The A6 uses Audi's proven four-link front suspension and the self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension adapted from the A8.
The A6 3.2 V6 delivers strong response from 2000 rpm to beyond 6000 rpm and is linear in reaction; no lunges or calm spots, just more propulsion the harder you press. It offers 243 lb-ft of torque, giving it a slight edge over BMW's lighter 528i with 3-liter. Audi says the A6 3.2 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds. The CVT may initially feel or sound odd to those unfamiliar with them, but it's ideal for the best blend of performance and fuel economy.
New to the Audi lineup this year is the 3.0T 3-liter supercharged V6 that gives up just 1 mpg EPA highway to the 3.2, but adds 45 horsepower and 67 pound-feet of torque and delivers the torque at lower rpm. This would be too much for front-wheel drive to cope with, hence all 3.0T models employ quattro all-wheel drive.
Quattro has been revised for 2009, now with a more rear-bias nominal power split of 40 percent front/60 percent rear to make the all-wheel drive feel and respond more like a rear-wheel-drive car. The A6 never feels nor responds exactly like a rear-drive car and for 95 percent of the population 99 percent of the time that's a very good thing.
The added power translates to a one-second drop in 0-60 time, now quoted at 5.9 seconds. The engine is as smooth and quiet as the 3.2, so you find yourself inching up the speedometer more easily. Perhaps just as important, the 300-hp, 310 lb-ft ratings put Audi on par with BMW's 300/300-rated twin-turbo 3-liter in the more-expensive 535xi sedan and wagon.
The silky 4.2-liter V8 produces 350 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and comes with larger brakes to go with it. The 4.2 is just 0.1 second quicker to 60 mph than the 3.0T because of extra weight in features and equipment and only slightly better torque than the 3.0T. The 4.2 is the quicker car and as such gives up 2-3 mpg to the 3.0T.
All transmissions offer three shift modes. The standard mode is more than adequate for the majority of circumstances, and ideal for inclement weather. Sport mode is best for those more concerned with performance than economy or for limiting shifting over undulating and winding roads. Manual mode lets the driver choose gears, although it will still upshift or downshift automatically if you reach the engine's limits; that strategy may not satisfy purists, but it's handy when you forget you've left it in Manual mode. All the gearboxes shift smoothly and rev-match downshifts under certain circumstances.
Top rung on the performance ladder is the S6, with a 435-hp version of the 5.2-liter V10 engine that's used in the big buck S8 sedan. With nearly 400 lb-ft of torque across the middle rev range and quattro to put the power down, we've done 0-60 in an S6 in less than five seconds, in the rain. Fuel economy ratings drop to 14/19 mpg.
The S6 also gets massive brakes, nearly 1.5 inches larger in diameter than the already arresting 4.2 V8, sticky 265/35ZR19 tires, firmer suspension, aerodynamics to keep it grounded at 150 mph, the best lights, and seats to keep you in place while you use it all. And while the S6 is certainly firm, the kind of firm where you would rather be the driver than the passenger, it is docile enough to drive everyday, in traffic, if necessary.
The S6 competes with the BMW M5, Mercedes E63 AMG, and with the Lexus IS-F, Jaguar XFR, and Cadillac CTS-V. The ride and handling prowess of an M5 doesn't come cheap, the base price $10,000 beyond the S6, while the CTS-V offers the best bang for the buck. Many of the other cars are faster and handle better, but none of them offer the space of the S6 nor the all-wheel drive that will put the power down in poor conditions.
The Audi A6 is a driver's sedan that never forgets it's a luxury four-door. It's a wonderful car for quick commuting, long-distance high-speed travel, and spirited driving. It's smooth, quiet, polished and has all the requisite amenities. It competes with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series in terms of efficient performance and safe and secure motoring, particularly when weather enters the picture. And in this class it's a decent value proposition as well, typically undercutting its primary competitors on price but not content.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of the complete A6 line (3.2, 3.0T, Avant and S6 in Los Angeles, and 3.0 TDI and RS6 Avant in Germany), with Mitch McCullough reporting on the A6 from Milan, Greg Brown driving in Italy's Dolomites, and Kirk Bell in the S6 in Chicago.
Audi A6 3.2 ($45,100); A6 3.0T ($50,100); A6 4.2 ($60,950); Avant 3.0T ($53,310); S6 ($75,900).
Options As Tested
navigation system ($1800).
Audi A6 3.2 Premium Plus ($46,900).
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