The outline of ridiculous, bright sunglasses dominates my rear view mirror heading out of Harsbruche, Germany. They’re on the face of an eager youngster driving a green Audi 80, the ancient saloon hanging off my bumper like it’s attached to it. He’s so close that it’s unlikely he’s seen the quad exhausts situated under it. Bye then. The Audi S6 is stealthy, it lacking the pumped-up overt looks of its bombastic RS6 relation. It’s quietly assertive to the RS6’s outrageous aggression, even if progress means the S6 shares the same 443bhp output its RS6 relation had back when it was introduced in 2002. Progress, it seems, is a good thing.
That 443bhp, combined with the 405lb ft which arrives from just 1400rpm is developed by a 4.0-litre turbocharged V8, is enough to allow the S6 to reach 62mph in 4.4 seconds – that’s 0.2 seconds faster than its predecessor. It’s not necessarily what the S6 will do to the benchmark sprint that matters to me at the moment though, it’s what it’s capable of when it’s moving. A judicious prod of the accelerator leaves me, and the chap in the silly sunglasses, no doubts as to the S6’s potency. The seven-speed auto drops a gear swiftly and the green Audi 80 shrinks, enveloped in the sound of those four exhausts as the V8 rips around to its redline.
The S6 is a curious machine. Situated under the show-stopping RS6 and above the 2.0-litre TDIs that make up the bulk of A6 sales, it’s difficult to see who it’s aimed at. At £56,000 for the saloon (the Avant coming in £2k more) the 110hp you gain from the RS6 costs you around £20k more. You’ll get to 62mph about a second quicker, but once you’re under five seconds, really, who’s counting? There’s a modesty and delicacy to both the way the S6 looks and drives that appeals in the face of its brasher, more compromised relation. Could the S6 be the wisest choice in the range, assuming you’re not seduced by the potent 3.0 bi-turbo diesel models that do pace with greater efficiency?
It’s being driven again here as it, like the rest of the A6 range, has been subtly revised. Buy one today and you’ll get a bit more equipment, new headlights and EU6 compliant engines, the S6’s 4.0-litre benefitting from an additional 30hp over its predecessor yet still managing to improve economy and emissions marginally. If you care it’s 30.7mpg and 214g/km on the official combined cycle. It’s all very, very subtle though, and while the S6 remains a hugely quick and composed car it’s also one that fails to excite.
The steering wheel is pleasingly round, the S6 eschewing the cut-off bottomed nonsense of more wildly sporting cars. It’s a shame then that there’s so little feel through the rim. Turn it and the S6 reacts accordingly, it gripping hard and able to carry immense speed, only there’s little incentive to do so. The suspension rides with surprising suppleness too, it almost needing to be a little bit more compromised to underline the S6’s greater sporting focus. It’s not often a car’s too polished for its own good, but the S6 could rightfully be accused of that.
A £56,000 twin-turbocharged V8 saloon should be a lot more exciting, particularly as there are hugely quick, equally able turbodiesel A6s in the line-up that do easy pace, but a whole lot more economically – the A6 saloon 3.0 biTDI feeling every bit as real-world fast. Add S-Line spec and it looks little different either. Indeed, the chap in the silly eyewear probably enjoyed the S6 most as it did its hot-rod trick and left him standing. And that’s a shame, the RS6’s understudy’s performance a touch too one-dimensional to really recommend it either as an cheaper alternative to it, or indeed as something to have over its more sensible diesel relations.
Power to weight: 237hp/ton
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (governed)
Engine: 4.0-litre turbocharged V8
Power: 450hp at 5800-6400rpm
Torque: 405lb ft at 1400-5700rpm
Transmission: Four-wheel drive, seven-speed automatic
Wheels: 8.5×19 alloy
Tyres: 255/4- R19 100Y XL tyres
On sale date: Now