The trend of downsizing engines in our favourite performance models continues with the new Audi S6, which has dropped its lustrous-sounding 4-litre V8 in favour of a state-of-the-art, twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6.
To be fair, this new unit produces the same 444 bhp power figure as the old V8 and delivers more torque, but it’s the first thing I noticed.
Times keep changing and we should be grateful for this sweet, smooth TFSI engine, because the Middle East, along with the US and Australia, are the only markets to get the petrol version. Audi’s other markets, meanwhile, are learning to live with a diesel-only S6 that is powered by Audi’s TDI turbo diesel units.
This V6 is no slouch and we recently sampled another version of it under the bonnet of the new Porsche Macan GTS. It’s also the same engine that resides under the hood of the Audi RS5 and RS4, though Audi has tricked it up with a 48V mild hybrid system and an additional electric supercharger.
This allows the S6 to run accelerated air into the twin turbochargers to spin them up ahead of the exhaust gasses, which reduces lag from a standing start. Audi claims it will get to 100kph in 4.5 seconds, just one tenth slower than the V8 and on to the same top speed of 250 kph.
While it does lack that familiar V8 sound, it has not completely lost all its character as the V6 has a nice rasp to it, but it has to be dialled in via the vehicle settings commands in the centre console.
Sport mode opens up the pipes for the added aural pleasure and down-shifting crackles when you use the paddle shifts. I’m guessing, though, that nearly all S6 buyers will enjoy it once or twice, then leave it in the default settings for the school run.
If this is you, I strongly urge you to take the time to explore and enjoy the preset driving modes and find your own individual setting for things such as steering, suspension and engine sound. Use the thumb wheels on the steering wheel to move these into the appropriate setting and you are rewarded with a brisk throttle response and crisper gear changes. This is what sets the S6 apart from its more mundane A6 sibling.
Power runs through an eight-speed automatic transmission and gets to the road via all-four wheels, as you would expect from Audi. Its Quattro all-wheel drive is standard and it also features performance-enhancing extras such as adaptive dampers, four-wheel steering, which makes negotiating tight spots and carpark ramps a whole lot easier, and a torque-vectoring rear differential.
Thanks to the EPC electronic supercharger, power comes on smoothly without any expected punch once you reach a certain rev range. And it’s linear, so there is no need to keep winding it out to its maximum rpm, as there is a constant surge of torque lying under your right foot at any given moment.
The S6 is visually differentiated from the A6 with a more aggressive front and rear fascia that incorporates a unique, black chrome grille and door mirrors, along with larger air vents and scoops in the nose.
There is a new front splitter and a rear diffuser that houses four fat, albeit mostly faux, tailpipes along with a new rear spoiler. The whole lot is underpinned by a stylish set of either 20 or optional 21-inch alloy wheels, as fitted to the test car, that fill the guards nicely.
Hand-stitched sport Alcantara seats welcome the occupants inside, along with a flat-bottom steering wheel with contrast stitching and a more prominent tachometer display for the digital gauge cluster.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, 12.3-inch digital display cluster can be configured in many ways, offering displays that include a full navigation map with the essential dials of speed, fuel and tacho reduced, or the more sports oriented display with larger dials.
It is complemented by another 7-inch, high-resolution screen in the centre console for the information system and four-zone climate control air system.
On the safety side of things, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, attention monitoring, front and rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning to alert the driver and prevent opening the door into an oncoming cyclist or car, loose wheel detection and what might be one of the clearest, cleanest 360-degree camera systems, help keep you out of trouble. If things do go badly, eight airbags and a pop-up bonnet attempt to minimise harm.
The S6 is the mature one in Audi’s performance stable. It will not sit up and beg for attention like the S3 and S4, because unless it is provoked, it will merely convey you in comfort until you make the effort to ask it for more.
Believe me, it is well worth taking the time to find the sweet spot of the S6’s performance characteristics to be truly rewarded. I feel this will become the sleeper performance saloon of its generation.