Nick Hall explores Audi's Lamborghini-engined über-saloon
Sitting in front of a 1950s Bugatti and a Ferrari Superleggera, it was a shock when camera-toting Italians swarmed our Audi S6. Maybe it was the novelty factor, maybe it was the sexy man in the driver’s seat, maybe it was the V10 engine revving freely as we got caught in the moment. But one girl even gave us the eye and a rather inviting “Ciao”.
It was a strange day all round. We were in a line of competitors at Verona, in the Mille Miglia, an event for stunning machines of yesteryear, gunning the throttle on a car that has yet to hit the public road and winning over the fans. They know their cars, the Italians: the S6 is an almighty creation.
Now it isn’t the world’s most spectacular looker, but that’s the way they like it. Conservative design has long been a trademark and as BMW has gone to the flamboyant flame-surface effect, so Audi has picked up sales – it’s no coincidence.
Athletic and moody
The S6 is athletic and stays just the right side of bland thanks to those moody LED lights on the front end, deep and relatively ornate front spoiler, flared arches, elegant lip on the rear and stunning 19-inch wheels. Tick the carbon-fibre pack and you’ll get inserts under the LED, a new front splitter and rear apron. It might not sound a lot, but it adds that hint of aggression.
Aside from the hint at racing heritage, the interior is louder than the outside, festooned as it is with buttons, the multimedia Driver Information System and embroidered Alcantara and leather seats.
The Lamborghini touch
Most of the attention centres on the Lamborghini-sourced engine that also features in the S8, and rightly so. Audi hasn’t simply taken the five-litre V10 from the Gallardo and crowbared it into the engine bay, they’ve gone to work combining Italian power with German efficiency and installed FSI Direct Injection Technology. Oh, and they bored it out to 5.2 litres.
The end result is an engine with 435bhp and 398lb/ft of torque, enough to propel this über-saloon to 62mph in a spritely 5.2 seconds and on to an electronically limited 155mph.
Audi claims 90 per cent of the torque is available low down, but banzai overtaking moves to keep up with a specific car are par for the course on the Mille Miglia – a bizarre concoction of old race cars, mad members of the media and the general public – and the Audi always needed a downshift to truly find the power band and lunge past the car in front before the next tight bend. Truly believing the PR hype would have resulted in a head-on at least once and flattening the throttle with too few revs simply didn’t get things moving fast enough.
It’s not exactly lacking in torque, but most of the horsepower comes towards the 7,000rpm redline. Still, with a couple of dropped cogs this car picks up like a stabbed rat, which is amazing considering its 1,910kg weight. Keep the revs above 4,000 and this beast feels fast as anything you’ll ever need.
But the big Audis don’t sell on their straight-line capability, it’s all about that Quattro badge and ability to stick the ceiling if required – or at least hairpin bends for the pedantic forum members who haven’t grasped the concept of poetic licence yet.
Not being the biggest fan of four-wheel drive I wasn’t expecting miracles on the involvement front. And it’s true the S6 is more about despatching bends rather than the feel at the apex, but it’s more entertaining than it really should be. It can save your behind when a corner suddenly tightens in the wet on an Italian back road, too.
A self-locking diff sends 60 per cent of the drive to the rear and 40 to the front when everything is running smooth to keep the sporting rear-drive feel. But when the car is stretched beyond the normal limit the car can send 85 per cent to the rear wheels or 65 per cent to the front.
But you don’t really need to know that. All you really need to know is that unless you’ve completely taken leave of your senses with the entry speed, the car will take the bend. It corners flat, hard, and with a small tug on the wheel to load up the tyres it will fly through high-speed bends with the poise of a much lighter car. You can feel the power transferring in the slower corners, but chuck it in, hold the line and the S6 will just do it.
And its high-speed cruising capability is second to none, after all these cars are built for the left lane of the Autobahn and there are two tonnes of metal to cosset you on your way. Intelligent gearing, with sixth proving something of an economy gear, even means the fuel consumption isn’t too crippling on a long run.
With a claimed figure of around 18mpg it’s not good and BP’s share price will go up every time you slam on the accelerator, but driven with temperance this car won’t burn the First Class fare-size hole in your wallet that BMW’s M5 will leave and at British motorway speeds it’s relatively frugal. There are other advantages too.
There aren’t 300 levels of adjustability, either, instead the Audi comes with a few basic options, it can be automatic or manual, and soft or hard. That’s pretty much it, but they all work.
Audi has stuck with a Tiptronic six-speed box rather than create a manual and changes range from velvet smooth in the soft mode to instant and savage in sports mode. In soft automatic mode it’s a velvet carpet, in full bore manual, controlled by the de rigueur paddle shifts, changes are instant.
Ok so they might be 0.0001s slower than the M5, or something, but the human computer behind the wheel just isn’t fast enough to detect it and the Tiptronic seems best suited for this particular job.
Raising the game
Audi’s creation is the über-saloon for a more conservative, relaxed individual. It’s a real four-seater saloon car with serious pace when you need it, rather than a supercar draped in a saloon’s body. It’s horses for courses and the Audi isn’t as fast, but this one seems like the more sensible solution for this particular issue.
Of course the RS6 will raise the game to a whole new level, but if you want a fast saloon that covers all the bases, corners like a train and can swallow 1,000 miles in three days without inflicting spinal damage or emptying the wallet, this might just be the one to go for.
Pictures by Lyndon McNeil