Audi S6: Driven

What would make you buy a large, Audi 'S' saloon, coupe, or estate? Sounds disingenuous, but isn't intended that way - what would make you buy one? Typically the formula has comprised considerable performance, a certain assured, understated style, all-weather quattro traction and a smattering of schporty luxury touches. Arguably the original Audi S8 typified it best: not monstrously fast, rather a nicely appointed 'bahnstormer that looked good, went well and was evidently a cut above any other A8 - for those that cared to look.

Alright, so Ronin helped. But the point is that the engine is seldom the be-all and end-all of an Audi S-car, the wider appeal being based on their consummate, all-court ability. The notion of buying an RS6 solely for that monstrous V8 or an RS3 for its dreamy 2.5-litre five-pot is easily feasible - but it must have been a while since an S car was bought for its motor.

So a diesel S6 potentially makes sense, doesn't it? The package has always been about the effortless performance of a large, torquey engine, huge distances covered with immense ease and supreme refinement - surely all facets that a diesel can certainly deliver. And let's be pragmatic: the days of stuffing V10s and 8,000rpm V8s into executive saloons are behind us, lamentable though that passing may be. And remember when Audi persisted with the 4.2 in the B8 RS4, a smooth and savage symphony of a V8? It was criticised for having too little torque...

Let's not dismiss the fact, either, that the last time Audi made a diesel 'S' model it was the SQ7; anathema to many a PHer, surely, a wanton show of excess indicative of all manner of ills, but - whisper it - an incredible car. Spookily responsive, effortlessly torquey and, rather like a hippo, surprisingly fast across ground. It set a new bar for diesel performance.

Then diesel had its publicity disaster. Arguably it had already had its disaster by the time of the SQ7, but the recovery has been much more about retreat than defiant retaliation. Porsche won't make any more cars for the black pump, and others could follow. Is the demand there for uberdiesels any more? Audi will talk about the suitability of this car Europe, the efficiency and the range, but that's never been in doubt - it's the attitude towards, and appetite for, combustion ignition vehicles that has changed. In an increasingly fractious political atmosphere, is there sufficient customer confidence to sink £60,000 into an oil burner?

That's a discussion (and a discovery) for another time; for now this is the car we have, the RS6 still a little way off, and enough to be encouraged by: that clever EPC and mild hybrid technology is now applied to a six-cylinder diesel and packaged in a much more palatable A6 saloon, for a start. There's also now the option of four-wheel steer as well, a first for an S car.

It will come as little surprise to find the S6 feels, on first impression, like a W Hotel on four wheels: cool, clean, stylish and contemporary, while still luxurious enough to justify the premium over something more ordinary. Displays and materials are beautiful, the haptic feedback of the large touchscreen buttons making it more intuitive than most. Many would happily admire the design and drink in the ambience, happy not to drive anywhere at all.

But if they did want to drive? Well, in what feels like a tradition as time honoured and reliable as the sunrise, this Audi S model is frustratingly inconsistent dynamically. Able, assured, and a very long way from just adequate, albeit lacking the cohesion that marks out the very best. And which has been found in a few Audis before, lest it be forgotten.

The engine is super, though. In a similar fashion to the larger 'twin supercharged' (i.e. the electric compressor and turbo) V8, it makes you a little forlorn about the uncertain future these engines face given their eminent suitability for this sort of job. Aided by that clever 'charger (that can reach its 70,000rpm turbine peak speed in 250 milliseconds), the V6 responds from next-to-no revs; the best part of 2,000rpm is required for the bulk of the performance, because the compressor contributes a lot less than the exhaust turbo, although the zeal and willingness from less than that it is welcome in what is a typically torpid area for diesels.

Once fully puffing, moreover, the S6 is mighty, loping authoritatively through its snappily selected intermediate ratios and accruing speed consistently and calmly. With less outright power than a Focus RS and a kerbweight getting on for two tonnes it'll never take your breath away, yet there's considerable appeal in the S6's dutiful, elastic acceleration. Sounds good, too, muted and gruff all at once.

All test cars were fitted with 21-inch wheels, the Sport Differential and the new four-wheel steer, plus adaptive air suspension. The result, though is an S6 that feels a little disjointed, with the eagerness of the four-wheel steer sometimes unsettling (then the Dynamic Steering that must be had with it further compounding matters), the grabby brakes at odds with a nicely calibrated throttle and a seemingly plush ride that can be flummoxed by successive imperfections. They feel like disparate elements of a package rather than one - pardon the phrase - homogenous dynamic whole. Of course the S6 is perfectly capable, with boundless grip, huge braking performance and great comfort away from the most challenging stuff, but it's still not a satisfying car to interact with.

Should that matter? Arguably not, given an Audi S model's list of prerequisites - they're very seldom remembered as great drives, yet fit the requirements of buyers down to the ground. That doesn't change with the S6, the prospect of doing many miles with its bountiful torque, fine accoutrements and imperious demeanour seems very appealing. It's just a shame that that it can't be combined with the sort of rich, engaging drive found in cars like the Jaguar XF and BMW 5 Series - the latter in particular proving that driving enjoyment and contemporary luxury are not mutually exclusive traits.

Despite reservations though, it's hard not to enjoy the S6 experience. The new diesel motor occupies the space left by a petrol engine very ably, given the job it's typically expected to do. Certainly it works better in a 6 than a 7, the latter's sportier suspension tune upsetting the serenity created in the saloon. The former still best represents the S package we're all accustomed to - and the one that buyers have proven only too keen to embrace.

In short, it's fast, it's discreet, it'll be fazed by nothing and it looks great. Nagging quirk though it remains, the chassis's inability to dazzle won't register as a concern to anyone previously convinced. The oil burner might, but the new S6 is no less adept at covering big distances at big speeds than any of the petrol-burning cars. And its strengths remain in high demand, regardless of the powertrain. Don't forget about that rather lovely Avant, either...

2,967cc, V6 diesel (with electric compressor)
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 349@3,850rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@2,500-3,100rpm
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds (5.1)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,955kg (DIN unladen) (2020)
MPG: 36.2 (WLTP, 20-inch wheels) (35.3)
CO2: 164g/km (171g/km)
Price: £60,000 (approx.) (£62,000)

2,967cc, V6 diesel (with electric compressor)
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 349@3,850rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@2,500-3,100rpm
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 2,010kg (DIN unladen)
MPG: 35.8 (WLTP, 20-inch wheels)
CO2: 170g/km
Price: £68,000 (approx.)

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (145) Join the discussion on the forum

  • foxhounduk 23 May 2019

    I’m intrigued by the diesel electric combo. I want one. I don’t mind that it’s down in bhp from the old one.
    It’ll have to be in red avant form only though: looks stunning.

  • tommy1973s 23 May 2019

    As someone who has an Ur-S6 5-cylinder turbo petrol (bought primarily for its engine), I'll just pretend this hasn't happened - a diesel S6?! I'm sure it's a fine car, but ffs call it something else ...

  • n4aat 23 May 2019

    To the point around people sinking £60k into a diesel. People don’t. Finance companies do. If the bottom falls out of the market then people will just walk away after the PCP finishes.

  • supacool1 23 May 2019

    Having had an S6 V10 for a long weekend where we vmax'd it-there was no limiter up to 177, I can say it was all about that engine. The engine was epic. The rest of the car was a nice place to be with all optional extras ticked. But the engine made that car. On start up it had muted presence. When you blipped the throttle you knew something powerful was under the bonnet waiting to be let off it's leash.
    On full chat over 5000 rpm it was eargasmic all the way to the limiter.

    A diesel S6 won't do that.

  • yonex 23 May 2019

    It’s the big brother of my awful A4, why can’t Audi make a brake servo work, why is their steering so weird, why does the damping only work on smooth roads?

    I’d never own another. Cars made for people that like the badge but care nothing about driving

View all comments in the forums Make a comment