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The Second Coming of the S6 | PH Footnote

Burning oil ought to be the end of Audi's fast estate. Or a brave new beginning

By Dan Prosser / Saturday, October 12, 2019

Nine hundred words from now, I fear one or two of you will be demanding I hand in my PH membership card. But hear me out. For several of the Audi S6's 25 years so far, it was offered for sale with a naturally-aspirated V10 engine related (however distantly) to that found in a Lamborghini supercar. Such a thing seems unthinkable today, but that model only went off sale eight years ago. And yet, now that the S6 is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 that drinks from the black pump, I reckon it's a better car than ever before.

Better is the right word. I adore the idea of a big executive saloon or estate car being walloped along the road by a death metal V10, all blood, thunder and particulates. But the reality? I'm not so sure. It's far too easy for people like me to have a car delivered to my front door with the tank brimmed, to drive it as hard as I dare for a few days until that tank is all but dry, declare the car to be wonderful and then leave it motionless outside my house until the delivery man comes to take it away again. Blissfully unaware, of course, that he stands only a fair to middling chance of making it to the nearest petrol station.

Point is, actually living with a hefty car that's motorised by a 5.2-litre V10 probably becomes a little wearisome once the novelty has worn off. Even if some other poor sod is picking up the tab, a car like the C6-era S6 will almost certainly become frustrating due to its meagre range between fill-ups. We all have our own measures of what constitutes acceptable range and I have mine - if I can't get from home in Bristol to Gatwick airport and back without refuelling, I'm going to get cross. The V10 S6 won't manage it.

This is especially true when we're taking about an everyday machine that's designed for the express purpose of covering ground quickly and in comfort. A sub-300 mile range I can live with if the car is a Lamborghini; not so much if it's an Audi estate.

Of course, Audi replaced the C6 model with the C7 in 2012, by which point the adults had wrest back control of the product planning department from the chimps that had surely taken over several years before. The thunderous V10 had been swapped out for a smaller, more efficient and yet more powerful 4.0-litre petrol V8 with turbos, too, meaning the S6's fuel consumption was no longer so tragic it could set pencils a-twitching at OPEC. But much of the car's character had been lost as well.

And so here we are, a few years further down the line, looking at the latest version. My colleagues have already reviewed it very thoroughly so I won't bother doing so myself, except to say the turbodiesel V6 that makes this version so different in persona to the earlier models also makes it, in my view, a more rounded machine. Audi reckons you'll get 36mpg on the combined cycle, which is probably achievable if you drive like a nun, and that between fill-ups it should manage more than 600 miles. Which is the real game-changer.

Importantly, the new diesel engine is a very fine piece of kit. With an electrically powered compressor the turbocharger can be a very large item, because the typical issue of turbo lag has already been overcome. And so from three litres and six cylinders, Audi has squeezed a useful 349hp and a mighty 516lb ft of torque. This engine has the strength and muscularity of an eight-cylinder turbodiesel (although it does of course still behave like a conventional diesel with a narrow power band and no manner of top end whatsoever). But with a little augmentation it even sounds good. Almost like a very large capacity petrol V8.

What's curious about this switch to diesel is the timing of it. Just as everybody else seems to be turning away from the stuff, Audi has only now discovered its virtues in the context of a rapid executive car. That's a bit like realising early in 2005 that your absolute favourite countryside pursuit is fox hunting. But I'm sold on it. What's really clever about this move is that the S6 and forthcoming RS6 now serve very different purposes, whereas for a long time the S6 was simply the model you bought because you couldn't afford the faster one. Between them, the new models will cover many more ideological bases.

Besides, if you really abhor the idea of filling up from the black pump, you can always sink the £60,000 or so you'll need to buy a new S6 into a two-year-old RS6 Performance, complete with steroidal body builder shoulders and thumping 600hp V8. Petrol, obviously.

I'll leave you with one last thought. What I like most about this new S6 is that in making such a bold philosophical about-turn, Audi has wriggled free of the unhelpful and completely banal obsession with making new performance models faster and more powerful than earlier ones, an obsession that grips seemingly every other manufacturer. The drop in power from C7 S6 to this latest version is no less than 101hp. But in marketing a new model that isn't as fast on paper as the previous one but more well-rounded in the real world, Audi has done something few car makers seem prepared to: it has acknowledged that car buyers are smart enough to understand that more doesn't necessarily mean better.


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