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TEST DRIVE: 2016 Audi S6 – Wolf in Sheep’s clothing

If you aren’t familiar, Russian nesting dolls are these creepy little dolls that all look exactly the same except for their size. There’s one large one that fits a smaller one inside it and a smaller one inside of that and on and on it goes. Audi has had its styling compared with these dolls quite a lot recently. Reason being is that the A3, A4, A6 and A8 all pretty much look exactly the same, except for their size. In fact, it actually looks like you could fit the smaller ones inside the larger ones, making them look quite similar to Russian nesting dolls.

This same styling quirk applies to Audi’s S and RS models as well. For instance, the Audi S6 barely looks any different from the Audi A6 at quick glance. It takes the keen eye of a car enthusiast to tell the two apart at a distance without looking at the badges. But where these similarities might be a problem with the standard Audi models, it can actually be a good thing with Audi’s S models, as their safe styling belies the power underneath. Such was the case with the 2016 Audi S6 we recently had the pleasure of testing.

The first the you notice when walking up to the Audi S6 is just how subtle it looks. There’s very little to tell you just how ferocious it can be. Especially in the Florett Silver Metallic color of this tester. Which can actually be a good thing and Audi’s intention. Audi likes subtlety in its performance sedans. You think you’re pulling up to a standard Audi A6 sedan, until it rockets past you, leaving nothing behind except a snarling V8 exhaust note.

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This leads me to the Audi S6’s 4.0 liter TFSI twin-turbocharged V8. With 450 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, it’s an absolute monster. However, nothing about the S6 gives away just how much power is under hood. Thumb the starter button and it rumbles to life with a sort of subdued growl. From the inside, it’s whisper quiet. Outside, it quietly burbles, just barely hinting at the fact that it can rip your face off at a moments notice. Like a lion just beginning to warn oncoming passersby.

Mash the throttle, though, and the S6 roars, rocketing forward. It’s raw, visceral and intoxicating. With all of that power being sent to all four wheels, through Audi’s brilliant Quattro all-wheel drive system, the S6 gets off the line with simply staggering speed. There’s no wheel spin, no fuss and no drama. Just violent acceleration, capped off with a wonderful V8 snarl. The S6 is capable of rocketing from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, which is enough to beat a BMW M4, Porsche Cayman GTS and even a Porsche 911 Carrera.

Putting that V8 power to all four wheels is a seven-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic gearbox. While the RS6 gets an eight-speed automatic gearbox, because the S-Tronic can’t handle the RS6’s mammoth torque, the S6 gets the dual-clutch unit. But it’s so much better off because of it. Unlike the RS6’s tradition torque-converter automatic, the S-Tronic snaps off shifts with incredible authority. And those rapid-fire shifts keep the torque surge coming, allowing the S6 to seemingly ride a wave of never-ending power. In manual mode, shifts are sharp, fast and smooth. No nonsense. Pull a paddle and you’re in the next gear. In auto mode, it does a great automatic impression and shifts smoothly and it’s always in the correct gear.

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Unfortunately, the steering doesn’t quite match the powertrain’s sense of athleticism. The steering is simply far too light and lacking any sort of feel whatsoever. While almost no modern sports car has genuine steering “feel”, the S6 is almost freakishly numb. We’re talking Logitech video game wheel numb. However, the steering makes up for it by being very quick and very accurate. And, to be completely honest, you never have to worry about feeling the levels of grip from the front tires because Quattro grips so hard, it never really breaks traction.

Head into a corner too hot and it will understeer a bit, as all Quattro Audis do. But a simple partial lift off the throttle and increased steering input will correct that. Whereas most cars that understeer are incredibly frustrating, it’s almost charming in the Audi S6. It’s a big, heavy, luxury-lined rocket ship, so it’s kind of fun have to brutally force it through corners. It isn’t graceful, but it’s not really meant to be. So there’s charm to that. But we do wish it were a bit more agile and understeered less.

Plus, if you get yourself into trouble, there are excellent brakes to haul everything back down to sane speeds again. Pedal feel is superb, with the engagement point right at the top of the pedal, and the braking power is impressive.

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When things do slow down and it’s time to drive a bit more relaxed, you’ll be in for a treat. While the S6 can brutally pound the road into submission, it can also cruise around in ultimate luxury. The diamond-quilted leather seats are simply superb, if a little wide for my small 5’9″, 150 lb frame. My S6 tester didn’t have adjustable side-bolsters, which allowed me to slide around in the seat a bit. But that wasn’t an issue for 90 percent of driving.

However, everything else about the interior is fantastic. While the Audi S6 isn’t the newest car in its class, it still boasts a cabin that’s either near or at the top of it. The dash is traditionally Germanic and Audi. The layout is easy to use and nice on the eyes. The pop-up nav screen is great and is refreshing after seeing many of the slapped-on style nav screens of its competitors (*cough* Mercedes E Class *cough*). Audi’s MMI system is still one of the best in the business, second to only maybe BMW’s new iDrive. The steering wheel was also excellent. Many people overlook the importance of a good steering wheel, but it’s the only thing you must touch the entire time driving a car. So the fact that the S6’s wheel is perfectly sized, shaped and covered in gorgeous leather.

In fact, the entire interior is filled with perfectly trimmed materials. Supple leather, bright aluminum and wonderfully deep-looking carbon fiber adorn the entire cabin. Everything you can touch feels expensive and luxurious. I love the leather and alcantara on the doors and the alcantara headliner. Overall, it’s a wonderful cabin.

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And when you’re just cruising around in it’s luxurious cabin, the ride never intrudes. Even over broken pavement, the Audi S6 simply irons out all the bumps. Through Audi’s Drive Select system, select the S6’s Comfort mode and it’s a proper luxury car. It’s quiet, calm and comfortable, allowing you to soak up its fantastic interior. However, swap it into Dynamic mode and it’s a leather lined missile all over again.

And that’s really the main theme of the Audi S6 — Duality. From the outside, from the inside and just puttering around town, the Audi S6 is calm and subtle luxury car. However, at the flip of a switch and a touch of your right foot, the Audi S6 transforms into a sports car-eating monster. On the outside, it looks like a standard luxury car that the typical business person might drive. But underneath the skin, it has the power to tear your face off. It truly is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

[Thanks to Ray Catena Audi of Freehold for letting us test drive the 2016 Audi S6]
CategoriesS6 Test Drives
Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.