First Drive: 2011 Audi S6 Sedan Review & Road Test
Ahhh… The Super Sedan… Seemingly the perfect balance of sporty performance, luxury accoutrements and 4+ passenger motoring. This is a category that has seen its fair share of strange amalgamations and unfulfilled aspirations. But it's undeniable that it has finally come into its own, and the 2011 Audi S6 is a capable if not decorated ambassador.
Audi is no stranger to this realm and has tossed in plenty of notable competitors over the years. The S6 is now in its third generation, with each iteration a quantum leap over the one before. What started out as a gawky but athletic teenager is now a powerful gladiator. The first pass came by way of a 227 hp 5-cylinder followed up with a 340-hp V8. Falling slightly behind its competitors, Audi decided it was time to step it up and turned to its brethren over at Lamborghini for a Gallardo-derived V10. Game over? Not quite, but the 2011 Audi S6 offers a compelling package at a price point below many of its competitors.
As a juiced-up Audi A6, this auto shares standard equipment but benefits from some notable diversions. These include an S line trapezoid grill, revised front fascia, side skirting and integrated rear spoiler. In addition, bumper mounted LED daytime running lights replace the A6's fog lights, and aluminum trim on the door and windowsills give it some additional flavor. The overall look is sporty and elegant. Our test vehicle had an Audi Exclusive Color, Palace Blue Pearl effect, a $2,500 option, which definitely made the S6 stand out. And the 19-inch alloy wheels do a good job of finishing off the look.
The cabin of the Audi S6 is about as welcoming as they come, and is much less intimidating than many of its German counterparts. Ours features Silk Nappa high-grade leather with silver interior as well as Carbon Atlas Inlays on the center console and passenger dash. The 12-way adjustable front sport seats are superb and come with additional side bolstering as well as S-line branding below the headrests. They are snug enough for spirited driving but ergonomically optimized for long road trips. The front seats can be heated and cooled while rear heated seats are now also standard.
Speaking of the like, the dual-zone automatic climate control system is ridiculously easy to use and doesn't require any crazy antics. In fact, all of the basic controls are well-placed and the finish and feel is excellent. The S6-specific gauges have high-contrast white lettering with black background and are a snap to use.
As a super sedan, there is ample room for rear passengers and the pass-through trunk, with 16 cubic ft of space, would give any Mafioso reason to strut. The rear seat is of the 60/40 split variety and includes a ski bag. A large power moon roof with tilt and slide floods the cabin with ample light.
BMW has iDrive, Mercedes has COMAND and Audi has MMI – Multi Media Interface. Let's face it… They all suck to some extent but Audi has improved greatly on the system over the years. The high-res 7-inch screen somehow appears smaller than it is, but the graphics and orange-centric color palette give it a high-tech vibe. A new joystick on top of the controller knob makes map scrolling easier but the functions still take a bit of time to learn to operate.
Audi does provide the ability to adjust and set almost anything imaginable and the voice recognition system integrated with the stellar navigation system make some of these non-issues for all intents and purposes. The rerouting functions are spot on and the real-time traffic info is extremely helpful. A sonar parking system with rear-view camera stops one from ramming walls, taking out gas station pump protectors, and backing over kid's toys. And bravo to Audi for including visual directional guides and proximity zones, an extremely helpful feature that is often overlooked.
The S6 multifunction steering wheel has controls for volume, TFT screen mode selection and voice command activation. A nifty set of controls on a stick just to the left lower side behind the wheel handles the adaptive cruise control system which allows the driver to set a specific cruising distance in feet from the car in front, as well as resume and cancel the assistance. We found the system to work exceptionally well in practice and deliver upon the promise of a smart and safe cruise control system. Now if only we could somehow reduce the 20 feet starting distance to like 5 and do some proper drafting on our daily commute.
Audi offers an advanced key system that provides keyless entry and ignition with separate Start and Stop buttons. In addition, a socket on the dash allows for a special Valet mode that prevents opening of the trunk or glove box, which conceals a 6-disc changer, separate DVD player, two SD slots and cables for iPod and USB. The 13-speaker Bose surround sound system with Sirius Satellite Radio is excellent and well-powered with great staging and presence. And there is a cool volume control knob that sits just to the right of the horizontal center console—perfectly positioned to cruise one-handed while bumping your tunes.
Power folding external mirrors with a memory function, a Homelink remote transmitter, rain sensors, light sensors with Auto mode and Bluetooth, which works quite well, are all also standard. The only tech option on our vehicles was Audi Side Assist, which flashes an amber light on the inside of the side mirrors when there is a vehicle in the blind spot. We probably confused lots of drivers for a bit by constantly throwing on our turn-signal to gauge the system's responsiveness and range, but left satisfied if not a little embarrassed.
Just hearing the words, 'V10 engine', 'naturally aspirated' and 'Lamborghini-derived' are enough to make anyone giddy. But when you throw in 'detuned' and '4,500 pounds' some of the excitement fades. In practice, the Audi S6 is spirited but not exuberant. The sprint from 0-60 mph takes around 5.7 seconds, which is respectable but well behind many of its peers. Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway which triggers the mandatory Gas Guzzler Tax, an additional burden of $1,300.
Neither a true stick shift nor Audi's exalted R-Tronic automatically controlled manual are available. The madatory six-speed Tiptronic transmission is solid and the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters crisp and quick. Activating them requires just a tap and short hold, but things return to automatic too quickly. Sport mode holds the gears longer and is a more rewarding experience with the throaty exhaust note ever-present.
Handling is surprisingly good and balanced with the amount of heft that is present. The rack-and-pinion steering with Servtronic speed-dependent power assist offers good feel for the road and decent responsiveness. The sport tuned independent suspension system is stiff enough to keep things tight for aggressive driving but may not be soft enough for those looking for cruising comfort. Audi’s full time all wheel drive system has a 40/60 power split with a rear bias coming by way of a self-locking center diff. But with almost 60% of the car’s weight sitting over the front wheels, understeer is unavoidable.
Stopping duties are taken care of by 15.2 inch discs up front and 13 inch discs in the rear. Slotted or drilled rotors would have been a nice touch but the ventilated brakes are powerful and slow down the S6 poste haste with little or no discernible fade. The Electromechanical Parking Brake is an excellent addition which provides a cool futuristic grinding noise when engaged.
Driver and front passengers benefit from airbag supplemental restraints, seat mounted side airbags and air curtain airbags. All aboard get 3-point safety belts with automatic pretensioners, while the folks in the front get force limiters. The S6 also offers side impact protection along with front and rear body crumple zones. In addition, there is an anti-theft alarm and tire pressure monitoring system. ABS and Electronic Stability Control come standard and are effective and unobtrusive.
The 2011 Audi S6 is like Taboo from Black Eyed Peas, an undeniably talented individual in a group of superstars. The Mercedes E63 AMG, BMW M5, Cadillac CTS-V and Jaguar XFR all best the S6 in performance. But this mid-range Audi is priced at a significant discount compared to its German counterparts, at least by $10k or more once you start tacking on options. And Audi provides an extremely well appointed vehicle in standard form. Our model was priced at $81,675 with just under $3,000 in options including an exclusive paint color, Audi Side Assist and Carbon Atlas interior inlays.
If you aren’t obsessed with comparison stats and don’t plan to participate in lots of track days, the S6 is actually an extremely enjoyable and capable vehicle. The rumble from the exhaust is intoxicating and the torque impressive with the car feeling faster than it actually is. The LED daytime running lights look fantastic (if we could just get them to shine at night) and the S6 styling is subtle but effective.
That said, the next generation S6 will need to play catch-up and looks to be quickly closing the gap with rumors that the 2012 version will sport a turbocharged V8 putting out well over 500 hp. The 2011 S6 is somewhat of an anomaly in a class that is built around smaller capacity powerplants with forced induction.
For the sake of comparison — within the same family, the A6 3.0 TFSI is good for 300hp and sprints from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, which is just 2/10ths slower. It also gets 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway and starts at just $50k. Audi needs to further differentiate and raise the bar for the S-line.