by Karl Furlong
Last year, the all-new Audi A6 arrived to mount a bolder challenge to its midsize luxury rivals, the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Now, the more performance-oriented S6 is here for shoppers who still hold a traditional, three-box luxury sedan in high regard but want more power. The new S6 replaces the previous version's twin-turbo V8 engine with a 2.9-liter turbocharged V6, further boosted by a 48-volt electric compressor providing a surge of power at lower speeds. The combination works well, with 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque enabling zero to sixty in just 4.4 seconds. That's quick, but BMW's V8-powered M550i is even faster, while the Mercedes-AMG E53 delivers similar performance and also boasts electric assistance. The rest of the S6 experience is pure Audi: it's comfortable yet enjoyable to drive, interior quality is first-rate, and it's loaded with technology. In fact, the new cabin, replete with glossy screens, is a significant departure from the previous S6. With its understated style, technology galore, and potent powertrain, the S6 embodies many of Audi's best attributes.
The Audi S6 is an all-new arrival for 2020, based on the fifth generation of the A6, which was introduced last year. Along with bolder styling inside and out, the new S6 has an entirely different powertrain, replacing the V8 used previously for a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 with mild hybrid technology, an engine that is also used in the S7. The dual-screen infotainment system dramatically modernizes the cabin, while the A6 also has more space for passengers than the S7. As usual, Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system endows the big sedan with tremendous grip.
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Audi tends to reserve its more outlandish designs for niche models, leaving its sedans with more modest styling updates. For some, Audi's restrained approach appeals, while others would prefer more visual punch. The S6 wears a sharp, smart suit, though. The broader grille (with platinum double slats) adds more presence in front, and there is more character to be found in details like the LED taillights with a chrome strip running through them. Both trims get stylish 20-inch wheels, along with S-model quad exhaust outlets, matrix-design headlights, and a rear-lip spoiler.
As a microcosm of how closely matched the big three Germans are, a mere 0.4 inches separates the S6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes E-Class in length. The S6 is the shortest with a length of 195 inches, although at 83.1 inches, it's wider than the E-Class with the side mirrors extended. The S6 rides on a 115.3-inch wheelbase and has a height of 56.9 inches. The Audi weighs 4,486 pounds; again, this is close to the BMW M550i, which weighs 4,456 lbs.
Audi offers the new S6 in a choice of 11 colors. Brilliant Black and Ibis White won't cost you any extra, while the metallics go for an extra $595. These shades are Avalon Green, Firmament Blue, Florett Silver, Glacier White, Mythos Black, Navarra Blue, Tango Red, Vesuvius Gray, and Daytona Gray. Tango Red and Navarra Blue stand out the most and, thanks to the S6's clean and simple lines, these choices do a good job of giving the Audi some welcome visual zip.
The S6 provides a noticeable bump up in performance over the 3.0-liter V6 A6, previously the quickest model in the A6 sedan range. Like that car, the S6 utilizes mild hybrid power, but the S6's 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine manages total outputs of 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft, as opposed to the regular A6's 335 hp/369 lb-ft. Sending power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, the S6 will get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and continue on to a limited top speed of 155 mph. The effortless, easygoing power delivery makes planting your right foot a most enjoyable exercise, but if you do the same in the similarly priced BMW M550i, it'll manage the benchmark sprint in a ridiculous 3.6 seconds. The Mercedes-AMG E53 is a closer match for the S6, taking the same 4.4 seconds to get to sixty. Although BMW and Mercedes-Benz both offer less powerful versions of the 5 Series/E-Class with rear-wheel drive, the S6 - like the rest of the A6 range - can only be had with quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi has a long and colorful history of exciting performance sedans with the S badge on it. The Audi S8 that featured in the 1998 action film Ronin - involving one of the most thrilling car chase scenes ever filmed - is one of them. That car utilized a large-capacity V8, and two decades later, the S6 was still using a big V8 (albeit a much more powerful one). The brand new S6 is quite a departure, then, as its 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 is not only a smaller engine, but it now gets a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. The electric compressor helps to eliminate turbo lag at lower engine speeds, contributing to peak outputs of 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is used.
To drive, the S6 is a peach. Thanks to the mild-hybrid system, throttle response is immediate and power is on tap immediately. Although it is plenty powerful, the S6 is as refined as any other Audi, with a much more docile character than RS-badged cars. The BMW M550i's V8 packs more of a punch, but the S6 has as much usable power as anyone could need, effortlessly passing slower traffic with a gentle stab of the throttle. The gearbox is totally untaxed by the task of switching through gears quickly and smoothly.
Like the powertrain, the S6's adaptive air suspension is a class act. Quattro all-wheel-drive directs the engine's power to all four wheels, ensuring that the S6 retains its composure in wet or icy conditions, while the grip on offer in the dry will rarely, if ever, be tested. The electromechanical power steering is light enough at lower speeds but proves pleasingly direct when pressing on. The Audi exhibits excellent body control through the twisties, but its strength remains in switching to Comfort mode and eating up the miles on the highway, where the ride is compliant and smooth, despite the large wheels. Road noise is suppressed brilliantly, too. In Dynamic mode, the suspension firms up, although never to the point of being jarring, but even here, the S6 is more of a competent luxury sedan than a thrilling sports car. That's fine, because it's exactly what a buyer in this segment will want. Still, a 5 Series just about retains its edge for driving enjoyment among the three Germans. But the S6 really is hard to find fault with.
Audi's decision to use a smaller-capacity V6 with mild-hybrid tech has paid off in terms of fuel-efficiency. The new S6 returns EPA-rated consumption figures of 18/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined, quite an improvement over the previous S6's 16/24/18 mpg. It's also more efficient than the BMW M550i's 18/25/20 mpg, but the Mercedes-AMG E53 is the victor here, with figures of 21/28/24 mpg. For even less money, the similarly quick BMW 540i xDrive manages 22/29/25 mpg. With its 19.3-gallon gas tank, the new Audi S6 will manage a combined cruising range of around 424 miles.
Inside, the S6 marks some big changes over the previous model. The dashboard is dominated by screens and touch-sensitive displays, with an absence of physical knobs that is aesthetically pleasing but not always as intuitive to use. Both models get the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, and it remains clear, functional, and sleek to look at. The rest of the cabin is a resounding success, though, with Audi's usual obsessive attention to detail on full display, whether it's the soft diamond-stitched leather or the generous wood inlays. It's also well-equipped, with amenities like four-zone climate control, a power-adjustable steering column, power-adjustable front seats, and ambient LED cabin lighting all included as standard. Front/rear parking sensors and a top-view camera system improve the safety score, with adaptive cruise control fitted to the Prestige trim.
Like other A6s, the S6 seats five passengers in its spacious cabin. As usual, two will be more comfortable in the back than three, but all seating positions offer generous legroom and headroom; headroom, in particular, is better than in the more sportily attired S7. The seats themselves are luxurious, comfortable, and supportive, upholstered in Valcona leather and with 12-way power adjustment in front. There are wide door openings to make for easy ingress and egress, although the low seating position means that getting out takes a little more effort. Visibility is only average because the roof pillars are broad, while a narrow glasshouse does make one appreciative of the standard front/rear parking sensors and the top-view camera system.
The S6 isn't cheap, so it's just as well that nothing about the upscale cabin feels anything less than premium. The Valcona leather seats have diamond stitching that really looks the part, as do the Gray/Brown fine grain ash wood inlays. Valcona leather without the diamond stitching can be specified, although this requires other upgrades for a total price jump of $3,900 on the Premium Plus; on the Prestige, Valcona leather without the diamond stitching costs a cheaper $1,750, as the Prestige includes the other required extras by default. There is also a leather-wrapped steering wheel, while the Prestige trim has an extended leather package, which adds leather to the dashboard, armrests, and the center console. On both trims, the Valcona leather seats can be had in Arras Red with Agate Gray stitching, Black with Rock Gray stitching, or Rotor Gray with Anthracite stitching. Brushed aluminum inlays are available at no extra cost, but carbon twill structured inlays will add $500 to the price.
Open the trunk lid, and the S6 has 13.7 cubic feet of space available. This is slightly bigger than the E-Class's 13.1 cubes, but the 5 Series leads the way with 18.7 cubes. Two large suitcases or a set of golf clubs will still fit in the Audi's trunk, though, and the 40/20/40-split-folding rear seatback can fold down to increase cargo capacity.
In the cabin, there are two well-sized cupholders in front and the glovebox is quite large, but space beneath the center armrest is limited. For those at the back, there are seatback map pockets, plus there is a fold-down center armrest with some more space beneath it for odds and ends.
Both S6 trims ship with lots of standard features. On the Premium Plus, creature comforts include four-zone climate control, a power-adjustable tilt/telescopic steering column, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and 12-way power-adjustable front seats with heating. Driver convenience is catered for by a seat memory function, auto-dimming and power-folding exterior mirrors, front/rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic windshield wipers, and a top-view camera system. Wireless charging negates the need to fiddle with physical charger cables, and a garage door opener is inclusive, too. The Prestige trim adds traffic sign recognition, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and power soft-closing doors. This variant also has heated rear seats.
Infotainment is an area where the new S6 has really stepped up its game. The cabin feels as high-tech as anything else in this segment, and a lot of that is because of the abundance of screens. Ahead of the driver, a 12.3-inch LCD digital instrument cluster will be familiar to anyone that has seen Audi's virtual cockpit before. To the right of this is the MMI touch response infotainment system with two touchscreens: a 10.1-inch screen on top and an 8.6-inch screen at the bottom. The system is responsive and the graphics are clear, while haptic feedback has been incorporated so that it's easier to tell when you've selected a certain function or not. Even so, it does require some time to adjust to. There has been no skimping on features, with HD Radio, Bluetooth, SiriusXM satellite radio, four USB ports, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto all standard. MMI navigation with integrated voice controls is included, too. The audio system is a 16-speaker Bang and Olufsen unit that delivers crisp, rich sound quality.
As it is a new arrival, it's still early to assess the reliability of the 2020 Audi S6, but at the time of writing, no recalls had been issued.
Audi's new vehicle warranty runs for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, along with four years of 24-hour roadside assistance. A 12-year limited corrosion protection warranty also applies. This coverage matches what BMW offers for the 5 Series, although BMW also offers a three-year/36,000-mile maintenance plan. The Jaguar XF has a superior five-year/60,000-mile warranty.
The NHTSA has yet to fully evaluate the Audi S6, but the agency did give the sedan a full five-star rating for the rollover test. The regular Audi A6 was also given a full five-star overall safety rating, so there is little reason to doubt that the S6 will match this result. The 2020 Audi A6 was also awarded the IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ award, indicating superb safety standards.
Audi's airbag protection system comprises six airbags, including dual front and front side airbags. Rear side airbags are available for $350. Other common safety features are in place as well, from electronic stability control to traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and ABS/EBD brakes.
Both trims receive driver assistance tech in the form of a top-view camera system, a rearview camera, front/rear parking sensors, cruise control, Audi pre sense basic, pre sense front, and lane departure warning. The Prestige trim adds active lane assist, Audi side assist, pre sense rear, rear cross-traffic alert, vehicle exit warning, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and a head-up display. Audi's intersection assist will alert the driver both audibly and visually to the threat of cross traffic when approaching an intersection.
The switch to a smaller-capacity V6 engine with mild-hybrid technology has not diluted the appeal of Audi's swift midsize sedan. It feels like the perfect balance between performance and control, and comfort blended with driver engagement. Typically, trying to be all things to all people is a dangerous exercise, but the S6 package will appeal to the vast majority of shoppers in this segment. The immaculate cabin is another highlight, even if its abundance of technology takes some time to familiarize oneself with. Flaws are few, with the smallish trunk and the subjective feeling from some that the S6 remains too understated being among the question marks. The S6 is a mighty close match for the Mercedes-AMG E53; the differences are small enough that a preference for either badge will sway the final decision. BMW's M550i offers something different at the same price, bringing fun dynamics and brawny V8 power to the mix. But the Audi easily earns a podium finish in this segment, and for many, it will be the top choice in the segment.
Offered in two trims, the Audi S6 starts off with the Premium Plus at an MSRP of $73,900, excluding tax, licensing, and registration costs, along with a destination charge of $995. Moving up to the better-equipped Prestige will cost a pricey $79,600. The Mercedes-AMG E53 goes for $73,800, just $100 less than the base S6, while the BMW M550i xDrive costs $76,650, slotting between the two S6 trims.
The 2020 Audi S6 is available in two trims: the Premium Plus and the Prestige. Both trims are equipped with the same mild-hybrid system, comprising a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 and an electric compressor. Peak outputs are 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, channeled via an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels via the quattro all-wheel-drive system.
At Premium Plus level, the S6 gets 20-inch alloy wheels, S-specific quad exhaust outlets, matrix-design headlights, and LED taillights. The classy cabin features leather-upholstered seats, with the front chairs having heating and 12-way power-adjustment. Other standard gear includes a 16-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system, four-zone climate control, the 12.3-inch LCD screen for the virtual cockpit display, LED ambient lighting, and safety technologies like lane departure warning, front/rear parking sensors, and Audi pre sense basic.
Moving up to the Prestige adds more driver aids in the form of vehicle exit warning, active lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and intersection assist. This trim also introduces soft-close doors, a power trunk lid, an extended leather package, and heated rear seats.
Audi offers several added-cost packages to further customize your purchase. The Black Optic Package goes for $1,750 and adds high-gloss exterior trim and 21-inch titanium-matte wheels for a sportier appearance. The S6 Executive Package bundles together the extended leather trim, heated rear seats, a power trunk lid, and multi-colour LED ambient lighting for $1,650, and is offered on the Premium Plus trim. However, this option also requires Audi side assist and pre sense rear for an additional $500. The $4,000 S Sport Package equips a quattro sport rear differential and dynamic all-wheel steering for improved dynamics, along with red brake calipers and a sport exhaust system. The Luxury Package costs $1,750 adding amenities like 18-way power front seats with ventilation and massage function, a rear window power sunshade, and extended leather upholstery. Once again, though, other extras like Audi side assist and the Executive Package need to be specified in conjunction with the Luxury Package, so the true cost is $3,900. Finally, the Driver Assistance Package adds many of the driver aids that are standard on the Prestige to the Premium Plus for $2,250, such as adaptive cruise control and pre sense rear; Audi pre sense rear and side assist are automatically tacked on, though, adding $500.
The Prestige has fewer available packages owing to its higher standard feature count, but the Black Optic, S Sport, and Luxury packages still apply to this trim. Uniquely, it also has access to night vision ($2,500) and a more powerful 19-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system ($4,900).
The 2020 Audi S6 isn't cheap, with the range-topping Prestige coming in at several thousand dollars more than its equivalent BMW and Mercedes rivals. For this reason, we'd go for the Premium Plus, which is already specified at a high enough level. The Luxury Package and the Driver Assistance Package seem well-priced for what they offer, bundling together most of the best features that are standard on the Prestige. However, the way that Audi structures its packages means that what initially appears to be a reasonably priced upgrade is made expensive by the need to add a package only if you include various other features, too. Just a single package upgrade brings the Premium Plus's price uncomfortably close to the Prestige. So, if you go for the lower trim, we'd advise you to leave it as is. If you can stretch to the Prestige, you'll be getting a fully loaded sport sedan that doesn't want for much.
With its fastback design, the S7 cuts a much more distinctive figure than the S6. For many, that alone will be enough to go for the Audi with the higher number in its badge, but is '7' really better than '6' in this case? Well, it's certainly more expensive. At $83,900, the S7 starts at exactly $10,000 more than the S6, which is a significant difference. Despite this, the two are similarly specced, although the S7 has LED headlights as standard, one of the few feature differences in base trim. The S7 also has close to double the amount of trunk space behind the rear seats, but the S6 has more headroom front and rear. To drive, it's near impossible to separate the two, as they both have the same powertrain and a negligible difference in acceleration (the S7 is just one-tenth behind the S6 to 60 mph). For the fashion-conscious crowd, the S7 will win every time, but the S6 offers much of the same for less money.
Many buyers considering the S6 will probably wonder if the high price is worth it over the regular A6. The regular A6 begins at $54,900, nearly $20,000 less than the S6. Although refined and well-equipped, it means you'll have to be happy with four-cylinder power in the form of the 2.0-liter turbo with 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. A better comparison would be the $59,800 Audi A6 55 TFSI, which uses a 3.0-liter V6 engine and generates 335 hp and 369 lb-ft. It'll hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, not much slower than the S6, although in base trim it has fewer seating adjustments, no virtual cockpit, and does without the S6's sportier interior and exterior add-ons. If you want an Audi A6 with V6 power, the 55 TFSI in one of its lower two trims represents a sizable saving over the S6, but the latter does feel more special inside and out. There isn't a bad choice here, and your budget will dictate the final decision.
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