Review: The Audi S6 Is Sometimes Muted, Often Thunderously Marvelous

There’s loud, and then there’s loud. The Audi S6 is the former and that’s fine.

The brash and the boorish appear to get the attention, while those who do their work well but quietly are banished as wallflowers. It doesn’t seem to bug the S6, which goes around pretty stealthily before unleashing its bark.

Lacking the gruff exterior of some of its rivals and the “look-at-me” syndrome they go around with everyday, the S6 should be the choice for those who have a wild streak, but don’t need to talk about it every hour.

Silence, then thunder

The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is one of the world’s best-sounding engines of the moment. Few boosted engines emit something so un-Dyson-like. Put your foot down to start waking up the 420 horses under the hood and it gets even better.

Typical of Audis, the accelerator pedal has two settings: normal and “Are you sure?” Here, however, it’s necessary. The V8’s pull is intoxicating and deceptive, because the composure doesn’t diminish – and the noise doesn’t really come in a hurry. Even in its most dynamic setting (called Dynamic, in case there was any confusion), not enough of the noise makes it to the driver’s ears. It will enthrall those sitting in the rear, however.

Tenacity is also part of the S6’s game, courtesy of the standard Quattro all-wheel drive system and the optional sport differential on this car. And while a weighty vehicle such as this one – as it slides in just under the 4,500-lb. mark – should always come with some heft and security behind the wheel, the S6 doesn’t bash you over the head with that reminder. It’s confident, rather than cumbersome. 

After several days of fussing with the all of the Audi Drive Select settings, I didn’t find a totally plush ride. Still, the S6 is far from harsh, and even in its most aggressive settings, it’s more firm than punishing. Were it not for the fact this is a relatively large sedan with the turning circle of a yacht that makes it more than a little tricky to park in a city like San Francisco on a Friday night, the S6 would be perfect for every occasion.

It dresses up well, after all.

Dark enough

In a way, the fact the S6 doesn’t have much in the way of saying makes this whole package more attractive. Unlike any AMG-ed Mercedes or M Sport-ed BMW, the S6 calls attention to itself with its performance rather than its looks.

Not that you don’t have ways of ruining that message, such as with the Black Optic Package and other carbon fiber add-ons that are wholly unnecessary.

And unlike any four-door “coupe,” there’s lots of room for things like people and cargo. The trunk is appropriately huge and square-shaped. Lots of upright glass makes it relatively easy to see out of, unlike some other recent designs. The outlook isn’t good, but I hope Audi keeps the next A6/S6/etc. tall and glassy.

If the S6’s advancing years really show, it’s behind the driver’s seat, where the latest Audi technology is absent. Stepping out of a new A4 or TT with the latest MMI controller shows how significantly that system has improved in the last couple of years, where the older iteration is mostly unfathomable even with practice.

Fortunately, unlike the latest designs in that A4 or the new Q5, you can tell the screen to burrow into the dash so your eyes remain focused on the road and the engine.

Oh, it’s too hard to adjust the radio now? Put your right foot down, that’s your sound system.

Don’t pass me by

The Audi S6 is like a Chevrolet SS that’s been to more than its fair share of cotillion ceremonies. It would know what all the forks are for at a formal dinner, where the Chevy would forget to put its napkin on its lap. It conjures up a time where V8s were normal and got under your skin. I love a good turbo, but there’s not enough of this subtle brutality anymore.

Nothing comes cheap, and this $81,000 S6 is an acquired taste when a 3.0-liter A6 is certainly quick enough and the Mercedes dealer would like to sell you something from the AMG -43 line. But then it does sort of harken back to a time when Audis were offbeat choices, like Volvos for those who weren’t chiropractors. The S6’s case is also complicated a bit for 2017 with the introduction of the new A6 3.0T Competition which, for about $10,000 less than this Audi, offers many of the looks but without the V8’s brawn (or fuel consumption).

The fear is real that Audi will take the next S6, due in 2018-ish, and make it more outlandish, more visually complicated and more noticeable. The world of luxury sports sedans is full of those cars, most of which seem conflicted in their personalities. The S6 is agreeable, livable and never feels ostentatious. These are all good things in my book. Its days may be numbered, some of its controls and looks getting stale.

But for now, the S6 doesn’t grab your eyes, but tugs at your other senses.

Photos: / Keith Moore

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  • Six_Tymes

    very sharp looking, inside and out

  • Sébastien

    Estate or nothing for me

    • The choice is already made for those of us in the States.

      • Belthronding Tinuviel

        sorry for you guys but avant is clearly perfect.


    • SteersUright

      OUTDATED OVERPRICED ELEGANCE. Nice as a used car but at $80k for a 2017, its incredibly outclassed by more modern competitors.

  • Ron M

    You would have had a hard time parking in San Francisco on a Friday night even if you were in a Smart car. Love my ’13 S6. As it goes off warranty next month, it will be time to add 100 hp with the APR software.

  • nauticalone

    Beautiful machine!