Tuesday 20th August 2019
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First drive: Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi S6 TDI Avant
Audi decides to go TDI for the S models and the idea reaches its apogee straight off the bat, with the superb S6 Avant.

 



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Audi S6 TDI Avant

5 5 5 5 5

Audi's decision to diesel-ify its whole range of sub-RS performance cars, all branded S, might seem like bizarre timing, given the customer backlash against derv and all, but the latest S6 could very well be the best S-model Audi we've ever sampled - because it hits the 'fast Audi' brief square on the head. Egregious exhausts and optioned-up expense aside, it's magnificent.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi S6 Avant
Pricing: A6 Avant from 41,275; S6 Avant from c.62,000
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel with 48-volt electrical system and electrically powered compressor (EPC)
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 171g/km (VED Band 171-190: 855 first 12 months, then 465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 35.3mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Power: 349hp at 3,850rpm
Torque: 700Nm at 2,500-3,100rpm
Boot space: 565-1,680 litres

What's this?

It's an Audi S6 - and an Avant, to be more specific - with a diesel engine in its conk and, before we go any further, you're going to have to put it to the back of your mind that the previous generation of S6 had a 450hp biturbo V8 or that the one before that went full mental and employed a 5.2-litre Lamborghini-sourced V10 for its motive power - a 435hp V10, no less. In fact, the current TDI model is the least powerful S6 since the 340hp, V8-powered 'C5' version slipped off the automotive mortal coil in 2003.

But here's the thing: this S6 has a shedload more torque than any of its ancestors, with a goliath 700Nm making it 150Nm stronger than its immediate predecessor. And here's another thing: there's always the RS 6 for maximum performance and the greatest driving thrills, so why would you have two high-powered petrol cars in the same range? Why not make one of them diesel and one petrol, to better differentiate S and RS? Would you want the RS to be diesel? Or a hybrid? No? Right. Oh, and here's another-nother thing: we critics, and the most demanding of petrolheads, have often lamented the fact that S/RS Audis do not deliver the driver engagement that their on-paper stats suggest they might. But S models can get away with more - they don't need to be circuit-day warriors, they don't need to have steering to rival a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, whether they can oversteer or not at the drop of a hat is neither here nor there. They simply have to be fast, discreet, grippy and great to look at.

Hence, we think this move to TDI-dom for the S6 is a masterstroke, but more on the driving front in a moment. Aesthetically, this is a top-end Audi and so it knocks your socks off inside and out. Audi will sell the S6 in saloon (from around 60,000) and Avant (+2,000, give or take) guises, and then two trims: the 'regular' S, for want of a better term, and then the Vorsprung, which basically loads in a bundle of extra kit for a premium; see the Audi Q8 for details, although we don't expect the price walk from S6 to S6 Vorsprung to be the same 18,000 it is on the flagship SUV, once exact UK S6 figures are confirmed. Nevertheless, we drove a regular S6 Avant in red with a black exterior styling pack and it just looked perfect, as far as big, subtle, fast wagons go: 20-inch wheels filling the arches (Vorsprung gets 21s), a measured body kit with precisely the right amount of visual aggression without recourse to the blistered wings of an RS, the general 'rightness' of proportion of the A6 Avant and, oh look, the prerequisite quad exhaust pipes.

Ah. Now. About those. Yes. Remember the SQ5 and its fake exits? Well, the S6 takes it one stage further. Rather than making a chrome trim sit almost flush to the rear bumper and try its best to masquerade as four trapezoid tailpipe tips, as on the SQ5, this time around Audi has decided to actually manufacture false twin back-box extrusions and bolt them to the car; and yet the real pipes are, as on the SQ5, a downturned pair of items that reside on the left-hand side of the car, behind the rear bumper. Gah. OK, we'd rather Audi had just done a smooth, featureless lower bumper than go to this level of brazen deception under the pretext of 'visually balancing out the rear of the car', and we are absolutely sure this one aberration alone will get some people seething with incandescent rage, but... we have to say... after giving it some thought, we're not that bothered. The sound the S6 makes is unaffected and we'll deal with it in the driving section below. And, as it is now a TDI (after all), downturned pipes that are hidden away are not such a big issue. Anyway, make of the 'fakexhausts' what you will.

You'll find nothing to complain about inside, though. The three-screen digital dashboard layout, deep Super Sports Seats up front - all trimmed in Valcona leather - quad-zone climate control, the three-spoke steering wheel with a flat bottom and the majestic levels of fit and finish make this an interior that upholds Audi's tradition for making fine passenger compartments. Admittedly, it can be rather... black and visually sedate in here, but really that's the picking of the nits talking. In terms of showroom appeal, the S6 has it in a full suit of spades. And diamonds, hearts and clubs as well, if we're honest.

How does it drive?

This is everything a high-powered quattro Audi should be, with a few light dustings of dynamic goodness on top besides. Which is why we think it's near-perfect for this sort of mile-munching, potent estate. Allow us to explain: first up, we have the engine. It's a peach. Artificial augmentation of its voice overlays its mechanical exertions but not to a degree that makes your teeth go on edge; indeed, the noise the S6 makes in Dynamic mode is a grumbling, bass-rich snarl that we think is most excellent. It's almost needless to say that 700Nm makes the S6 preposterously quick... but we'll say it anyway: the S6 is preposterously quick. Due to the low-revs delivery of the power and the totalitarianism of the suppression of unwanted noises, it might not immediately feel that brisk but a glance down at the electronic speedo in the Virtual Cockpit should allay any concerns you might have about the Audi packing 'only' 349hp. On an Autobahn, it's imperious.

The handling is typically Audi quattro sure-footed, but it's not dull. In fact, the steering on the S6 is something to be positively praised. It has none of that gloopy feeling off dead-centre that has blighted Audis of old, it remains consistent across the lock and it's even capable of giving some feedback, although we will admit it's not the most talkative of set-ups by any standards. Plough the two-tonne Avant into bends at insane speeds and of course you'll get understeer, but you have to be driving like a colossal plank (on the roads, at any rate) to get it to break the limits of its adhesion. And if you do somehow manage to elicit understeer, a lift of the throttle will see the back end of the S6 tweak into something approaching oversteer - a dab of oppo and then we were away? Sort of.

Despite this facetiousness, the S6 is an exciting machine on the right roads. It always feels its mass and size, so don't go imagining it can put on an air of a lithe and delicate sports car, but there's something about the unflustered way it can brutalise a series of challenging bends into submission that's quite intoxicating. Furthermore, we've not talked about the damping, which is fantastic. Despite those whopping 20s on 40-section tyres at each corner, the Audi doesn't thump and crash about the place, and when you need the adaptive S dampers to keep the body in check then you'll find there's precious little to report in the way of roll, squat and dive. Throw in some awe-inspiring brakes that will certainly stand up to the rigours of fast road driving and what you have is a handling package that a) is exactly what an S6 needs to be and b) is one of the best, most rewarding S/RS Audis we've ever driven. It's all about meeting and then exceeding expectations, rather than fractionally failing to live up to an abundance of pre-match hype.

Naturally, the S6 Avant functions beautifully as an Audi. Which is to say, the ride quality at motorway pace is serenely comfortable, it'll trundle around town with gracious ease and the calibration of the major controls is all about as spot on as you could require it to be. So, with this glowing report card in the bag, about the only flaw we can think of is the usual Volkswagen Group hesitance from the Tiptronic eight-speed gearbox. It is, in the main, a superb transmission, with slick and rapid shifts being the order of the day whether you're in full auto mode or you're shifting yourself on the paddles (but not the sequential gate next to the lever, which is STILL THE WRONG BLOODY WAY AROUND, AUDI!!!), but if you suddenly clog the throttle you'll find a second or so of hesitance before the mighty drivetrain hooks up and powers you off into the middle distance. This is especially noticeable if you demand max torque from a standstill, although you'll still experience it once the S6 is rolling.

Therefore, if you've an aggressive right foot and you like to take the smallest of gaps in traffic to either overtake or exit a junction/join a roundabout, you'll find this trait frustrating. And doubly so when you remember Audi has fitted the S6 with a 48-volt mild hybrid system and EPC, as you'd find on the monster SQ7, in order to eliminate turbo-lag. It's as if the German company has seemingly engineered a form of lag back into the system, for reasons we can't quite comprehend. Ah well, we suppose everything can't be bang on, now can it?

Verdict

How highly you'll regard the Audi S6 comes down to what you expect of it. If you see the Audi 'S' badge and you conveniently overlook the fact that there have been plenty of 'meh' S models over the years, which in turn means you still want it to have a stupidly over-specified petrol engine and the pretence of being able to dissect the Nordschleife with rapier-like precision, then you're going to be disappointed. Especially if you factor in the fake quad exhausts, the often-dozy Tiptronic transmission and a starting price the wrong side of 60 grand.

If, however, you think a high-ranking S Audi ought to be an elegant, rapid and distinguished motor that can also play the pussy cat for the 97 per cent of the time you're not driving it on the door handles/the rev limiter, then the S6 Avant with the TDI motor is as near-flawless an execution of such a thing as you're going to get. Stunning to look at, with a beautiful cabin, loads of space on board for humans and luggage, summon-it-at-a-moment's-notice pace, grip like you wouldn't believe, the promise of reasonable economy when you're not caning it and a feeling of quality, refinement and engineering excellence you rarely get from brands besides Audi, this diesel S6 is a fast wagon done absolutely brilliantly. We adore it. So much so that you start to wonder why you'd ever need an RS version of the same thing...

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 May 2019









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2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.

2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.2019 Audi S6 TDI Avant. Image by Audi.








 

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