Want to stand out from the pack? Want something rare, obscure and unusual? Then you want the 2020 Audi S6.
It’s subtle, menacing, and sure to remain a rarity… Audi has only sold 34 A6s for the first four months of this year, but if that’s still too commonplace, there’s the more sharply styled and even less common Audi S7. The A7 family has only notched up 22 sales so far.
At their very core, the two cars are essentially the same vehicle. The S6 a traditional four-door sedan, and the S7 a more dramatic-looking five-door hatch – or coupe if you fall for the marketing hype.
Regardless of the body style, you get the same 2.9-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 rated at 331kW and 600Nm. Audi fans will note some familiarity in those figures, with the same dyno tags attached to the mid-size Audi RS4.
While this engine runs the same core architecture, Audi has tricked it up with a 48V mild hybrid system and an additional ‘electric-powered compressor’ (EPC) similar to that used in the diesel SQ7. The technical detail of those features could fill pages by themselves, but the EPC system is able to run accelerated air into the twin turbochargers to spin them up ahead of the exhaust gasses being able to do so, reducing lag to the aid of responsiveness from a standing start.
Audi’s mild hybrid system is no stranger either, appearing on a raft of recent models. The scaled-up start-stop system can tip in 6kW and 60Nm through a belt-driven starter/generator, which allows the engine to shut down for up to 40 seconds of coasting at speed and saves a claimed 0.4 litres of petrol for every 100km travelled.
Both are cool tricks, and pretty bloody nerdy, but how do they impact the driving experience? From what I could tell on an introductory drive around the Yarra Valley in Victoria, the news is good.
Stepping back for a moment, it helps to look at what the S-twins are and why they exist. While their unique naming structure might paint them as individual models, the S6 and S7 are close to top-tier A6 and A7 variants. Not the fastest and most volatile, though, there’s the RS6 and RS7 for that, with a bigger, badder V8 under the bonnet.
This pair, subtler but still clearly sporting, are the kind of executive express you’d choose in the search for something still vastly capable but far from obnoxious about it.
For one thing, in their newest generation the S-siblings have ditched the V8 of the previous model, and that's a galling blow because V8s are emotive and exciting. For what it’s worth, though, power outputs between the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and the new V6 are identical and torque rises by 50Nm.
On the other hand, the 0–100km/h sprint was 4.4 seconds in the old S6 and is now 4.5sec for the new, or 4.6sec in the S7 – although hammering this pair down the quarter mile for the sake of sprint times is severely missing the point. Audi Australia has also bypassed the S6 TDI and S7 TDI as found in Europe, with the 257kW/700Nm turbo-diesel V6 remaining Euro-exclusive, though you're not really missing out with both half-a-second slower than their petrol equivalents.
The new V6 is still a decent-sounding thing. Like any modern performance car, you have preset driving modes or an individual setting for things like steering, suspension and engine sound augmentation. Thumb these into the appropriate setting and you get brisk throttle response, crisp gear changes, and a convincing approximation of burble and rumble up front and out back.
That complex network of electric assistance means the S-pair fire up quickly from a standstill, and surge forward with detectable traces of lag all but removed.
Although the response is convincingly rapid, be it from a standing start or squeezing on rolling acceleration, the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 offers single-note performance. That’s not a bad thing, with abundant torque able to deliver a meaty shove, but there’s no sublime reward for scaling the rev range.
Peak torque from 1900–5000rpm is a big part of the reason why, and even peak power doesn’t plateau, but sits level from 5700rpm to 6700rpm. There’s a co-operative eight-speed torque converter automatic doing its intuitive best to send that power to the quattro all-wheel-drive system.
It can be a little dozy in drive, aiming for efficiency over outright speed, and can feel alarmed if you draw on it to kick down and actually perform, but tapping it into Sport shift mode changes its attitude appropriately.
Audi’s copped some flak for its all-wheel-drive torque apportioning (and vehicle weight balance) in the past. To counter that, a standing 40:60 front to rear split makes for a more dynamic feel, with up to 70 per cent of force able to head forwards or 85 per cent rearwards if conditions demand.
As promising as that might sound, on the road it's still easy to find early and pushy understeer, though you can genuinely detect by the seat of your pants as the rear bears more of the brunt to fire you out of a corner.
The S6 and S7 aren’t born and bred to be hot-shoe corner-carvers. Turn up the heat and they’re simply too plush and gentlemanly to thrill, although at no point do they give up. Traction is impressive, and there’s a calm rationale to adding speed regardless of road surface, pitch or radius.
Given their positioning as performance models, it would be reasonable to expect firmed-up suspension to match, yet the air-sprung S6 and S7 tread a very different path. The absorbent and gentle ride doesn't really hint anything sporty, leaving passengers cosseted, but keeps constant wheel contact with the ground and shrugs off body roll adeptly.
Now, here’s the heartbreaker. The S6 we drove was the standard mechanical package, but the S7 had a $7700 Dynamic Package added, bringing a sport rear differential, four-wheel steering and ‘dynamic’ front steering that varies the steering ratio according to drive mode.
It might be money well spent if you were planning on taking your S7 to the track, but I have to be blunt here – it feels like Audi is just relieving buyers of their hard-earned for no appreciable gain. If I’d not been told the two cars were equipped differently, I’d have never picked the Dynamic Package-equipped car as being more dynamic in any noticeable way for road use.
In fact, both the regular steering and dynamic steering systems feel so airy and light that they need to be put into their heaviest mode to have even the bare minimum of weight to them. And even then they err towards the light side, filtering any feel or feedback from the driver’s hands.
Normally that would be a performance car no-no, but somehow the S6 and S7 get away with it. They don’t love tight roads, but find a comfortable flow on gently winding tarmac and they could eat miles all day long.
You get firmly padded seats that aren’t overly supplied with adjustment, but there's support in all the right places for long days behind the wheel. Audi’s multi-screen interior interface is clean and modern – a little fussy to use on the go, but so logical that you’re never left stumped while using it.
If you plan on being hedonistic, you’d have to take the S7. It is far sharper-looking with its sleek concept-car rear light bar and flowing roof. If you’re pushing a pragmatic vibe, then the added head room and ease of access to the rear makes the S6 a winner.
In either case, be sure to option the available interior carbon twill finish. It's a $1700 up-spend that brings textured real-carbon inlays to the dash – an extravagance that deserves its place across the instrument panel, regardless of body style.
The difference in price between them is a little more than the addition of frameless door glass and a full tailgate might suggest, starting at $149,900 for the S6 or rising to $159,500 for the S7 before adding options and on-road costs.
That’s a handy price-cut of around $22K (give or take) compared to the old 6 and 7, making this pair almost look like sharp value. At least, until you factor in the 390kW V8 of the BMW M550i xDrive Pure at $134,900 – but at least the S7 holds a marked advantage over the 320kW Mercedes-AMG CLS53 from $186,800.
Both the S6 and S7 pack the same key equipment, with highlights including: four-zone climate control with air ionisation and fragrance diffusion, keyless entry and start, 21-inch alloy wheels with a choice of three designs, HD Matrix LED headlights, S sport front seats, Valcona leather seats with extended door, armrest and console covering (which is absolutely gorgeous), electric front seats and steering column plus driver’s memory settings, 30-colour LED ambient lighting and heaps more.
On the safety side of things, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, attention monitoring, front and rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning to alert the driver and prevent opening the door into an oncoming cyclist or car, loose wheel detection and what might be one of the clearest, cleanest 360-degree camera systems help keep you out of trouble. If things do go badly, eight airbags and a pop-up bonnet attempt to minimise harm.
Like the A6 and A7 ranges they're based on, the S6 and S7 share the same five-star ANCAP safety scores awarded in 2018.
By the end of a day of relaxed cruising interspersed with some more spirited runs, fuel consumption for the S7 showed at 10.9 litres per 100km, while the S6, which was given a slightly easier time, settled on 10.2L/100km. Not bad for cars so large and powerful, and within the realms of their respective 8.5L/100km and 8.4L/100km claims.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good the S6 and S7 are or aren’t. For the four months of the year it took their wider model ranges to amass a collective 56 sales, the Q5 SUV tallied 825 and the larger Q7 reached 529, and both have sport-skewed, comfortable, cross-continental freight-train S variants in their ranges.
Because of Audi’s modularity – the way it engineers, builds and styles its cars – you won’t find a surprise in any one of its S or RS models that doesn’t already exist in another. If that’s the case, why stick with the crowd?
The S6 and S7 offer a rare opportunity to do something different – even if it is all the same beneath the surface.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Although this story covers two closely related models, our scoring system allows for only one vehicle to be featured (apart from comparisons, which this is not).
Please note, then, that the score below is a combined assessment of both vehicles, and scores of the individual cars may vary when we get them in for a longer booking.