When it comes to performance Audis, we consider the S6 and its lineage to remain the brand’s “true north”. Over the years, things like consumer tastes change. Badges move to new nomenclature, supercars get launched and are subsequentally driven by super heroes, Avants become passé to some, while 4-door coupés prove lower slung and more sultry. Even through all of this, the S6 sedan remains, steadfast in its mission of bringing supercar challenging pace to the ever present form of a four door executive sedan. It is the model by which audi can measure its direction as readily as that little engraved “N” on your compass will help you find your way in a dense forest.
Such is the identity of the S6. It is the sleeper. It doesn’t get the movie placement of the S8 (Ronin, 50 Shades of Grey) or the SEMA inspiring form of the S7. Even still, what this 4-door S-car with middle child syndrome lacks in the form of mainstream car enthusiast lust or media attention it offers in the form of performance bargain. Either on the Audi Certified Pre-Owned Lot or built new on the brand’s online configurator, the S6 remains the most affordable of Ingolstadt’s portfolio fitted with the brand’s uber potent 4.0 TFSI. So, when we were invited to sample the latest updated Audi S6 sedan, you didn’t have to ask us twice.
Back in September, Audi revealed the facelifted S6 and its A6 range variant siblings at the Paris Motor Show. That updated car is due to arrive in America early next year as a 2016 model.
Some might call such a freshening a “facelift”, though engineers inside Audi tend to use the term “product improvement”. Critics may chalk this up as being politically correct, but at Audi such updates tend to be more than skin deep. Calling it a facelift is a bit of a misnomer.
Of course the face of the new S6 has benefitted from a few nips and tucks. Our Misano Red Pearl S6 tester’s bumper benefits from a complete redesign with a more X-like shape to its lower fascia aerodynamics. As with before, the S6’s bumper is also shared with A6 S line models, though benefits from subtle differences like platinum grey finishes instead of the gloss black of the A-models. In comparison, our car had black optics that rids the car of all of these chrome and grey trim in favor of black, which is a menacing look also optional on S line A6 models.
Also changed are the headlights, basically the same overall shape but completely new inside, with updated LED daytime running light signature and LED headlights (Matrix Beam like the freshened A8 for Europe, though not for America as NHTSA hasn’t allowed them just yet).
Changes continue around the car, with new rocker panels at the sides. At the rear, the lower fascia has again been updated with a more DTM-like diffusor framed by hexagonal texturing. Chrome trim is now affixed to the lowest point on the trunklid and the taillights get a similar update as at the front, with very 3-D looking LED light signature including trick dynamic animated turn signals.
All of these updates and improvements are further accented by updated wheels. Following a long tradition of trickle down wheel design, Audi seems solidly on the move in an effort to bring its wheel portfolio from the RS 6 and RS 7 models down into the S6 and S7. Our S6 gets some familiar split 5-spokers that look identical as those on the RS 6 except they’re down an inch in diameter from 21 to 20 inches.
While appreciative of the cosmetic improvements, we’re guessing traditional S-car enthusiasts will be more curious about the technical upgrades. Of these there are numerous.
First up is the 4.0 TFSI engine. Much of this is the same, including the presence of Audi’s trick cylinder shut-off that converts the car to a 4-cylinder paired with harmonic noise cancelling in cabin that all operates under conservative cruising. With all eight cylinders firing, Audi has found 30 more horsepower with an optimized engine tune that bumps the S6 from 420 hp up to 450 hp. Peak torque remains the same at 406 lb-ft.
The car’s 7-speed S tronic (DSG) transmission gets even more significant revisions, with the replacement of its hydraulic pump for a new electric equivalent. Now, instead of gears immersed in transmission fluid, they are instead constantly sprayed on demand by the electric pump, which all makes for more efficient performance and less parasitic drag.
Most interesting though is the addition of a new Sport Exhaust option. We don’t yet have pricing on the configuration, though we found ourselves asking about it when our S6 sounded convincingly more angry than U.S. spec cars we’ve driven before. Even better, the car offered up an intimidating growl and even off-throttle pops like the Audi RS 6 and RS 7.
Throughout all of these changes, the S6 knocks .1 second off of its 0-60 mph number. That’s a bit conservative, but its seat-of-the-pants measurement felt noticeably quicker. Perhaps that latter point is due to the more dramatic delivery.
Inside the cabin, the subtle but significant tone of upgrades continues. Aluminum accents have been added to elements like the vent and window switches, seat adjustment switches and main MMI buttons, plus there’s a redesigned shifter complete with S6 badging.
There’s also a significant upgrade in technology. Assets like Google maps with search and touch pad remain, though Audi connect’s data speeds jump to 4G LTE. Faster data means even more data-driven functionality like streaming live traffic data or downloadable map updates.
The overall infotainment architecture jumps a generation to MIB-2, powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra 30 processor that’s twice as fast as before. As a result, graphics are both more ambitious and smoother, displayed either on the 8-inch main screen or on a much-improved 7-inch screen in the main instrument cluster between the speedo and tach.
Each screen is effectively a full-function zone, allowing you to put Google Maps in the center cluster while iPod menu operates in the center. That’s just one setup though, programmable by the driver. Just like the latest S8, tabs can be created via the steering wheel buttons where driver controls what can be seen where.
Tech savvy drivers will also certainly be appreciative of a redesign of the Audi Music Interface. Most notably, the costly Audi-specific cables are now gone and replaced with two USB ports. One port is for power and data, which connects your phone or music storage device with the car’s systems. The second port is simply a very useful additional device charger. Below that, there’s the simplicity of an industry standard AUX jack.
Our S6 tester also had Audi’s cool new “phonebox” tech that allows your phone paired with the car to augment its signal via the car’s built-in antenna. Alas, like Matrix Beam headlights, the tech is not yet approved by NHTSA and as such won’t be in US-spec cars for now.
Behind the wheel, not much has changed. It’s hard to say if the updated 7-speed S tronic is any faster, because even the older generation box was so bloody fast. Power is also very, very similar, though the newly optional sport exhaust adds in all of the drama the old S6 seems to lack. Consider it a little more RS 6 and a little less Bentley in its delivery.
That RS 6 theme is an appropriate reference. Though this is still very obviously an S-car, elements like that exhaust, the menacing new looks accented with black optics in our case, the availability of previous RS-only paint codes, and even RS 6 wheel design all combine to make the car a little more raucous like its widebody, Euro-only, wagon-only counterpart.
Like the outgoing car, the new S6’s handling is largely the same. It’s not as aggressively programmed as the RS 7, but it’s got enough power and push via the optional Sport Differential in ESC Sport mode, sliding out the tail under throttle.
In the corners, the S6 typifies modern big Audi handling, surprisingly light on its feet and handling more like a car a class smaller in size. That’s a good thing. Even under more aggressive conditions, the car remains neutral thanks to the programmed push at the outer rear wheel. It’s not a puristic feel like you’d expect from a small rear-wheel drive sportscar, but it is a sure-footed one that can be decisively controlled by the throttle.
Funny thing about a “true north”, it grounds you, communicating to you the true lay of the land and your direction within that context. If the S6 sedan is the Audi brand’s true north, then that’s a very good thing. Solid movement forward on technology, more aggressive design, more efficient in performance and delivering more drama when asked to do so via a very high degree of performance is a great direction in which to be headed. To our particular taste, that is most desirable and the S6 remains a highly competent executive class sedan that is also one of the best performance buys in Audi’s fleet.