Fast four-doors have been around forever, but the Audi S6 provides an enticing mix of people-friendly room, blistering speed, all-weather traction and brand-name cachet. Three generations of S6 have graced our shores to date, though their sporadic appearances and truncated lifespans sure bring new meaning to the term "limited edition."
From the start, the S6's mission has been to be an extra-special version of Audi's already special A6 -- an end usually achieved by means of more power, a sportier suspension and performance-biased wheels and brakes. The S6 has always been abundant with the luxury content expected of Audi, and its midsize dimensions make it one of the better Audis for seating multiple passengers. Just keep in mind that the S6 focuses on performance, and as such its ride quality is harder-edged than that of other Audi vehicles.
Current Audi S6
Following hot on the heels of the recently redesigned Audi A6, the latest performance-focused S6 represents the fourth generation that debuts as a 2013 model. In contrast to its predecessors, the current S6 doesn't make huge leaps in power output compared to the outgoing model. A new twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 is rated at 420 horsepower (5 hp less than the previous 5.2-liter V10) and 406 pound-feet of torque (8 lb-ft more than before). All of this is channeled through a seven-speed automated manual transmission and distributed to all four wheels. It's unlikely that most drivers could discern such small differences in power, but they may appreciate the improved fuel efficiency.
As with any Audi, the S6's interior features the type of understated luxury that the brand is known for. With an austere design ethic mixed with top-notch materials, the cabin is as functional as it is attractive. On top of this, standard and optional features include a sport-tuned adaptive air suspension with variable damping, adaptive cruise control, various driver and safety assistants, night vision, carbon-ceramic brakes, adaptive LED headlights, mobile WiFi, massaging seats and a navigation system with touchpad and handwriting recognition.
We've yet to drive the newest S6, but check back later this year for a complete review.
Used Audi S6 Models
The third-generation Audi S6 was produced from 2007-'11. Of all the iterations, this was perhaps the most maniacal, as it was powered by a Lamborghini-sourced 5.2-liter V10. Although it was detuned, it still produced 425 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission offered was a six-speed automatic. Despite this impressive-sounding pedigree, the S6 was unfortunately disappointing. In the end, it was slower than the supercharged V6-powered A6 3.0T, and lagged even further behind its contemporary rivals.
In the handling department, this S6 didn't fare any better. With 59 percent of its weight up front, the car suffered from significant understeer. It wasn't particularly comfortable either, as standard 19-inch wheels and a sport suspension produced a bone-jarring ride. Overall, competitors such as the BMW M5 or Cadillac CTS-V would be a better choice for a midsize sport sedan.
Over its four-year run, this S6 saw few changes. There were slight styling tweaks for '09, while the MMI electronics interface and navigation system were given a welcome upgrade for 2010.
Available only for 2002-'03, the second-generation S6 featured a torquey 4.2-liter V8 whose 340 horses were made more accessible by a five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Oddly, this edition of the S6 came as an Avant (Audi-speak for "station wagon") only, which was partly responsible for its 2-ton curb weight and scarce availability.
Zero-to-60-mph acceleration was in the low 6-second range, and the car's lowered and stiffened suspension and 17-inch wheels and tires made it a potent handler, with grip similar to that of the current S6. Other pluses included its opulent interior and ample standard features list; the wagon's big drawback was its unimpressive gas mileage. Though hard to find, a used second-generation Audi S6 wagon offers an intriguing blend of performance and utility.
Born at a time when Audi's model-naming system was in flux, the first-generation S6 officially came to life (and death) in 1995, though essentially the same car had been sold for a few years previous as the S4. Available as both a sedan and a wagon, the original Audi S6 offered an eccentric turbocharged, 227-hp five-cylinder engine, working through a manual transmission to drive all four wheels. While performance was decent for the day, this iteration of the S6 never made much of a mark on the history books.
Read the most recent 2015 Audi S6 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Audi S6 page.