2020 Audi S6 review: A beautifully balanced sport sedan
With the red-hot RS6 Avant now carrying Audi's performance baton, there's a big middle ground between it and the higher-volume A6 sedan. That space is where this 2020 Audi S6 lives, but it's much more than just a tweener. With comfort, tech and power in spades, the new S6 really stands out as the perfectly balanced best of all worlds.
The heart of the S6 is Audi's 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6. This isn't just a find-and-replace engine swap from the RS5, either -- it adds a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that powers an electric compressor, which helps feed in more air to reduce turbo lag. The result is the same 444 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque you get in the RS5, but power comes on much more immediately. Audi says the 4,486-pound S6 will accelerate to 60 mph in a very respectable 4.4 seconds.
When I first drove the RS5, I was a little disappointed with the 2.9-liter V6 -- its buttoned-up character didn't really seem at home in an RS-badged Audi sports car. In the S6, though, this cool-and-collected demeanor is appropriate. There's a wealth of power under your right foot whenever you need it, but the S6 never feels like it's trying too hard to show off. It's happy to just toddle around at a snail's pace in the city, but when you mash the throttle on a highway on-ramp, you'll be up to speed in no time.
The S6's ride quality is really quite serene. Even with this test car's upsized 21-inch wheels -- part of the $1,750 Black Optic package -- the S6 is smooth as butter. Along California's notoriously janky 405 freeway, the air suspension soaks up small undulations from expansion joints, and body motions are nicely controlled. You can opt for a steel-spring sport suspension, but I wouldn't. The standard setup strikes a perfect balance between soft and firm.
Those pleasantries extend to the rest of the S6's dynamics, too. The steering has a nice weight and is quick to respond; the brakes are strong and linear. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system sends power where it's required for maximum grip while cornering. And while the S6 isn't nearly as sharp as the RS6 Avant, it'll still hold its own on a winding road. Toggle the Drive Select to its sport setting and the S6 handles corners with confidence.
Even better, the S6 isn't a total chug-a-lug in terms of fuel consumption. The EPA estimates this sedan will return 18 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway, and it's pretty easy to see an average much closer to the latter number -- even with a heavy right foot.
The S6 is an admirable performer, but it's also a great car to drive on the daily. Road and wind noise are almost nonexistent in the cabin, and the supportive sport seats are perfect for covering long distances in comfort. Overall, the S6's interior isn't too different from the standard A6 -- save the redesigned (and heated!) steering wheel -- and that's fine by me. Audi is absolutely killing it with interior design, and the fine leather, open-pore wood and aluminum trim all work together to create a cabin that's both modern and ultra-premium.
There's a ton of tech on offer, too, as evidenced by not one, not two, but three different screens. Audi's Virtual Cockpit is right in front of the driver, with Google Earth maps and reconfigurable displays. Whether viewing simple gauges, media info, a full nav screen or driving data, Virtual Cockpit is crisp and colorful. A lot of other companies are offering fully digital gauge clusters now, but Audi's still looks the best to my eyes.
The MMI Touch Response tech housed in the center stack is just as wonderful. The upper, 10.1-inch screen uses lots of colors and reconfigurable icons to navigate you through different features, and the display quickly responds to taps and swipes with nice haptic feedback. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard here, but this is a rare case where the proprietary software is so good, I don't feel the need to rely on this smartphone-mirroring tech.
Below the main MMI screen is an 8.6-inch control panel. This is where you interact with the climate controls and various vehicle systems (stop/start, parking sensor warnings, etc.), and the whole screen can turn into a handwriting pad for destination input or online search. It's easy to use and nicely complements the MMI system found above. As far as I'm concerned, no automaker can top Audi's cabin tech game right now.
The S6 can be had with a huge amount of driver-assistance tech, too, but unfortunately, very little comes standard. The base S6 Premium Plus ($74,895 including $995 for destination) can be had with a $2,250 Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, Audi's side assist, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping tech and more. But at that point, you're better off just ponying up the extra $3,450 and going for the loaded S6 Prestige ($80,595 including destination) where all of those features, plus Audi's matrix-design LED headlights, a power opening and closing trunk and a head-up display are also included, among other niceties.
If you do spec all that tech, everything works as advertised. The adaptive cruise control smoothly accelerates and brakes in traffic and I really like Audi's Predictive Efficiency system, which knows when you're approaching a turn, hill or reduced speed limit, and tells you to lift off the throttle. The way it gently buzzes the pedal takes a little getting used to, but drivers can also look for the green "foot off the gas" icon in the bottom of the gauge cluster.
Like I said, the $80,595 Prestige model seems like the right way to go here, even if it is $5,700 more than the base S6. But you'll want to go easy on the options, or that price can escalate quickly. Take this test car, for example: The Tango Red paint costs $595, the Black Optic package is $1,750 and the lovely Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system is $4,900. This car doesn't even have the $4,000 S Sport pack (all-wheel steering, sport rear differential, red brake calipers, sport exhaust) or the $350 adaptive steel suspension. All loaded up, an S6 can climb as high as $95,000, and at that point, you might consider just taking out a second mortgage and going for the $109,995 RS6 Avant.
A lightly optioned S6 can be had for around $80,000, and that's much better. The great performance doesn't require any add-ons and the excellent cabin tech all comes standard. Plus, consider this: An S6 is a full $10,000 cheaper than an equivalent S7 Sportback. Yes, the S7 offers hatchback functionality and it looks a little better in profile, but the cars drive exactly the same and the S6 is still a sharp-dressed sedan. Much as I love the S7, I'd totally go for the S6.
I'd be thrilled with that choice, too -- the S6 is a fine car, and one I'd love to drive everyday. Smooth and supple but powerful and playful, the S6 perfectly balances both ends of the A6-to-RS6 spectrum.