2007 Audi S6
Story by Dubspeed Driven Associate Editor, Wes Grueninger
Photos courtesy of Audi
It was one of those perfect moments, on the backroads of Quebec. The driver tapped a paddle on the rear of the S6’s steering wheel, selecting a gear two lower than the one he was in. The engine management blipped the throttle open to rev-match the downshift, all ten cylinders making their presence known. He transitioned smoothly into the corner, the big Audi digging in as it traced the contour of the road in a perfect arc, the tactile impulses transmitted through the steering wheel letting him know exactly the surface of the pavement underneath. At the proper moment, his hands pointed the nose of the car through the exit of the curve as he stomped the accelerator down. The sound told the tale, the V10 booming and growling its way towards redline, as the S6 finished its follow-through path and squirted off into the distance.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the one doing the driving.
2007 Audi S8
Of all petrolhead lamentations, without doubt the most famous is, “I could have had a V8.” It certainly was at Audi, where a flagship sedan with eight thumping pistons under the hood had once been as grand a goal as any man might have, but that is one more chapter of history. Witness the new S6 and S8, both powered by a ten-cylinder engine which shares DNA with the powerplant from Lamborghini’s Gallardo and both proof of what gets accomplished at the happy intersection of German engineers and plenty of long nights scribbling wish lists on drink coasters at the brauhaus.
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Audi’s V10 started life as a 4.2-liter V8. Rather than bore, stroke and enlarge the existing engine, which would have resulted in bulkier, weightier pistons and meaty connecting rods that weren’t as eager to rev, engineers tacked two extra cylinders on the front of the block, bumping displacement to 5.2 liters. Despite its cylinder count, the powerplant is also very compact. At 22 inches stem to stern, the Audi engine is fourteen inches shorter than the Dodge Viper’s ten-cylinder engine, and ten inches shorter than a traditional V8. Four-valve cylinder heads eschew Audi’s familiar five-valve technology in order to make room for FSI direct gasoline injection. FSI, which sprays fuel at intensely high pressure into the cylinder itself, allows for a lofty 12.5:1 compression ratio, resulting in even greater power output and cleaner emissions. The cast magnesium intake manifold has runners that are variable in length, switching at 4,000 rpm between 26-inch intake paths for torque, to 12-inch runners for horsepower. Exhaust gases are routed through sculpted cast headers, which are shaped to work in tune with the engine’s firing order, and exit through resonance-tuned twin pipes with integrated flapper valves to cut down on noise during cruising but slam open for maximum power when the throttle is tromped.
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The result of Ingolstadt sweating the details is madness: 450 feisty horsepower in the S8 and 435 in S6, both with 398 lb.-ft. of torque. That kind of motivation imbues the cars with 0-60 times of 4.9 and 5.1 seconds, respectively. What’s more impressive is the smoothness of it all – despite being powerful enough to break all four tires loose from a standing start, acceleration is as linear as a Saturn V booster and there is none of the feeling of being a billiard ball that is smacked by a giant, metaphysical cue. That solid thrust continues unabated to 155mph, when the car bumps softly against its top-speed limiter. Madness or not, this is how the world works when the Germans get in a horsepower race.
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Connected to that hairy engine is a six-speed automatic transmission, which fires off unnoticeable upshifts and is quick to drop down several gears in a blink if necessary. A sport mode calls up a more aggressive shift program that lets the V10 wind all the way up to its 7,000-rpm redline, and manual gearchanges can be performed through the console-mounted shifter or aluminum paddles mounted to the back of the steering wheel. Routing that power to all four wheels is Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, which biases power output sixty percent to the rear wheels and forty to the front, but can shift up to 85 percent in either direction as road conditions dictate. An electronic differential lock allows power to be transferred away from slipping wheels to gripping ones, so the car can move forward even if only one tire has traction.
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Despite putting out enough power to make environmentalists rock back and forth in the fetal position, both cars manage a very respectable 15 miles per gallon city and 21 miles per gallon highway. Turning in better mileage than a Kia Sorento means nothing to the EPA, everyone’s favorite governmental douche of cold water, which demands a $1300 gas-guzzler penalty on the S6 and $1700 on the S8.
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The Germans were wearing their sensible trousers when upgrading the cars’ exteriors. Subtle vertical bars – a design element that Filip Brabec, Audi’s Product Planning Manager, says was added at the eleventh hour for the US market – highlight the single-frame grille. The S8 utilizes five white LEDs in each headlamp housing for daytime running lamps, while the S6 has five-light strips framing the lower-valence grilles. (“We have five on each side, and ten cylinders under the hood,” jokes a cheeky Brabec, “you do the math.”) Headlamps are carryover adaptive bi-xenon units, which turn into corners along with the steering wheel. Taillamps utilize LED clusters for safety and brilliance. From the side, the only telltale giveaways of either car being an S-trim model are bespoke wheels – 20-inch on the S8 and 19-inch on the S6, and discreet V10 badges on the front fenders.
Audi S8 Interior
It’s inside where Audi’s designers let their collective hair down. The interior of the S8 is breathtaking in every possible aspect. Nothing within reach of the driver is plastic – the door panels, dashboard, steering wheel and gearshift are covered in creamy leather. The headliner and pillar trim are suede. Calves must spend their adolescence hoping to be turned into Audi interiors when they grow up. Trim is a mixture of solid gray birch, lovingly polished to a glassy luster, and burnished aluminum. The carpet is thick enough to swallow up shoes. Every control, every switch, every lever and knob operates with a predictable feel and pleasantly precise motion. This isn’t the least bit unexpected in a car from a company that employs staffers to ensure that the smells in the cabin are consistent, but it is gratifying even so. The S8’s seats are mildly bolstered, covered in Valcona leather and have enough electric adjustments to keep even the most ardent gadget geek busy fiddling with the controls for hours. The S6 gets racier high-back sport seats with aggressive bolsters that snug up to the driver like a ski boot.
Audi S6 Interior
Audi S8 Bang & Olufsen
The sound system of the S6 is provided by Bose, which means that it lacks low and high frequencies and suffers from an over-amplified midrange – baked-in deficiencies that are par for the course with many Bose-equipped models. The real news, and the reason why the S6’s system gets such short shrift in this review, is that Audi has partnered with the Danish high-end stereo maker Bang & Olufsen to get seriously premium sound in the S8. This is the first time Bang & Olufsen has taken its expertise in crafting home audio systems and applied it to a car. The system’s 14 speakers, each powered by its own amp, are strategically located throughout the cabin and are showcased by aluminum grilles. When powered up, tweeters on either side of the dash, mounted inside tuned aluminum enclosures, automatically rise from a flush position. The system also uses an interior microphone and a vehicle speed reading from the S8’s engine computer to automatically adjust the sound for road and ambient noise. Instead of a linear curve for simply bumping up the volume, specific frequencies on the equalizer are adjusted to compensate. Dynamic imaging allows the sound to be focused on the driver, both front, or all seats. Audi had supplied us with a CD which sounded like the Aristocracy Dinner Party Megamix – all concertos and woodwinds and strings – so I slipped in a copy of Kanye West’s “Late Registration”, thumbed the volume up on the steering-wheel audio controls, pushed the seatback a little lower, and proceeded to roll around Montreal like I owned it. The sound is exactly what you’d expect from a $6300 option: Vibrant, crisp, and clear enough to reveal the limitations of the source material. Sound deadening and control was given such a priority that, even with the S8 turned into a 1,000-watt concert arena and our ears ringing like windchimes, pedestrians would have to strain to hear the muted thuds of bass outside the car.
Audi S8 Bang & Olufsen
A 1.7-million-dollar horde of Audi S6s and S8s was sitting outside a $50,000 roadside cafÃ© in some uncharted Canadian backwater, partly so that we could change drivers and cars, but mostly so we could avail ourselves of the joint’s single-stall restroom, the most steely of bladders being tested by the morning’s long drive. On a gastronomic dare from my co-driver, I approached the counter and ordered the Canadian treat of French fries and gravy known as poutine. I asked in my most polite Midwestern accent, and the proprietor, a woman in her early forties, spun around as though my words had bitten her in the butt, and it was then that I found myself on the receiving end of years of repressed national scorn. “You’re in Quebec!” the proprietor shrieked as she threw a fry over the counter, missing my head by fractions of an inch. “Speak French!” As I slinked back to the waiting cars, she huffed off to go do whatever it is that Quebecois do when upset; presumably thinking of new foreign words to outlaw or smoking in church.
Out on the road, the differences between both cars and their antecedents is glaring. The S8 uses the same four-level adaptive air suspension found on the A8, but its dampers have been firmed even beyond that of the A8’s available sport suspension. The air suspension also drops the S8 at speed – as much as 20 millimeters – to lower the Audi’s center of gravity for greater stability. The S6 still uses steel coil springs, and those have been firmed and tightened to keep body motions in check. To help offset some of the V10’s weight over the front axle, the battery in both cars has been moved to the trunk.
What this translates out to is a nearly complete lack of body roll in corners – impressive, considering both models weigh within a whisker of two-and-an-eighth tons. The ride of both is firm but compliant, absorbing all but the most egregious expansion joints. Someone on Audi’s chassis dynamics team should get an extra case of Oktoberfest for Christmas, because both the S6 and S8 manage to pull off that trick without being unduly harsh – a welcome respite from most manufacturers’ kidney-bashing, butt-bruising “sport” suspensions. What this still, frustratingly, doesn’t translate out to is a driving experience on par with BMW’s M or Mercedes-Benz’s AMG models. The forward-mounted engine and front axle still make the S siblings nose-heavy and prone to plowing through corners when pushed hard. When chucked around, admittedly with my usual crude skill, the 265/35 tires protest and moan, and the line between grip and slide is murky at best, obfuscated by the big Yokohamas’ gummy tread blocks.
When that line is crossed, though, the standard ESP stability control system intervenes, helping to make corrections mid-line. Simple in concept, the overall system is murderously complex in execution. Watching a variety of inputs hundreds of times per second, ESP can modulate the antilock brakes, differential locks, traction control and engine throttle to dynamically stabilize the vehicle whenever a rambunctious operator out-drives his skill. Audi has mercifully scaled back the intrusiveness of the electronic nanny state, allowing some degree of fun before the omnipresent on-board computer starts wagging its finger. I regretfully had a chance to test the system, rocketing out of a hot corner when an unexpected patch of gravel kicked the S6’s tail sideways at superlegal speeds. “Shit!” I barked at no one, not having learned that particular colloquialism in the local tongue, and started to countersteer. I gripped the wheel tighter as my co-driver grabbed the door handle, thoughts of writing a first-hand account of the side-curtain airbags running through both our heads. Primed as we were, there was no crunch of bending metal and the rock-tumbler sound of shattering safety glass. An amber light on the instrument panel winked on momentarily, the electronics sorted the mess out, and we continued on our way, the only aftermath being the blood pounding in our chests and ears. Those who enjoy manhandling their cars can turn off traction control by the push of a button, while puritans can disable all stability controls by giving the thing a second jab.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of both the S6 and S8 is their brakes. It’s certainly not for want of swept area – the sheer size of them shames trashcan lids and film canisters, checking in at a mammoth 15.2 inches in diameter for the front while the rears are 13-inch. Nor is it fade – at 1.4 inches thick for the front and .9 inches in the rear, the vented rotors are more than capable of shedding heat. It’s not even the lack of available ceramic brakes that European models have as an upgrade. They are more than adept – superb, even – at dragging either car down from Autobahn speeds repeatedly without so much as a whisper of a complaint. They do an exemplary job of stopping in city traffic, where careless drivers and brazen pedestrians require pegging the binders frequently and firmly. What they don’t do is modulate well. The pedal’s spongy feel and lack of feedback make it difficult to scrub off the right amount of speed going into a turn or correct for going in too hot without upsetting the balance of the car. Don’t take this as a wholesale condemnation of the Audis’ brakes – it most emphatically is not, and to be sure they’re better than what 90% of the driving public is used to – but there are better out there, and on cars which cost double and triple the average American’s yearly income there is no excuse for not providing the best. Hopefully we can provide a full review of another S6 or S8 in the future to determine if what was experienced is endemic to the cars, or the result of ham-handed abuse during their previous duty in a press fleet.
In many ways Montreal was the perfect part of North America – brusque, rapid, and infused throughout with haute couture – to showcase the two new super-luxury sedans from Audi. From their purposeful stances and intimidating faces to their ten-cylinder growl and interiors kitted out like an Upper East Side apartment, both cars seem to have taken their demeanor and sensibility from this place. With the S8 priced at $112,370 and the S6 ringing up at $83,910 with the option boxes checked and gas-guzzler taxes paid, they also seem to have adopted its bottom line.
Whenever an Audi goes toe-to-toe with an equivalent BMW or Mercedes-Benz, the results are like a Greek play – you know exactly what is going to happen before it even starts. The BMW handles better, the Mercedes has brute power. Audi, in contrast, prefers to show greater care in details and execution – features like soft-return door handles and wipers that always park in a different direction so the blades don’t take a set. Features that don’t sell cars, but communicate to the owner that the car was conceived, designed and built to operate as a whole, with no detail too small to overlook. And it is for those discriminating buyers – some of the youngest and most demanding of any market – that cars like the S6 and S8 are made. Buyers who understand the bon mot that greatness is not something awarded, but something won.