I had forgotten how pleasurable freeway driving could be, until I drove on the Autobahn.
In the U.S., as I am sure you’re painfully aware, freeway driving is a circus of bobbing and weaving, cursing and fist shaking. It doesn’t matter which state of the union or which lane of the road, drivers do whatever they want at whichever speed they want. This clogs the thoroughfare, making expedient travel virtually impossible.
Dynamic mode kept weight planted at all four corners, instilling confidence at every turn.
In Germany, this is not the case. With strict adherence to freeway occupancy passing laws, the drivers on the Autobahn make getting somewhere in a 450-horsepower sports sedan an absolute delight.
Come up fast on a car in front and the courteous German ahead will quickly dive out of the way, allowing the faster moving vehicle to pass on the left, just as God intended. With world-class road surfaces and majestic green scenery blurring past the windows, a drive anywhere along the Autobahn is a treat for sore American eyes.
Amazingly, the machine I was piloting, the 2016 Audi S6, pales this motoring splendor in comparison. It is truly a creation capable of melting a driving enthusiast’s heart, or luxuriously carrying those who don’t much care about driving at all.
While we’ve not even yet glimpsed 2015, Audi is already rolling its 2016 model year vehicles onto the road, at least in Europe. And to test the 2016 mid-size Audi sedans, that’s where I had to go. Specifically, Audi took a small group of us journalists to Dresden, Germany.
There, we were treated to delicious – mostly cabbage-based – German food, wonderful motorways, and stunning architecture. When not rubbernecking at the buildings or scarfing bratwurst, we were privy to the refreshed A6 and S6.
Though not entirely new, the cars have been given new front fascias, engine updates, and interior trim tweaks, including – importantly – an update to the Audi MMI infotainment system.
Starting out front, the headlights are new, and the grilles and lower air splitters have been reshaped, giving the car not only better on-road illumination but also a wider, sportier, and meaner presence. That more keen-looking body is also lighter. Thanks to increased aluminum bodywork, 20 percent more to be exact, the A6 and S6 are now are 15 percent lighter, which aids in efficiency and driving dynamism, as the Germans love to brag.
Inside, the experience is greatly improved thanks to new acoustic glazing on the glass, more refined interior trim, an updated MMI system, and extra safety systems, which include Audi Active Lane Assist and Night Vision Assist.
In-car 4G LTE is now standard on A6 and S6 models for 2016. This standard upgrade allowed designers to bring Google Earth-based, LTE-powered navigation into the instrument cluster between the speedo and tach.
Now the driver will be able to monitor his or her speed, navigation directions, and roadway speed limit through the Head-up Display (HUD), a high-res instrument cluster screen, or from the eight-inch MMI screen, which rises out of the dash. It all feels fluid thanks to the new MIB 2 Nvidia Tegra 30 processor, which is capable of processing 8 billion computations per second.
While those features are outstanding once customers dig into them, a well-welcomed update comes in the way of two new USB ports in the center console. We’ve chided Audi in the past for offering only one, integrated 30-pin iPod plug, this outdated outlet has been delightfully replaced with an MMI-connected USB and a power USB socket.
Drives as good as it looks
With the new looks of the S6 comes new power. Under well-sculpted and sleek hood lies a variant of Digital Trends’ 2013 Engine of the Year: the 4.0-liter TFSI V8. For 2016, the turbocharged eight-cylinder now makes 450 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. This power is routed through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission and out to all four wheels through Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.
Google Earth-based, LTE-powered navigation lives on the instrument cluster between the speedo and tach.
All too often with big sports sedans, despite the price tag, serious sacrifices must be made. In order to keep the cabin quiet, engine noise is all but cut out, virtually negating one of the main reasons to buy a V8 in the first place, the sound. In order to keep the well-heeled buyers’ spine supple, suspension has to be softened, making the ride smooth but roll-y in the corners. And power is often reined at the first sign of a bend by overly active traction control, because rear-wheel drive 400-plus-horsepower cars are exceptionally tail-wag-y, again negating a reason to even own a V8-powered car (I’m looking at you, BMW M5).
The S6 suffers from none of these problems. Audi has outdone itself and created one of the most – if not the most – solid, comfortable, and gorgeously crafted interiors in the industry. On the road, it proves comfortable and supportive at every turn. Importantly, while it keeps road-caused white noise to a minimum, it also allows for just enough V8 burble and grumble from the S6 sport exhaust to sneak through.
Then Audi’s suspension perfectly mates sportiness with comfort, with the scroll of MMI wheel. Dynamic mode kept the large S6 body from listing in corners, keeping weight planted at all four corners, instilling confidence at every turn. Out on the Autobahn, however, with Comfort mode selected, it rode as smoothly as an A8L.
And when in Dynamic, heading full-throttle into the curvy backroads outside Dresden, the car was never victim to traction-clamping nannies or tail-happy drifting. Instead, as buyers have come to expect from Audis fitted with quattro all-wheel drive, the S6 remained planted in all conditions.
In a straight line, the acceleration of the 4.0-liter V8 is just downright delightful. The power of the engine in S6 guise might not be as brutal as in the 560-hp RS 7, but it is nonetheless enlivening. Frankly, the S6 far outshines its other performance, mid-size sedan competition with a level of refinement mixed with a dollop of dynamism seen little where else in the marketplace for the money.
Although I called out the driving dynamics of the S6 above, the same can be said of the standard A6, except its accelerative properties are slightly less grin inducing. Still, though, the whole package stands as a very competitive package. Before the refresh, I thought the A6 one of the least compelling products in the Audi line. Now, though, I find it rather persuasive indeed.
Even front-wheel drive units, which now feature a new seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and uprated 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder – now making 252 hp and 273 lb-ft. – should give customers serious pause before they sign on the line for a Lexus GS or BMW 5 Series. None of those competitors can really match the Audi’s gentlemanly refinement, be it at a standstill or at full tilt.
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