Walland, Tennessee - Audi's S-spec cars used to be so rare, their owners were like members of a secret cult. The first S4 sedan came in 1994, and a few S6 wagons followed in 1997, but they were as scarce as Ferraris. Now, Audi is following the lead of the rapidly proliferating BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG brands, so we have the S4 sedan and the S4 Avant, the S8, and, new this fall, the S6 Avant.
Upon learning of the S6 Avant, you might wonder why there isn't an S6 sedan. "An S6 sedan would be a little too close to our current A6 4.2," answers Marc Trahan, Audi's U.S. product planner.
You'll forget about the S6's elongated roofline when you unleash the 340 horses produced by this slightly detuned version of the S8's 4.2-liter V-8. Its high-speed bursts are addictive, whether you shift your way to extralegal speeds with the five-speed Tiptronic manu-matic (which has a new shift gate and sport mode) or let the transmission direct the gearchanges.
The S6's aluminum-intensive suspension--with firmer damper settings, stiffer springs, and bigger anti-roll bars than on the A6 Avant--provides impressive handling and body control, at a cost of some impact harshness over bad pavement. The steering, while nicely linear and progressive, could use more feel. The S6 does not get the S8's Brembo brakes, but the Avant's aluminum calipers grip vented discs with authority. Standard equipment includes Quattro all-wheel drive, skid control, seventeen-inch wheels, and a full-luxe cabin that can be dressed up even more with faux-suede trim.
Audi expects the S6 Avant to recruit about 1200 new souls to the S-car cult annually, with an induction fee of about $55,000. We heartily endorse membership.