Test Drive: The 2020 Audi S6 Is the Lux Performance Sedan You Actually Want
Even though it’s probably not the one you think you want.
LOS ANGELES-When I drove the Audi A6 last year, I was gobsmacked with its understated elegance in design and its outstanding fit and finish, naming it the car for drivers with sensational taste rather than a taste for the sensational. After a full week with the 2020 Audi S6, it's clear the designers and engineers from Ingolstadt have developed a synergy of classical proportions. If you're in the market for a high-performance luxury sedan, the S6 may not be on your radar—but it should be.
2020 Audi S6: Design and Interior
Although it's not as far under the radar as the business-suit-gray A6 I drove last year, the S6, despite its sporty styling upgrades, is still on the understated end of the spectrum. Don't mistake subtlety for anonymity, though; the S6 is one of the most elegantly proportioned and styled sedans on the market, a feat for a car with the engine largely hung over the front axle and standard quattro all-wheel drive. The low, rounded nose, the ever-so-clean and minimalist surface detailing, the way the roofline almost looks pressed into the body structure (even vaguely DTM-like), the way the wheels meet the
flared fenders, and the way the fenders meld into the body—it's a master class in a school where good design means doing more with less.
Contrasted with the BMW competition (the more powerful and somewhat pricier BMW M550i), the 2020 Audi S6's attention to detail is remarkable. If it were a Rohrshach blob, the S6's shape would bring to mind (well, mine, at least) an image of a finely tailored executive in a sleek high-tech facility. The BMW's blob, on the other hand, just screams "Warthog!"—not like the Ford Bronco; like The Lion King's Pumbaa. But, like Disney's loud-mouthed warthog, it's sure to turn the heads of passersby, even if that head-turn is often followed by a grimace.
The 2020 Audi S6 is just as good inside as it is outside. From the feels-like-hand-fitted panel gaps and leather seams and surfaces, to the premium feel of every touchpoint in the cabin, whether it's metallized plastic, soft-touch plastic, or glass, the S6 builds on the strengths of its A6 base and elevates its game to an even higher tier. The dual 10.1-inch upper and 8.6-inch lower displays in the center dash are high-resolution, clear in bright daylight, and very responsive to touch. Likewise, Audi's MMI software is responsive and reasonably intuitive once you're indoctrinated to the Audi ecosystem, and the "virtual cockpit" instrument panel remains impressive even a handful of years after its debut. Oh, and naturally, the S6 has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Audi's own smartphone interface to ensure your digital life transitions seamlessly from on-foot to on the road. Like music? There's an optional Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system, but the standard audio sounds great, too.
All in all, the 2020 Audi S6's interior is a more modern, more elegant place than the BMW M550i's cabin, and it's more restrained than the equally well finished but sometimes-dance-clubby look of the Mercedes-AMG E53's interior. Restraint, modernity, and elegance aren't for everyone, so if you like the BMW or the Mercedes better, more power to you. But the S6's design is the one I'd want to live with for the next 10 years.
2020 Audi S6: Performance and Handling
Why have I left the S6's vitals to simmer on the back burner while I gush over its gorgeous, finely built interior and subtly excellent exterior? Because I live in the greater Los Angeles area, and that means traffic. And more traffic. And—hey, aren't you all supposed to be at home? There's a pandemic on, you know—more traffic. Which, ultimately, is a fate no one will escape until our artificially intelligent saviors come, if they ever do. So, the cabin and its supportive, bolstered seats, sculpted steering wheel, and tuned-just-right noise/isolation balance are key performance information.
I'm only half-joking; the older I get, the more I appreciate a car that can go fast, handle well, and not beat me up when I have to drive it for six hours straight. The 2020 Audi S6 does all of these things beautifully. Sure, if you try to maximum-attack your local good roads (or better, your local track), you'll expose flaws and weaknesses in the S6's performance repertoire. But get real: You don't buy a luxury sedan to go beat it up on the track every weekend. You buy it because you could do that. In theory.
The theory holds up pretty well, with the worst of the S6's performance deficits being a tendency toward understeer when nearing the limit, which is an entirely appropriate trait for a road car. If you're really pressed to haul the mail with the S6, consider it an exercise in honing your skill to adapt to the car, rather than expecting the barefoot running experience you'd get in a (much more compromised) higher-performance sedan. Slow in, fast out, smooth hands, smooth feet.
That said, the 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-6 engine is a ready and willing companion, able to use the entirety of its 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque to full effect—so well, in fact, that despite the car's 4,486-pound curb weight, the 2020 Audi S6 trips the lights in the 0-60-mph dash in just 4.4 seconds. Also helping to boost acceleration while combating turbo lag is a new 48-volt system that powers an electric supercharger capable of 250-millisecond response times and up to 70,000 boost-stuffing revolutions per minute. Best of all, the system is completely transparent to the driver—all you notice is the near-instantaneous torque.
The eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is plenty smart when left in automatic mode, even when you need to make a quick pass, but don't bother with the shift paddles—they're laggy, and downshifts are soft and slow.
2020 Audi S6: Value and Verdict
No matter whether you're a semi-pro racer or a semi-racer professional, the S6 makes a case for your hard-earned money as the best looking, most modern design in its class, and backs it up with always-on-tap power, confident handling, and incredible long-haul comfort. For most people, even if you think you want a full-bore performance vehicle like the Audi RS6, the BMW M5, or the Mercedes-AMG E63, the car you actually want, after you've driven all of those, is the 2020 Audi S6.
2020 Audi S6 Specifications
|PRICE||$74,945/$82,990 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.9L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/444 hp, 443 lb-ft|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||195.0 x 74.3 x 56.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph (electronically limited)|