In my line of work, it's easy to become jaded. The mind will eventually get used to anything, given enough exposure. This applies to everything from noise, to speed, to narcotics. Even the irreverent Dr. Hunter S Thompson got used to his own warped reality, in which the violence and substance abuse eventually became uneventful. I always enjoy my work, but at some point, the novelty wears off, and a job is a job is a job. "Oh, another 500 horsepower sedan? I suppose that will do."
But every once in a while, something cuts through the fog, and leaves you staggered. A wild haymaker of a punch that swings past your defenses, and sends you reeling. The last car that did this was the Porsche Cayenne, which I've written about in a few different places. Recently, I encountered another one: a 2014 Audi S6. Whereas the Cayenne surprised me by being better than I expected for an SUV, the S6 surprised me by just being an astounding car in general.
It's not the most visceral car I've ever driven. Or the most powerful. Or the fastest. Or even the most expensive. In almost every quantifiable metric, it is not the best. Certainly a podium finisher, but never taking the gold. But every time I pulled back in from doing a lap of our urban test circuit, I wanted to go out for another run. That in and of itself speaks volumes. There are certain cars where everything just seems right. The S6 is one of these.
Of course, the one I was in was fully loaded with the Prestige package, and all the bells and whistles. I tend to not spend much time fiddling with all the gadgets and gizmos. How is the seat heater? It heats your seat. How are the massaging seats? Massagey. While these things are fantastic to have, no sane human being is going to have an opinion on one heated seat versus another. But if you do, then you're a robot, and you make me uncomfortable.
Going off of the cars I tend to enjoy, I really shouldn't enjoy the S6 this much. I like my cars small, nimble, and nervous. The Audi is large, heavy, and reserved. It weighs over two tons, and doesn't have a manual transmission. These two facts alone should steer me away. But the car belies its size. In motion it feels much more poised than it should. Unless you look behind you, you could easily forget how large the car is. The steering is nice and direct, but not twitchy or darty. Compared to the CLS 63 AMG I drove after, the Audi felt much more direct. On center, the steering is a bit soft, but it turns in with confidence. The wheels feel actually connected to the steering wheel, as opposed to the vagueness of the CLS.
Once you are in motion, the S6 feels much smaller than it is. It's a heavyweight boxer. A mass of muscle and force, but light on its feet. Everything feels solid, and well connected, even in comfort mode. There is no learning curve, or adjustment period with this car. It is gentle, and easy going, with no intimidation at all. You could easily forget about the 4.0 liter twin turbocharged V8 up front. It is effortless to just putter around town in.
Left in comfort mode, it is the retirement years of that boxer. Still large, still frighteningly powerful, but a bit slow to react, and a bit squishy in the middle. The aggression is still there, but tempered by time and bulk. Stomp the gas pedal to the floor, and the S6 takes a deep breath, squats back on its haunches, and then lets that uppercut fly.
Once the S6 gets its dander up, it keeps at it without a break. The big beast keeps pulling, and pulling. You sail forwards on a buttery smooth wave of torque. Mmm…torque butter. The V8 up front never seems strained, or stressed. There is just a seamless surge of power. In most cars, there is a point at which you start to lose momentum, as the force of the air pushes you back. This never happens in the Audi heavyweights. As long as you are at quasi-legal speeds, you will never run out of power. There is an utter lack of drama as well. No screaming exhaust or shrieking tires. The Quattro system ensures that the S6 just grips and goes.
There is a downside to the immense capabilities of this car. Because the S6 performs such feats without distress, it is easy to forget that you are pushing the limits of the laws of nature. There is in fact a limit to how fast a two ton brick can negotiate a bend, and woe be to you when you find what that limit is. This isn't to say that the Audi is dangerous. Far from it, in fact. Just keep in mind that the car weighs more than you think it does, and that you are going much faster than you realize.
So, is the S6 perfect? Well, not quite. It is difficult to discuss what I dislike, as some of it is just inherent to the purpose of the vehicle. Sure, I generally prefer a bit more induction/exhaust noise, and a manual transmission would be great, but neither of those fit with the design of the car. It’s not designed to be a nimble, visceral sports car. It is built to be a subtle, comfortable touring car. It is designed to cover vast swaths of highway at exceptional speeds, while still remaining comfortable and discreet.
My one serious complaint is the transmission. Not the lack of a manual, I can live with that for what the car is. Not even the speed of it, as the shifts seem to be much quicker than some of the AMG transmissions I've used. That's the difference between a true dual clutch, and a more traditional automatic. My issue is that even in manual mode, the Audi will shift at redline. I know this is a safety feature, to prevent damage. I know that, and I accept it, but it still frustrates me. If the computers can decide when I shift, it almost makes the whole manual selection pointless. Silly quibble, but there it is.
My only other critique is the selection knob for the Audi MMI system. The control knob seems to always go the reverse of the direction I feel it should. You scroll the knob counter-clockwise, which feels unnatural every time. I’m sure this is just a quirk that you get used to quickly, just like how everyone hated the BMW i-Drive, but now it is just accepted. Again if these are the complaints I have, I’m certainly scraping the bottom of the barrel for issues to find. “Oh, sure, it will do 0-60 in under four seconds, but I just really don’t like the infotainment selector knob.” How pedantic is that?
These quibbles are meaningless. For what it is, the S6 is astonishing. It is a car that urges you to carry positively obscene speeds at all times, all the while staying under the literal and figurative radar. If the U.S. Express or Cannonball were to ever rise up again in some fashion, I think the big Audi might be a perfect candidate for high speed trans-continental racing. Monstrous power, discreet styling, immense comfort, and plenty of room for electronic countermeasures.
Save me a spot at the Portafino Inn, wir kommen.