Audi’s garage is getting full and much faster.
All of its A-named models, save the smallest A3, now come in sportier S versions. The latest to be added are the new S6, S7 and S8.
The three cars share an all-new 4.0-liter V8 with twin turbochargers, direct injection and fuel-saving cylinder deactivation. It makes 420 hp in the S6 and S7 and a Brobdingnagian 520 hp in the uber-luxury S8.
Performance-minded all-wheel-drive is standard on all of the cars, as is a torque-vectoring rear differential that can shift the power side to side to help steer through turns. The S6 and S7 get a quick-shifting 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, while the S8 makes do with a slightly less aggressive, but more stately torque-converter 8-speed.
Each of the vehicles is fitted with an active suspension featuring rear air springs that, along with just about every other dynamic parameter, can be adjusted from Comfort to Sport settings to match the mood of the driver.
Additionally, all three come standard with plenty of high tech gadgetry, including a cellular broadband-connected infotainment system with Google Maps overlays for the navigation and a Wi-Fi hot spot.
The cars are well-equipped, then, with prices to match. The S6 costs $72,795, the S7 $79,695 and the S8 $110,895. Further options include lane-keeping assist, infrared night-vision systems and heads up displays on the A6 and A7.
No showboats, the S-models play it low-key with subtly sporty styling cues like a deeper air dam and side skirts, quad exhaust pipes poking out of a restyled rear diffuser and aluminum sideview mirror housings, while carbon fiber trim and diamond-stitched leather-upholstered sport seats are the main dress-ups for the cabin.
I spent a few hours with each model and discovered that, although they are all from the same family, they have very different personalities, indeed.
This is a very tidy thing. The S6 drives like a littler car, with quick, point and shoot responses. The 420 hp V8 is perfectly matched to the package in true not too big, not too small fashion.
Audi’s all-wheel-drive system is absolutely inscrutable here. You don’t buy a car like this to get yourself in trouble, and it won’t let you. Between the grip on hand and the torque-vectoring differential, even on sloppy roads coated in wet leaves it’s a chore to get things out of shape.
The S6 sorts out your mistakes without ever giving you the feeling that robot has taken over, going about its computer-controlled business in a very subtle way that doesn’t ruin the mood. Much credit goes to the electrically-assisted steering, which has a direct, natural feel that’s as good as any of these systems and better than most.
Power delivery is immediate, with no delay as the turbos to spool up. They were designed to deliver strong power at all revs and do. With the transmission dialed into sport the shifts are crisp with whether left to its own devices or when you grab one of the paddles behind the steering wheel.
If only the engine were louder in the cabin. There’s a deep, organic (as in pipe organ) growl when your foot is on the floor, but it’s otherwise, and perhaps suitably serene. People standing on the other end of the exhaust pipes have it better in this regard, but I wouldn’t trade places with them.
The A7 rewrote the book on hatchbacks, turning the form into a desirable, not just functional one.
It looked so good when it hit the scene that, as with most sexy rides, the urge to stuff more power under the hood and drive its socks off was strong. And the result is everything you might have imagined it would be.
But don’t think it as just a S6 with a hatch. Although they share a wheelbase, the S7 is a couple of inches longer and wider overall and it feels every bit of it. The extra baggage isn’t detrimental, but does change the flavor of the experience.
While the S6 instinctively slices and dices like a Jedi family starfighter, the S7 requires slightly more deliberate inputs. It’s like the difference between slalom and giant slalom sidecut skis. The S7 still able to handle the tight stuff, but happier to settle in to the big sweeping turns.
And the station wagon-like cargo area pays extra dividends in this application, at least for me. It may just be wishful thinking, but the echo chamber back there seems to bring more of that exhaust note into the cabin. That’s carry-on luggage that’s worth the fee.
This is the battle cruiser of the bunch, real master of the universe stuff. If you are a job creator, or destroyer, you’ll feel right at home.
A substantially larger and heavier car than the other two, it’s nevertheless quicker in straight line. The lack of a launch control function in its 8-speed automatic transmission poses no problems as the all-wheel-drive system is more than able to put down all of the 481 lb-ft of torque under foot. The sprint from zero to 60 mph takes a scant 3.9 seconds. That’s supercar quickness from a 4641 pound car with seats that can give you a shiatsu-style massage as you’re being shoved into them.
No worries if the blacktop gets squiggly, either. The S8 has variable ratio steering that quickens up at speed, and the suspension handles the car’s bulk without any sloppy fuss. It has the light feet of a fullback, or perhaps a tight end.
Despite the four-zone climate-controlled business class accommodations, rear seat passengers don’t get nearly enough legroom for a car this size. A stretched wheelbase is reserved for the even more affluent 12-cylinder A8, but the V8 in the S8 is more powerful and the car more fun to drive.
Let the old money relax in the back row of the 12-cylinder model, you’re better off enjoying things from front row left in the S8.