Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2016 Audi A6/S6

Photography courtesy Audi

Dresden, Germany – Audi has come a very long way in a relatively short period of time. With incredible design eschewing all-out flash for lines drawn with restraint that age well over time, a lineup of engines delivering efficiency and performance, and interiors that have become the benchmark for other automakers, Audi is riding high on success.

Much of that success is due to the popularity of the midsize A6 that was introduced in 1994 to replace the aging Audi 100. Yet, since its birth, the A6 hasn’t seen revolutionary change. Outside the addition of the now unmistakable single-frame grille in 2004, the lineage of the A6 is quite easy to follow, with each generation of the car being an evolution of the last.

Yet, the Ingolstadt-based automaker is reaching the end of its evolutionary possibilities with the current design language. It’s quite evident in the new Audi A6 and S6 expected to go on sale in Canada in April/May of next year.

Since its birth, the A6 hasn’t seen revolutionary change. [...] The lineage of the A6 is quite easy to follow, with each generation of the car being an evolution of the last.

Before I get into what we should expect, a few things need to be cleared up about what not to expect for the 2016 A6.

For one, we still won’t get the RS6, available solely as an Avant in Europe. Nor will we get any kind of Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) anytime in the near future. And the Allroad? Forget it.

Also, all the hoopla Audi is making about its new line of Ultra engines – small displacement motors that deliver incredible efficiency – doesn’t translate well to Canadian tastes. They’re simply too small for our market to be interested.

However, there is one thing we won’t get that Audi wishes it could sell here: Matrix LED headlights. They continue to not meet our regulations (nor those in the US), but Audi is currently fighting lawmakers to bring them here.

What we can expect is updated engines, new front and rear fascias, and some slight interior tweaks to keep other automakers on their toes.

First up, the A6 engine lineup sees increases in output and fuel economy across the board, excluding the carried-over 3.0 V6 TDI.

Starting with the base model 2.0 TFSI I4, output is rated at 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 32 hp and 15 lb-ft.

The next step up – the 3.0 TFSI V6 – now pushes out 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, up 23 hp with no change to torque.

The top engine, the 4.0 TFSI V8 in the S6, pumps out 450 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque (along with a very visceral soundtrack), an increase of 30 hp.

Audi says even with these increases in horsepower, fuel economy will improve, though Canadian fuel consumption ratings were not available.

In Canada, A6 will still be equipped with the Tiptronic eight-speed unit while the S6 receives the S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Also, all models in the Audi A6 family will continue to be equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive as standard.

Outside, the A6 makes use of a new body comprising of 20 percent aluminum. Up front, new headlights along with a redesigned single-frame grille give the A6 a fresh face. Even the front bumper gets a rework while side air intakes get a new chrome frame.

Around back, taillights get a slimmer, more horizontal look. In Europe, sequential turn signals are available, but they won’t be coming to Canada. A newly designed trapezoidal diffuser insert wraps updated exhaust outlets.

Interiors, at least for our market, will be left alone for the most part. While Europeans will be able to download navigation updates via LTE cellular networks, Audi cars in Canada don’t have the same functionality. On the design front, Audi says a new spectrum of interior colours will be available, enabling more choice.

Yet, underneath all the changes, the A6 is more refresh than redesign, as it still rides on a 2,912 mm wheelbase. During our test loops through the German countryside near Dresden, the driving dynamics feel quite similar to the outgoing A6.

Ride quality, even over cobblestone streets, was impeccable, while road noise was kept to a minimum. Larger undulations were handled with ease as well.

The A6 equipped with the 2.0 TFSI motivated the car without struggle, through the engine note coming from the four-pot was less than impressive (to be fair, I would say there aren’t many impressive four-cylinder engine notes out there). However, it was extremely quiet during normal, light-footed operation.

We then set out with the A6 3.0 TFSI equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive. Overall, the drive was smoother, with nary an issue to report.

However, both vehicles do have slightly slow steering in comparison to some of their counterparts, knocking some winds of confidence out of your sails. You still feel connected, but maybe not as much as you would in cars of some competitors.

As for the S6, the top model in the Canadian lineup as we won’t be seeing the RS6 anytime soon, driving dynamics are top notch, yet the über-sedan does communicate its weight to the driver.

The raucous 4.0L V8 produces an engine note fit for the gods when driven with fervour. And thanks to the Quattro all-wheel drive, none of the 450 hp is wasted on wheel spin. That note is even more pronounced in Dynamic mode, but don’t rely on it for anything but aggressive driving. If you select Dynamic from the available Drive Modes and drive the S6 gingerly, the transmission will get confused and hunt and peck for gears. Instead, if you are looking for some noise, use the configurable Individual mode and set the exhaust to wide open while keeping the transmission in auto or comfort.

The bottom line for all the new A6 and S6 models is this – if you like the old one, chances are you will like the new one, too. And if you are looking for updated styling, the new refresh is just the ticket.

However, if you are hunting for something brand new, the A6 isn’t there quite yet. And with Audi about to reveal a new design language next month in the form of a concept touted to become the new A9, it might be worth holding off a year or two.

That said, if you did pick up one of the new Audis when they come out toward the middle of next year, we wouldn’t fault you. Not one bit.

Pricing for the 2016 Audi A6 was not available at the time of publication.