In a year that saw Audi’s sales in Canada grow by almost 20 percent to over 24,000, it’s easy to point at the shiny new baubles in their lineup, the redesigned A3 and all-new Q3 exploding onto the market and representing the lion’s share of that growth, but it would never happen without stability from core models. The Q5 and A4 are sales leaders well into their product cycle without tailing off, but even the due-for-replacement Q7 has pulled its weight. Further down the depth chart we have the mid-sizers, the A6 sedan and A7 hatchback, chipping in a couple more thousand sales between the two of them and helping Audi firmly cement its place on the luxury sales podium, trailing only Mercedes-Benz (38K) and BMW (33K).
Having spent time in numerous competitors, it’s hard to believe, yet easy to understand why more people don’t end up in the Audis more often.
Sales of the A6 and A7 have remained steady, but the products themselves are a study in continual evolution, with further revisions in the pipeline for the 2016 model year. However, those models are not yet available, and the 2015 editions are still highly competitive by bringing Audi’s design, quality and character. In this mid-size segment, the E-Class dominates the sales charts, Audi falls a little short of BMW’s 5 Series, and Cadillac CTS sales have fallen off since the launch of the ATS and the latest generation’s move up in size and price. The Lexus GS, despite offering stellar dynamics and exceptional value in this segment, remains an afterthought in the Canadian market. Seems the higher the prices, the more the German brands hold sway.
For our part, we recently had a chance to experience a week in each of the performance-oriented S6 and S7, and having spent time in numerous competitors, it’s hard to believe, yet easy to understand why more people don’t end up in the Audis more often. Put simply, the Audis are bastions of quality and refinement, and are priced as such. While that level of quality is desirable, it’s all too easy to opt for the familiar, BMW and Mercedes-Benz having just that much longer a history and pedigree in the luxury market, especially when the level of quality is so high, and the advantages of the Audi are nuances of feel and function, while the others can boast of their own advantages in other more concrete areas.
As it is as good a starting point as any, we can start with those concrete areas. The Audi S6 and S7 are both powered by a 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8, making 420 hp from 5,500 to 6,400 rpm and 406 lb-ft of torque from 1,400 to 5,200 rpm. The BMW V8 out-powers the Audis, and both the BMW and Benz out-torque it by substantial sums. The Mercedes E 550 is lighter, while the 550i weighs only 55 kg more than the S6. You won’t be crying about off-the-line acceleration or highway passing power in any of these. 400+ lb-ft of torque will be pretty satisfying in anything short of a bulldozer. The S7’s 50 additional kg do nothing to diminish its surging if not quite explosive power.
The pronounced rumble of the V8 gargles to life with more volume than I was expecting, and it was a happy moment every time I heard it. It’s never coarse, but it retains a hint of rawness that will likely be appreciated by those stepping up into the executive performance division. It is evident on startup and the rare (or not so rare) occasions when you plant your foot to the floor. Other noises are just as carefully controlled, though the S7 had a touch more wind and suspension noises echoing through the larger interior space.
The transmission is Audi’s S tronic branded dual clutch automatic with available Sport mode and paddle shifters. The paddle shifters look neat, but Sport mode does all the work you’d want of a transmission if you’re trying to drive fast. Quattro with sport differential also makes it easy to drive fast around corners, and more secure to drive when conditions deteriorate. For a big car, it is surprisingly playful, and adjustable driving modes mean you can keep it in a more neutral, comfortable configuration or opt for a more aggressive driving style or mood, with sharper, heavier steering, quicker throttle response and firmer suspension.
Whether in the sporty Dynamic or mellow Comfort mode, the ride should satisfy a wide range of tastes. It never gets too hard at the one extreme, nor too floaty at the other, and an Automatic mode will ‘read’ your driving style, inputs and conditions to deliver optimized handling for the immediate situation. The overall experience when driving is one of incredible security and solidity. It’s a warp-speed-capable tank, but with a beautiful and inviting occupant environment. Of course, it’s a large car, so extra attention to one’s surroundings in tight confines is necessary, but the steering is light enough to make even tight turns easy chores, though I noted some binding on full-lock low-speed maneuvers.
The standard seats in the S6 and S7 are power adjustable with memory positions and covered in gorgeous diamond-quilted leather, but the fixed headrests might not be to everyone’s tastes. More highly configurable and ventilated seats are available for an additional $2,000. The steering wheel is one of the finest in the business, fine leather, beautifully stitched and the efficient scroll wheels on the spokes – volume on the right or menu options on the left. Additional controls for voice command and main menus are buttons within thumb’s reach.
Behind the steering wheel are Audi’s signature grey-faced S gauges, a clean design with easily readable numbers and a large digital display between the analogue speedometer and tachometer. The digital display can shift between trip info, audio, phone or navigation using the steering wheel controls.
The understated design and highly functional ergonomics spill over to the centre stack and console as well. Our testers were trimmed in standard carbon-fibre, and aluminum and brown ash are no cost options, while Audi’s stunning black-stained oak with pinstriped aluminum inlays are an added $1,500 on the S6 and $2,000 on the S7. The S7 can also be optioned with beige oak inlays for $700, another beautiful interior treatment.
Audi is about on par with BMW for the ease of use of their controls, though Audi sticks with a conventional transmission shifter that becomes another reflection of their commitment to quality – it is solid and distinctive, and its conventional layout means it will be a familiar operation if you switch between vehicles in your household. The retractable seven-inch display answers to the MMI knob and button array on the centre console, as well as a touchpad for scribbling in letters for destination entry or contacts. It’s hard to find fault with such a simple system, though perhaps the menu structure for inputting and selecting audio presets is a little convoluted – especially compared to BMW’s hard buttons on the console that allow easy access to favourite radio stations, phone numbers or destinations for the nav system. However, no one can touch Audi for interior lighting, with ambient lighting and backlit knobs and gauges creating an inviting atmosphere after dark.
And as for party tricks, you can opt for Night Vision ($2,500) that displays in the gauge screen, with pedestrian detection that highlights pedestrians in the screen. Even without night vision, the LED headlights are powerful and bright with a fixed cornering light that illuminate into a curve as you turn the wheel.
On a more basic level, the S6/S7 is a rather large vehicle, so there is plenty of space in both seating rows – note the large pumpkin’s worth of rear legroom in the photos of the S6. The S7 is restricted to two rear seats, while the S6 retains its occasional-use middle spot, but it’s an uncomfortable place to be with poor cushioning and huge floor tunnel for the AWD components. And of course, the hatchback configuration means the S7 holds a significant cargo advantage, offering up 694 L to the S6’s 399.
Curiously, our S6 and S7 were almost identically equipped, though there is a significant gap in the base price of these two vehicles. The S6 starts at $85,600 and the S7 at $92,900, both subject to an additional $2,095 Freight & PDI charge.
The big ticket item for both cars was the $6,500 Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound, with 15 speakers powered by a 1,200-watt 19-channel amplifier. Base sound systems are Bose branded, with 12-channel, 600-watt amplifier projected over 14 speakers, including a subwoofer. For most people, the biggest difference would likely be that the B&O system has cool “acoustic lenses”, tiny little speakers that rise from the front dash when you start the car. As far as I am able to judge, the sound is fabulous, though I have no doubt I would come to the same verdict in a Bose-equipped S6 or S7.
Next on the options list was the $4,400 Driver Assistant Plus package, which brings Audi’s technological prowess into the driving experience with adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, active lane assist, head-up display and pre sense plus (braking intervention in the event a collision is imminent). Parking aids include a back-up and forward cameras and front and rear radar, but fall short of 360-degree camera systems form the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Infiniti.
The last option with which our cars were equipped was the Black Optics Package. On the S6, it was a $1,600 option that upgrades wheels to 20-inch (over base 19-inch) five-arm titanium ‘Rotor’ design and high-gloss black trim around the grille and windows for a more sinister appearance. It struck just the right note for me, especially on the Glacier white metallic S6. On the S7 it’s only $800 as the base wheels are already 20 inches, and this just changes the finish of the 5 twin-spoke design to matte titanium. S7s can be upgraded to 21-inch “Rotor” wheels for another $1,000.
From just the right angle, the S7 Sportback is one of the most fetching designs around, but the S6, like other Audi sedans, looks great from every angle, a classic sedan profile, balanced proportions, and intriguing details maintain the visual interest no matter where you stand. Some will find it plain or anonymous, but I far prefer that traditional form over the occasional awkwardness of the fastback styling attached to a large sedan. Between the price, seat count and aesthetics, the S6 speaks to me, but the added cargo practicality and unique design appeal of the S7 will be a strong attraction for some individuals.
In both the S6 and S7, Audi delivers uncompromised luxury. Nearing the end of their life cycle, competitors may offer more features or better value, but it’s hard to imagine anyone regretting the purchase of either of these cars. The refinement, quality and polish of the driving experience and occupant environment will always be a welcome companion whether a short commute or a long road trip. They’re cars that transcend luxury and become something truly special.
|Model Tested||2015 Audi S6 / 2015 Audi S7||Destination Fee||$2,095|
|Base Price||$85,600 / $92,900||Price as Tested||$102,895 / $109,395|
S6 - $15,000 (Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound – $6,500; Night Vision – $2,500; Driver Assistant Package – $4,400; Black Optics Package – $1,600) S7 - $14,200 (Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound – $6,500; Night Vision – $2,500; Driver Assistant Package – $4,400; Black Optics Package – $800)