When it comes to building a complete line of luxury and sport sedans, Audi serves up one of the most comprehensive product mixes in the industry. American luxury shoppers can choose from the A4 sedan, the A6 sedan, the A7 four-door coupe and the A8 sedan, each with an increasing level of luxury and a distinctive personality.
If you want your luxury equally mixed with sport, Audi offers customers its S4, S6, S7 and S8 models, giving buyers four solid choices for versatile-but-entertaining four-door models. We’re fans of the four-ring brand, since its products offer up class-leading interiors, confident handling and a sense of engagement behind the wheel that few luxury brands can match. When Audi invited us to New York to sample the new 2013 S6, S7 and S8 models, our answer was a quick and resounding “yes.”
First, a bit of background on all three models is called for. Audi’s last S6, dubbed the C6 internally, was produced from 2006 to 2011, meaning the 2013 S6 (internally, the C7) is an entirely new model. The A7 four-door coupe, which shares the Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform with the A6, debuted in 2012; hence, the 2013 S7 is also an entirely new model. That leaves the S8, which hasn’t been sold in the U.S. since the 2009 S8 (the D3 variant) went out of production. The new S8 is based on Audi’s D4 A8, which entered production in 2010.
If that’s too much information for you, we can sum it up like this: the 2013 S6 returns following a one year absence, the 2013 S7 is all new, and the 2013 S8 returns after a three-model-year vacation.
In addition to sharing platforms, the S6 and S7 share powertrains. Both get a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter, direct-injection V-8, rated at 420 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque and mated to a seven-speed S tronic transmission. In either model, that’s enough to generate a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, on the way to an electronically governed top speed of 155 mph. Ensuring that power is turned into forward motion instead of tire smoke is the job of the quattro all-wheel-drive, further optimized by the inclusion of Audi’s torque-vectoring sport differential in the rear.
The S8 also gets a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter, direct injection V-8, but its output is upped to 520 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque and it’s bolted to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. That makes the S8 even quicker than the others, and capable of sprinting from 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, but it’s also top-end limited to 155 mph. Like the S6 and S7 models, quattro all-wheel-drive (with the sport rear differential) is standard equipment. Common to all three models is cylinder deactivation technology, which turns the 4.0-liter V-8 into a 2.0-liter V-4, reducing fuel consumption by 12-percent at highway speeds.
While the V-8 engines used in all three models share a common displacement, the S8 generates its additional 100 horsepower thanks to dual air intakes, larger compressors on the turbochargers, revised camshafts and a unique ECU program; in other words, it’s not just about reflashing the ECU to make more power. Audi calls its 4.0-liter TFSI V-8 the most compact turbo V-8 in the world, thanks to the location of the turbos and intercooler inside the “V” of the engine. It’s an ingenious design that really does maximize space, and components are insulated well enough to prevent heat soak issues, even in summer weather.
Inside, buyers get Audi’s usual level of excellence, interpreted with a nod towards sport. Carbon fiber trim graces the S6 and S7, while the S8 goes with a more refined brushed aluminum. Even the interior trim shows exceptional attention to detail; the skyliner trim atop the dashboard of the S6 and S7 is constructed from a single piece of carbon fiber, instead of being fitted in sections. S6 and S7 models get sport seats stitched in a diamond pattern, while the range-topping S8 gets 22-way power adjustable seats that may well be our current favorites. Who doesn’t like a good back massage on the way to work?
Audi Connect, in conjunction with T-Mobile, turns the S Models into a 3G wireless hotspot, and includes features like Google voice for even simpler business or location searches. Audi’s navigation works with Audi Online Services and provides imaging from Google Earth to deliver incredibly detailed navigation data. We suppose it’s still possible to get lost using Audi’s navigation system, but you’d have to work really hard at it.
As comfortable and well-equipped as the interiors may be, Audi’s S Models are all about driving dynamics. As previously mentioned, each has a distinctive personality, with the S6 being the most sporting in nature, the S8 being the most luxurious and the S7 bridging the gap in between. There are no disappointments in any of the S models, so it really comes down to the buyer’s needs, expectations and budget.
We prefer our cars with a bit of a harder edge, so the S6 was our hands-down favorite of the bunch. To call it “confidence-inspiring” is an understatement, as the car delivers near telepathic handling within its limits. Perhaps the S6’s slightly smaller size (nearly two inches shorter and 1.4 inches narrower than the S7) and lighter weight (110 pounds lighter than the S7) made it feel more nimble, but it was this model that put the biggest grin on our faces. With the car set to “Dynamic” mode, the pneumatic sport suspension delivered immediate turn-in yet still yielded reasonable ride comfort (by our standards, anyway). In “Comfort” mode, steering and throttle response were a bit less direct, but the handling remained above average for the class. Most owners will probably choose to leave Audi’s Drive Select in “Auto,” which delivers a luxury ride until you pick up the pace and the suspension automatically stiffens for optimized handling.
While the S7 felt a bit larger behind the wheel, it still returned truly impressive handling. Following the Hudson River near West Point, we were able to push the S7 hard on a few serpentine back roads devoid of traffic, and its manners did not disappoint. Acceleration was seamless, brakes were superb and the steering wheel delivered plenty of feedback from the front tires. Push hard enough, and the S7 (like the S6 and S8) will deliver predictable understeer, but less than you’d expect from a car of this size. Thanks to the quattro all-wheel-drive and sport rear differential, even wet and leaf-covered roads provided zero drama, and we’re sure this confidence-enhancing feature has helped boost Audi’s sales in snow belt states.
Audi’s range-topping S8 was perhaps the most impressive of the bunch in terms of performance for its size. Though Audi uses aluminum extensively in the S8’s construction (in fact, only the B-pillar is made of steel for added strength), the S8 still tips the scales at some 4,641 pounds, and it’s wheelbase is over three inches longer than the S7. By anyone’s definition, the S8 is a big car, yet it still manages to feel nimble behind the wheel. The 520-horsepower V-8 delivers the kind of thrust we normally associate with cars like Cadillac’s gonzo CTS-V, yet with the added control of quattro all-wheel-drive. Mat the accelerator, and the S8 serves up immediate thrust despite its lack of launch control (found on S6 and S7 models). Instead, the plus-size sedan seems to warp the laws of physics, and your mind will have a hard time believing that anything this size can move so quickly.
As good as the S models are, there’s still a bit of room for improvement. Control layout takes some getting used to, and while we’re big fans of Audi’s MMI controller, it’s easy to confuse it with the (thankfully separate) audio volume control. As with most German marques, the cruise control is cumbersome to set and not at all intuitive, located on a stalk positioned out of the driver’s line of sight. Even the Google Earth-based navigation takes a bit of getting used to, as the map quickly changes scale as you approach an exit.
Those minor gripes aside, Audi’s new S models deliver outstanding handling and ride comfort at a price that’s often below equivalent products from competing brands. We’re also sold on the real-world benefits of Audi’s quattro AWD, which has been fine-tuned over years of development on racetracks, rally stages and roads around the globe. While there are sportier sedans on the market and more luxurious sedans on the market, none manage to achieve a balance quite as ideal as Audi’s S6, S7 and S8. If you’re in the market for a luxury sport sedan, they need to be on your shopping list.
Disclaimer: Audi provided us with roundtrip airfare, lodging and swag, allowing us to bring you this story. We’d have said the same things, even if the trip was on our dime.