The 2013 Audi A6 and S6 lineup, as with those of most premium German sedans, are offered in a range of flavors that caters to those who don't care all that much about the driving experience to those who do passionately.
Base front-wheel-drive four-cylinder cars address simple luxury-car needs, while the expensive, technologically complex supercharged V-6 and all-wheel drive deliver satisfying performance in upper A6 trims; meanwhile the introduction of a performance-oriented, turbo-V-8 S6 model for 2013, enthusiasts have something satisfying, yet somewhat sensible.
We still haven't driven the base, front-wheel-drive version of the current A6, but with its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)--and past drives of Audis with this transmission--we expect this model to be far from thrilling or zesty. Expect to become familiar with some of the engine's coarser range, and for some level of delay when passing. Otherwise we've been happy with the 211-horsepower, 2.0-liter four in the A4, and it should deliver reasonably quick performance in quattro all-wheel-drive versions, which instead get a great eight-speed automatic with manual controls. The four isn't slow, either; expect 0 to 60 mph times at about 7.5 seconds, up to a top speed of 130 mph.
The other flavor of the A6 is a strikingly fast performer--without sacrificing all that much efficiency. Supercharging and direct injection on its six-cylinder give it the pace of any V-8 German sedan in its class. By the numbers, the V-6 blasts out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and it's all harnessed to an eight-speed automatic and standard quattro all-wheel drive with a rear torque bias of 40:60. Audi says it's good for 0-60 mph times of 5.3 seconds, and the same governed top speed of 130 mph.
With this powertrain, the A6 is just a joy to drive; it jumps off the line and runs like it's on a luge, with extremely good tracking, no torque steer, and an amazingly flat powerband. The eight-speed automatic is a perfect fit, clipping off upshifts and downshifts with just an occasional part-throttle moment of confusion. And the transmission seems always fully prepared to make your choices with the steering-wheel paddle shifters just as seamless.
All A6 and S6 models get Audi Drive Select, a sometimes-frustrating system that adjusts the feel and response of the transmission, throttle and steering to Comfort, Auto, Sport and individually tailored specs. We've found issue with the execution of Sport steering mode, which feels too heavy, and Auto seems to believe low-speed corners require the same steering feedback as high-speed sweepers. The A6 handles well, and even though its all-wheel drive system is biased to the rear it still prefers nose-heavy understeer. With impressively strong brakes and Sport settings, it's nevertheless enjoyable in tight mountain curves.
For 2013, the big news for the lineup is the introduction of a new S6 model. With a 420-horsepower, 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, a seven-speed automatic transmission, a sport suspension, upgraded brakes, and an available torque-vectoring sport differential, the S6 should offer a 0-60 mph time of about 4.5 seconds, as well as more satisfying handling, all without giving up much comfort.