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First Drive: 2013 Audi S6, S7 And S8

Three sweet sedans, one very sweet motor (in two states of tune).

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    Photography: Will Sabel Courtney
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Note: This story first ran on our sister website, rides-mag.com. Hence the watermarks.

When Audi invited us to upstate New York for a day of eating fancy food and driving their new S6, S7 and S8 performance sedans on some of our favorite roads last month, who were we to say no? We’ll have full reviews on these cars in the future, but in the meantime, we wanted to share our first impressions about Audi’s three new Teutonic terrors. Spoiler alert: We really like them.

2013 Audi S6

The S6 is one of those cars people get hung up on wondering what it’s supposed to compete against. Mercedes and BMW, Audi’s natural enemies, don’t offer anything quite like it—the E-Class and 5 Series jump straight from relaxed V8 cruisers (the E550 and 550i, respectively) to full-bore supercar sedans (the E63 AMG and M5). The S6, however, occupies a weird spot—it’s sportier than the top-level A6 and the equivalent Benzes and Bimmers, but not as hardcore as the M-models or AMGs. (There’s always been an RS6 for that, and will likely be a new RS6 or RS7 in the very near future.)

But climb behind the wheel, and the S6 starts to make so much sense. Drive it slow and easy, and it cruises along with little noise, fuss, or drama. Some sport sedans force drivers (and passengers) to compromise on comfort in the name of performance, but the S6 will chill like a ’57 Eldorado if you want it to.

Two minutes on an empty back road, though, is all it takes to discover Audi didn’t half-ass the S6’s performance capabilities. This car has some serious moves. Like a true sports car, it seems to shrink around you as you push it. The steering may be light, but it’s communicative, and precise as a scalpel too.

The brightest star in the S6 constellation, though, is the motor. Four liters is pretty small for a V8, but a pair of turbochargers and a laundry list of performance-boosting tech mean the motor pounds out 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. At least, that’s what Audi claims. Considering how fast the S6 moves (along with the fact that the same motor makes far more horses in the S8 and in the Bentley Continental GT), we wouldn’t be surprised if they were underrating it. We drove a BMW M6 up to the Audi event, and you’d never think the Bimmer packed 130 more horsepower. (Audi claims the S6 does the 0-60 sprint in 4.5 seconds, but independent testing says it’ll do it in 3.7. Damn.)

Credit also goes to the seven-speed dual clutch transmission and the all-wheel-drive, two technologies that Audi has been playing around with longer than most. The transmission alternates between bourbon-smooth shifts in automatic mode and racecar-quick changes in manual, and the AWD means there’s always traction—though the rearward torque bias and rear differential means you can also oversteer on cue, thankfully. Charging down the greasy backroads of upstate New York on a damp fall day, the S6 hit every mark, held every line, and gripped the tarmac through every corner. I’ve taken those very same roads in a lot of heavy iron—a Porsche Panamera Turbo S, a Bentley Continental Supersports, a Lamborghini Gallardo—and I felt quicker in the S6 than I’d been in any of the other cars. And at a base price of $71,900, the S6 is a hell of a lot cheaper than them—or any Mercedes-Benz or BMW that could hold its own with the awesome Audi.

Will Sabel Courtney

2013 Audi S7

If you wanna know how the S7 drives, take everything you just read about the S6 and stick it right where this sentence goes. Like the lesser A6 and A7, the S6 and S7 are mechanically identical—same 420 horsepower twin-turbo V8, same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, same all-wheel-drive, same whoa-mama acceleration and spider-on-Velcro grip. The S7 we drove had steering that seemed a touch heavier than the S6, but otherwise, they drove exactly the same.

No, the differences between these two are all style. Where the S6 makes do with a regular four-door sedan body, the S7 is a slippery five-door fastback that looks as good as Sophia Vergara in a skin-tight dress. If we were dropping our own hard-earned cash on one of these, we might go for the S6’s less conspicuous lines (we’ve got enough speeding tickets as it is), but we sure as hell wouldn’t blame you for choosing the hot hatchback.

Inside, the S6 and S7 are pretty much identical (except for the shape of the trunk, of course)—both exceptional. Audi’s interiors are some of the best of the indystry, and these latest models are among the best insides we’ve ever seen in a car—at least until you hit the Ferrari/Bentley/Rolls-Royce price range. The cross-stitched Valcona leather on the sport seats feels even more comfortable than it looks. Everything you see, everything you touch, gives off the distinct sensation of…money. These cars feel rich.

And as you’d expect from a new luxury car, the S7 (and the S6, for what it’s worth) are jammed chock full of gizmos and gadgetry for the choosing. You can pick radar cruise control that can slow your Audi all the way to a stop if traffic locks up, then power you back to speed once the road opens up; cameras to tell you if you’re drifting out of your lane and computers to nudge the car back into the right path; night vision to see the world beyond your headlights after dark; and of course, sonar tells you if you’re getting to close to other cars when parking. It all sounds a little excessive, but trust us, you get used to most of those features pretty quick. (Though we did turn off the “active lane assist.”)

Will Sabel Courtney

2013 Audi S8

Imagine rifling through an M16 cartridge on fully auto, while being swaddled in a buttery smooth leather couch while getting massaged by Adriana Lima. It’s a pleasant thought. Though not entirely as fantastic as the aforementioned scenario, the 2013 Audi S8 will coddle your bottom, precisely direct your inputs and return a sensation of empowerment.

The major focus of the new S8 is the silky smooth 4.0 liter twin-turbo V8, which develops a healthy 520 horsepower and 481 lb.-ft of torque while delivering a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds. It’s an impressive improvement over the outgoing V10-powered car. The active engine mounts further increase the fluidity of this 4,641-pound sedan, making transitions seamless and allowing it to keep up with the lighter, smaller S6 and S7 with ease, although the S8 also has an extra 100 horsepower to gallop with. The fact of the matter is, with as much grip as the Quattro gives you, you’re never overwhelmed with the truth that the S8 has more than 500 horsepower. The key is letting the car rotate halfway through the turn and letting the four wheels crawl its way out the rest. The adaptive air suspension also allows the three levels to work with whatever situation comes into play. Though most of the time dynamic was used to extract the most direct connection with the road, comfort and auto offer similar performance without batting an eye and only a thorough thrashing will show the differences.

The interior is standard Audi fare, with everything in a seemingly perfect location and incredible haptic feedback from the buttons, which offer a satisfying click to them at every push. Switching between settings is also incredibly easy and causes no anxiety—something that can’t be said for other cars in the sector. Even the gear selector feels like the joystick of an Apache helicopter (or so I imagine it does). The only irritating sensation, or lack thereof, are the steering wheel paddles which engage gears while in manual mode: the travel from clicking off a gear change is so short it doesn’t feel like much is happening. Extending the travel by a few millimeters for engagement would offer a slightly more rewarding experience.

Subtle exterior changes from the A8: twin-blade horizontal slats, lower side air intakes and rear diffuser all button up the already gentlemanly exterior, though we’re still somewhat partial to the cleaner second-generation S8s. Looking at the rear, we also believe a little virility could be added to beef up the masculine character of this German bulldog; maybe some sharper breaks or higher deck line would complement it.

Overall, however, the 2013 S8 is a charmer. It’s the perfect blend of grown man identity with hints of childish excitement and fun. There’s probably no better luxury car out there that defines style, substance and emotional connection on this sort of level. If you have the resources (all $110,000 of them) this car will not let you down—and you’d be entering and exiting that cabin with a smile on your face every time.

Michael Crenshaw

Specs:

Model: Audi S6
Price: $71,900
Power: 420hp, 406 lb-ft.
0-60: 4.5 secs.
Fuel Economy: 17 city, 27 hwy
Miles Driven: 100

Model: Audi S7
Price: $78,800
Power: 420hp, 406 lb-ft.
0-60: 4.5 secs.
Fuel Economy: 17 city, 27 hwy
Miles Driven: 100

Model: Audi S8
Price: $110,000
Power: 520hp, 481 lb.-ft.
0-60: 3.9 secs.
Fuel Economy: Still waiting for the EPA on that one
Miles Driven: 100

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