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The Audi S6, S7 and S8 Are Stylish, Subtle Speed Machines

These sedans aren’t likely to blow you away — and that’s the point.

2020 audi s6 s7 s8 gear patrol lead full
Audi USA

Middleweight performance sedans are quite in vogue with luxury carmakers. Whether it’s Mercedes-AMG‘s -43 and -53 line, BMW’s M Sport cars or Cadillac’s Vsport V brand, the idea of using the reputation of super-sporty models to help move semi-sporty ones is both popular and profitable these days.

Audi, however, has been building these sorts of cars for a very long time. Its S models straddle the line between the conventional A-branded (and now Q-branded) luxury cars and the track-ready, tire-shredding RS vehicles.

These S cars have become such a regular part of the model planning cadence that the carmaker doesn’t even make much of a big deal about rolling them out anymore. Normally, for the launch of a new model, an automaker brings journalists to a central location and gives them an entire day to drive them along a choreographed route that provides maximum time in a single car. For the launch of the S6, S7 and S8? Audi turned us loose on a mixed flock of cars and told us to frolic in the hills west of Silicon Valley as we saw fit.

So we did. Here’s what we learned.

The Audi S6 is the king of the sleepers

A sleeper car, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is a high-performance model that doesn’t look the part. That’s also a description that fits the S6 to a T. It takes a keen eye to spot the differences between it and the turbo four-powered A6 — a car which, in turn, is easily confused with the A4 that starts all the way down at $38,000. If keeping up with the Joneses is your primary concern when choosing a car, you may want to look elsewhere.

That said, if outrunning the Joneses is more your scene, the S6 will happily deliver. It’s a nimble, zippy machine, one that drives smaller than it is. The sharp, direct steering helps with that feeling; it’s a big improvement over earlier Audis, with none the numb, disconnected feeling that typified many of the brand’s cars in the past.

Credit also goes to the new 2.9-liter V6 under the hood, which uses both turbochargers and an electrically-driven supercharger to give this small, forced-induction motor the immediacy of a larger one. It doesn’t sound as good as the old version’s twin-turbo V8, but there’s no arguing with the results; AWD traction, a fast-shifting eight-speed automatic and 443 lb-ft of torque mean it feels as though it’ll launch from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds with ease.

Inside, the S6 is all but identical to the A6 — which is to say, a cooly Germanic cross between an Apple store and your CEO’s living room. Dual touchscreen panels separate the knees of driver and front passenger — one high on the dash for all sorts of tasks, a second below it focused on climate and drive modes. (If your fingers miss physical buttons, well, there’s always the one on the throttle-like shift knob to absent-mindedly click.) The sculpted dashboard looks every bit as cool as the leather seats are comfortable…and they’re very comfortable indeed.

Audi S6: $73,900+

The Audi S7 is the poor man’s Porsche Panamera 4S

Admittedly, “poor man” is relative in this case; the S7 starts around $84,000. Still, that’s $21,000 less than Porsche’s own fastback four-door with the same sporty intent and the same 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6. (Also, you’d have to spend about $117,000 to get a Panamera 4S that matches the S7’s features.) Mechanically, it’s effectively the same as the S6, but the sleeker shape and more muscular details give it a presence its sibling lacks.

One option that is worth splurging for: the sport exhaust, part of the you-really-should-buy-it $4,000 Sport Package. It gives the car’s soundtrack far more energy, more in line with what you’d expect from a car of this price and performance. It’s no speedboat purr — it sounds more like a hotted-up Golf R32 than anything, to be honest — but it’s still a welcome addition.

The interior is effectively identical to the S6, bar a missing inch of headroom and an easier-to-access cargo bay. The rear hatch makes the trunk feel bigger, even if it’s roughly the same size as its staid sedan sibling’s similar space. (Alliteration!) And like the S6, the rear has enough room for average-sized adults to sit behind average-sized adults, though if you’re tall enough for people to say “Hey, do you play basketball?”…you might be more comfortable in the S8.

Ultimately, whether or not that added presence is worth an extra $10,000 over the S6, well, that’s as personal a choice as car buying offers. After all, that $10K delta means you can have a loaded, Sport package-equipped S6 for the same price as a basic S7.

Audi S7: $83,900+

The Audi S8 is for the bawse

Unlike the smaller four-doors, the S8 was given the benefit of being developed with the help of Audi Sport — the performance gurus who do the RS models. As such, it feels a bit more aggro than its smaller cousins, even in spite of being noticeably longer, wider and heavier. Much of that comes down to the rip-roaring twin-turbo V8 found beneath the hood, which can also be found vaulting the 5,000-pound Bentley Continental GT from 0 to 60 in less than 3.5 seconds.

But while the Bentley is for the tasteful millionaire of unconventional employment, the S8 is for men and women who have to work real hours in an office for a living. Granted, it’s probably a corner office the size of a studio apartment high atop a skyscraper, but still: this is a blue-collar car, assuming that blue collar belongs to a Charvet button-down sitting beneath a Savile Row suit.

As such, it can pull double duty as both sport sedan and pseudo-limo. On the tight turns of the redwood-lined hills between San Jose and the Pacific Ocean, it didn’t feel that much larger than the S6, thanks to the rear-wheel steering technology and well-tuned suspension. Still, even German engineers can only hide so much size before the laws of physics take hold; like the Mercedes-Bens S63 and Alpina B7, this big beauty is more at home on long sweepers and wide-open roads than technical turns.

Dial the drive mode from Sport back down to Comfort, though, and the car’s suspension, steering and engine all relax in an effort to make you follow suit. It works, too; I was so comfortable during the highway leg of the drive, I almost skipped the winding roads on purpose. Commuting in this car is practically meditation.

Oh, one more thing about the S8: It and its A8 sibling are the only cars in America I’m aware of that offer an integrated foot massager. No joke. It’s for the chauffeured passenger in the right rear seat, built into the backrest of the front passenger’s chair. Audi didn’t have a car so equipped available to test at the event…which is probably for the best, because if they had, I’d still be sitting there.

Audi S8: $129,500+

2020 Audi S6
2.9-liter twin-turbo V6,eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 444 hp, 443 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Seats: 5

2020 Audi S7
Drivetrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6,eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 444 hp, 443 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Seats: 5

2020 Audi S8
Drivetrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 563 hp, 590 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Seats: 5

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