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The incredible shrinking engine

Engines in Audi S6 models read like a countdown. A decade ago there was a howling V10, then a turbocharged V8, and now a V6. Approximate engine size dropped from five litres, to four and now three.You could guess that the next model will have a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine. It might not have a petrol…

Engines in Audi S6 models read like a countdown.

A decade ago there was a howling V10, then a turbocharged V8, and now a V6. Approximate engine size dropped from five litres, to four and now three.

You could guess that the next model will have a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine. It might not have a petrol engine at all.

For now, the new Audi S6 and its stylish S7 cousin are powered by a new 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine with impressive 331kW and 600Nm outputs. That’s the same power figure as the previous-gen V8, bolstered by an extra 50Nm of torque. It’s a development of the latest Audi RS5’s motor, now with mild hybrid tech. Less weight shaves 0.1s from its 0-100km/h time (now 4.5 seconds), and the hybrid system reduces fuel consumption by a full litre per 100 kilometres of driving, returning claimed 8.4L/100km economy.

That’s progress. Particularly when you consider the Lamborghini-bred V10 model drank an extra five litres of fuel to deliver slower performance — both in a straight line and the bends. The downside is a soundtrack that has faded from an exotic supercar roar to a deep-chested V8 rumble and now, sadly, the flat honk of a V6.

While the new S6 sounds uninspiring, it is the quickest yet.

Priced from $149,900 plus on-road costs (about $164,000 drive-away), the S6 sedan will sit at the top of the A6 range until the all-conquering V8-powered RS6 Avant arrives in the third quarter of 2020 for $250,000 or so.

The S6 is a subtler machine, flying under the radar in the fine tradition of executive sports sedans. There’s no blood and thunder — it rides on comfortable air suspension while occupants are cocooned in luxury.

Standard features include Matrix LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, four-zone climate control and leather trim that extends to the dash, armrests and soft-close doors. You get more than 30 driver aids including active cruise control with traffic jam assistance, plus a 360-degree camera.

Driver tech includes a head-up display, widescreen satnav and the best-presented digital dashboard on the road. Four USB points spread throughout the cabin can be used for media input.

There’s no question the S6 is an accomplished luxury car – quiet, refined, and loaded with kit.

It’s also a devastating performance machine in the right circumstances. Armed with a $7700 dynamic pack with all-wheel-steering and Audi’s all-important sport differential, the S6 dives into corners like a much smaller car. Fast and accurate steering lends uncommon agility to a big sedan that surprises on twisty roads.

All-wheel-steering rotates the rear into corners before the clever diff shifts power to the outside back wheel under power. It’s a rapid, addictive machine — much better to drive than trendy SUVs.

And you soon forget about the V6.

While the S6’s motor used to be the star of the show, this donk is a support mechanism for a lovely cabin and engaging chassis.

Though smaller than before, there’s no question of its pace.

Downsizing, as the car industry calls it, is the process that will culminate in the end of internal combustion engines. Battery-powered rivals to Audi’s sports sedan already shape up in Tesla’s Model S, the soon-to-arrive Porsche Taycan and Audi’s own E-Tron GT.

The end of high-performance petrol sedans isn’t here yet, but the countdown is well-advanced.

Zero emissions motoring won’t be optional in the future.

Blast off while you can.

Verdict

Four stars

The Audi S6 is the quintessential executive express. It’s fast, luxurious and loaded with impressive features. While it might look (and sound) plain, it nails the brief for discerning enthusiasts.

Audi A6

Price: From about $164,000 drive-away

Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, 331kW/600Nm

Warranty/Service: 3-year/unlimited km, $2350 for 3 years

Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, AEB, active cruise control, traffic jam assistance, lane keeping, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert

Thirst: 8.4L/100km

Cargo: 530 litres

Spare: Space saver

Seventh heaven

If the four-door S6 looks a little plain, consider the swoopy-roofed Audi S7.

Pitched as the better-dressed cousin to the S6, the S7 features the same hardware and basic kit in a lower, wider package that trades comfort (such as rear seat headroom) for style. Priced almost $10,000 more than the S6, the “Sportback” will be a no-brainer for some customers. But enthusiasts should put their cash toward the optional dynamic package — without it, both cars are much less engaging to drive.

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