Q-ships have been around for centuries, coming into their own in the first and second world wars these heavily armoured vessels would be disguised as harmless looking merchant ships, fooling the enemy into thinking they had a soft target to attack.
As far as Q-cars go, the V10 Audi S6 has got to be one of the very finest. Aside from some minor exterior cosmetic changes and a tiny V10 badge there is not much to give away the fact that there is a 429bhp 5.2 V10 lurking under the bonnet just waiting to blow some bewinged sports car into the weeds.
Audi’s S range of understated performance cars fits in below their more overtly sporty RS models, offering a meaningful power increase over the standard offerings while still being eminently useable day to day. With values now in the affordable range it may be a good time to take a read through our buying guide to see if the S6 is right for you.
Which one to buy?
Launched in 2006, the S6 – with its Quattro four wheel drive, naturally aspirated V10 and understated looks – was a unique offering in its category, positioned just below the top BMW M and Mercedes AMG models. It was the introverted man’s sports saloon (or estate). The 429bhp 5.2-litre V10 was not as vicious in its power delivery as the numbers might suggest, and the muted exhaust note was in line with the cars character.
A six-speed automatic gearbox was the only transmission option available. DCT technology at the time was not up to the cars torque output, but with paddle shifters and that surfeit of torque you won’t miss the extra ratios. The slight performance difference between the heavier estate and slightly lighter saloon is unlikely to be noticed, but the estate’s added practicality may be a boon for the family man in a hurry.
Standard equipment was predictably high, with all the usual suspects such as Satnav and electric seats all present. Some of the more notable upgrades were sportier S6 embossed front seats and an upgraded BOSE sound system. A mid-term face-lift in 2009 saw some minor improvements, and cars built from 2010 featured an upgraded MMI controller.
A bit too stiffly sprung and nose heavy for bumpy back roads, the S6 is at its best on long, flowing stretches of tarmac where it can power through its gears and make the most of that smooth V10 power plant. We would opt for a face-lifted Avant to make the most of the cars practicality.
Performance and specs
Audi S6 Saloon
Engine 5204cc 40 valve DOHC V10
Power 429bhp @ 6800rpm
Torque 398lb ft @ 3000-4000rpm
Top speed 155mph (limited)
0-60mph 5.5 seconds
Fuel consumption 21.1mpg
Gearbox Six-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
Used S6 values may be approaching base hatchback levels but running costs are still exactly what you would expect of a heavy, naturally aspirated V10. Fuel consumption is best described as ‘enthusiastic’. Parts are well suported but are often eye-wateringly pricey; however, there are a number of specialists who can maintain your S6 at a reasonable cost.
• Four-wheel drive systems are generally fault free, however thanks to the power on tap the tyres tend to wear out by 20,000 miles. As the Quattro system generally wears them out evenly, you may need to change all four at the same time.
• The V10 engine is a very strong unit; profiled for torque and actually detuned in this application (the S8 had 444bhp while the RS6 added two turbos to the setup), little goes wrong however some owners have complained of failed coil packs which can be identified by rough idling and reduced power.
• Carbon build-up in the intake manifold is a common FSI issue and if the car feels low on power it should be checked over by a specialist.
• Pre-2008 Avants suffered from issues with the powered tailgate whereby they could close abruptly after opening. There was a recall issued so check whether your potential purchase was affected.
• The conventional six-speed auto box may not hold each gear at the redline or change as fast as a DCT unit but they are reliable units and as long as oil and filter changes are carried out at around 20,000 mile intervals they should give no trouble.
• Brakes are strong and should be fade free, check for warped rotors though or a juddery brake pedal as this could require an expensive brake overhaul. The electronic handbrake can also get stuck in the on position.
• The suspension has been criticised for being too hard and some owners have fitted higher profile tyres and replacement dampers to alleviate the issue.
2006: Audi S6 launched with 5.2l FSI V10 producing 429bhp. Available solely with six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Saloon and Avant body styles available.
2007: Quattro drivetrain updated to latest T3 system featuring 40:60 split
2009: A6 range is face-lifted including detail changes to S6
2010: MMI controller upgraded on all models
2011: S6 ceases production becoming the last of the naturally aspirated Audi built V10s
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.audiownersclub.com/forums – Audi enthusiast site and forum
• www.unit20.org – Audi specialists
• www.audifans.net – Enthusiast site
Summary and prices
The earliest 2006 year model saloons are now below £8000, which seems like ridiculously good value. Mileages tend to be high as owners use these cars as regular drivers, but as long as regular servicing has been adhered to this should not be an issue.
The Avants are rarer than the saloons and command about a £2000 premium over their stable mates, low mileage run-out 2011 Avants can still be found for up to £24,000. For our money the sweet spot is at around £18,000, which should get you a decent face-lifted model. Avoid neglected ones (obviously) and don’t forget to keep some budget aside for fuel and servicing.
Still a very rapid machine today, especially in inclement weather and on the open road, the S6 subscribes to the soft speaking, big stick carrying performance car ideology. If this particular blend of subtlety and speed appeal to you then look no further, the Audi S6 is your Q-car.
Words: John Tallodi