Photo: Alex Davies
A few weeks ago, Audi gave me the chance to spend a day driving the 2013 S6, S7, and S8 around Bear Mountain in upstate New York.A gorgeous autumn day would have been great in just about any car, but behind the wheel of the S models, it was something else altogether.
When I drove the Cadillac XTS, I was impressed by the car’s performance but disappointed by how separated I felt from the road.
That’s not the case with these thrilling cars.
The S Models
Audi calls the S line the “dressed up” version of the A models, and by that, they mean more powerful.
The S8 provides the most room and raw power. The S7 is the most beautiful of the three, and the compact S6 is for those who do not need a large backseat.
With 520 horsepower, the S8 provides more power than you need if you plan on acknowledging speed limits: It goes from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds flat.
The smaller S6 and S7 each get 420 hp, for a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.5 seconds.
Each offers different driving modes: Comfort and Auto are meant for highway driving. Dynamic mode lowers the car a few millimeters and makes the steering wheel and throttle more responsive, better for driving on winding roads and hills.
Pricing And CompetitionWith the S models, Audi is competing with the Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar. (Cadillac is working its way back into this top tier, with the new XTS and ATS.)
The S6, S7, and S8 start at $71,900, $78,800, and $110,000, respectively. (The A6, A7, and A8 start at $42,200, $60,100, and $72,200).
The fully loaded S models I drove were worth $79,270, $94,570, and $128,295, respectively.
The $110,000 starting point for the S8 makes it a better deal than the $140,000 2012 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG (536 hp, 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds).
The 2013 JaguarXJ Supercharged starts at $90,475, but only produces 470 bhp. The S6 is less expensive than BMW’s M5 ($90,795), but does not provide nearly as much power.
Like just about every automaker, Audi talks a lot about fuel efficiency. It replaced the 2012 S models’ V10 engines with more reasonable twin-turbo V8s that provide more power for their size.
Nonetheless, the fuel economy numbers are not especially impressive: The S6 and S7 get a combined 20 mpg; the S8 gets 19 mpg. Project Leader Gerald Bonn called the cars the “logical combination of dynamic and efficient” driving.
That’s partly true: The cars offer both, but not at the same time. In Dynamic mode, I averaged a measly 15 mpg.
Photo: Alex Davies
HandlingLast week, I wrote that trying out the S models’ adaptive cruise control (ACC) made me ready for a self-driving car, based on how comfortable I was letting the car do all the work.
But out of the nearly six hours I spent driving around Bear Mountain, I spent at most 20 minutes using the ACC. Because these cars are fun to drive.
To make sure the other journalists present and I got the most out of the experience, Audi programmed the cars with itineraries packed with winding mountain roads and hills.
The S6 stood out in these conditions. A bit smaller than the S7 and miniature in comparison to the S8, its compact body and 420 hp make for a thrilling drive. Even the large S8 performed admirably on hard turns while going downhill.
Despite their emphasis on performance, the S models are luxury cars. The S8 is a living room on wheels, with massaging, heated, and ventilated seats. The S6 and S7 are less excessive, but have the same leather interiors and are nearly as comfortable.
All three come with Audi Connect, the infotainment system that includes Google Search and Maps and satellite radio. Each car comes with WiFi, which worked well, even in a relatively rural area.
The VerdictRealistically, there are no American roads where the difference between 420 and 520 hp is a big deal; either is plenty.
So, in choosing between the S models, there are four points that make a difference on an everyday basis: size, features, handling, and looks. The S8 wins the first two, the S6 the third, and the S7 takes looks.
For luxury, buy the S8. For driving, take the S6. For beauty, go for the S7.
SEE ALSO: A Photo Tour Of The Luxurious Audi S8 >
Disclosure: Audi provided travel and meals for me to drive the S6, S7, and S8 models at Monteverde at Oldstone in Cortlandt Manor, New York.
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