All-Wheel Affordability: The first Audi S6 is a rare, turbocharged super-sedan
In the 1980s, just as German luxury and performance were becoming must-haves for America’s new wave of young urban professionals, Audi’s image was incinerated by reports of unintended acceleration. Some of those Gucci-wearing yuppies claimed their Audi 5000s had driven through their houses all on their own. The ensuing federal investigations and litigation lasted for years, and the company’s sales plummeted, from 74,061 in 1985 to only 12,283 in 1991.
Audi was almost finished in America. High performance, however, helped bring it back from the brink, thanks to technologies developed in motorsports by its rally, touring car, and Trans-Am teams.
In 1992, Audi introduced its first true high-performance sedan, the S4, to the U.S. A hot-rod version of its now-renamed 100 sedan, the S4 featured a 227-hp turbocharged and intercooled 2.2-liter inline-five-cylinder, a five-speed manual, and Audi’s well-established Quattro all-wheel drive, which had employed a Torsen Type 1 center differential since 1987. It split power evenly between the front and rear wheels but shoved up to 75 percent to the front when the rear tires started to slide. Fewer than 2400 S4s were sold through 1994.
For 1995, the 100 received a facelift and became the A6, while the S4 became the S6 as Audi’s modern naming strategy took shape. The S6 was available as a sedan or a wagon (that’s “Avant” in Audispeak), and like the S4, the S6 was sold in small numbers.
On its debut, the S6 was among the quickest German sedans you could buy, hitting 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. No, it wasn’t as quick as the recently departed Mercedes-Benz 500E/E500 or the E34 BMW M5. Those were packing over 300 horsepower, but the S6 handled as well as its rear-drive rivals and was far more affordable. At $44,270, it cost about half as much as the outgoing Benz.
Mechanically, nothing had really changed from the S4. Audi’s iron-block, twin-cam 20-valve five-cylinder, which makes 258 lb-ft of torque at a low 1950 rpm, was still under the hood. Car and Driver said it “winds to its redline with the growling, turbine-like whine we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Audi fives,” and called its performance inspired, despite minimal turbo lag—which C/D said “translates to lots of shifting around town.” The magazine praised its steering feedback and suspension, saying the sedan “feels hard wired to its driver.”
Subtle fender flares covered the S6’s 16-inch five- or six-spoke alloys and four-wheel disc brakes. Badging was limited to two—one on the decklid and another on the grille. Audi’s reputation for beautiful interiors dates to this era, and the S6 was universally praised for its cabin design and materials. A three-spoke steering wheel was standard, along with full instrumentation with racy light gray-faced gauges, an abundance of wood, and well-bolstered power-adjustable seats. Front and rear heated seats and a sunroof were included, as was a built-in cellphone. Halfway through 1995, the locking rear differential became electronic.
Despite low production numbers, the S6 is an important part of Audi’s history. It helped revitalize the brand’s image and secured the success of high-volume cars like the next A6 and the first A4. More importantly for you, next to other German super-sedans of the era, the S6 is also a stone-cold steal.
1995 Audi S6
Engine: 2.2-liter I-5, turbocharged
Power: 227 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1950 rpm
Weight: 3825 lb
0-60 mph: 6.1 sec
Price when new: $44,270
Hagerty #3-condition (Good) value: Sedan: $11,000–$14,000 / Wagon: $14,700–$18,500