About a decade ago Audi introduced the S7; a slinky four-door hatchback with a 420 horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 under the hood. While 420 horsepower was nothing to really sneeze at and a generation ago 350 horsepower was pretty impressive, in the top-tier luxury/sport cars executives expect 350-plus horsepower from the base models. As you travel up the ladder to the really impressive models that will get everyone to look, it’s now 550 horsepower that is the benchmark. Indeed, that’s where Audi went after only one model year in the US for the S7; it introduced the RS7, which kicked the horsepower up to 560.
So where does that leave the forlorn generation of “only” 400 horsepower road rockets? Well, a lot more affordable. Today’s S7 retailed for nearly $80,000 – though, admittedly, that got you a lot of kit. Standard was the S-Tronic 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, a sport differential, adaptive xenon headlights, a powered tailgate, heated and power-adjustable front sport seats trimmed in Valcona leather with diamond-pattern stitching, three-zone automatic climate control, Bose surround sound, Audi MMI with Navigation Plus, adaptive air suspension, 19″ wheels, and a powered moonroof. Today’s example was ordered in Ibis White with Lunar Silver leather – a nice combination – and added in Cold Weather Package with a heated steering wheel and rear seats for good measure.
There’s no denying that I’m a huge fan of the equally huge Audi S8. However, if I’m completely honest I must admit that the last two generations of S8 haven’t done all that much to impress me. Are they faster than the original? Without doubt. Are they more luxurious, too? Certainly. But to me the D2 S8 was just the right combination of punch, style and presence which somehow has been lost on the newer generations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention to them.
Hard to believe though it may be, 2019 marks the year of the introduction of the 5th generation of S8. The new one will undoubtedly carry some time-warp inducing drivetrain just like the fourth generation did. The 4.0T may appear in a bunch of Audis, but when equipped in the S8 – especially the Plus model – it creates a large executive capable of altering physics. With 605 horsepower on tap driven through the predictable ZF 8-speed automatic to all four wheels via the most clever iteration of quattro, Audi claimed a 3.3 second 0-60 time and an electronically-limited 190 mph top speed. This is a 4,700 lb. sedan, mind you, full of all the most beautiful leather,
wood carbon fiber and piano black treatment one could stuff into an electronics suite. This thing, stock on street rubber, will do a standing quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds – .3 seconds faster than a Ferrari F40, for reference.
But for some people, even the Plus edition of the S8 wasn’t enough. Enter Motoren-Technik-Mayer, better known as MTM. Roland Mayer, the eponymous founder of the company, has been at it since the beginning of quattro, and they’re generally considered one of the best when it comes to turning up even already fast Audis. So what did they do to the S8? Well, they named it after a place that calls itself ‘The Palace of Speed’ – Talladega. Does that give you a clue?
I have to say that as much of an Audi fanatic as I am, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the brand. Perhaps it is their departure from their 1980s and 1990s “screw you, we’re going to build the car WE want to make rather than the car YOU want to buy” manufacturing, but the reality is that early model did not work for sales. Instead, Audi has been forced to go more mainstream in the U.S., and as a result I find myself paying significantly less attention to the new models. I used to wait with eager anticipation for the next upgrade, and I remember literally uttering “whoa” when I first heard about the C4 S6 Plus. Manufactured by quattro GmbH, the turned up V8 produced over 320 horsepower and was mated through a 6-speed manual to all four wheels. Of course, it was also available as an Avant, and so it pretty much made my day for the next decade. I still love the C4 S6 Plus more than any other period Audi, including the RS2.
So, you’d think I would have been ear to the rail when last year Audi launched a Plus version of the S8. But I completely missed it. I wasn’t paying attention. I mean, the regular S8 was already pretty bonkers and can outrun Audi’s own supercar R8. A 4,700 lb sedan is now capable of running 0-60 in under 4 seconds, unrestricted can push 190 mph – yet it’s not just brute force, as with giant tires and ceramic brakes they can out turn and out stop most great 1990s sports cars. So why did Audi need a Plus? There’s a market for these super-sedans, that’s why, and in the midst of the horsepower war between the four manufactures, the S8 Plus is Audi’s “Big Stick”. Horsepower is up 85 (!!!) to 605 and 0-60 crumbles in 3.3 seconds. Insanity? Well, better not look at the sticker price on these fully loaded missiles from Ingolstadt, then…
Through the 1980s, Audi was known for doing things a bit differently than everyone else. In the 90s, they struggled to redefine their imagine into a new, progressive lineup with the aluminum heavy A8 while still appealing to their target market with cars like the S4 and S6. But in the 2000s Audi underwent a major change; the acquisition of luxury brands into the VAG fold meant Audi moved in a new direction. Increasingly, it was the interiors of Audis that were making headlines. First, the TT did a retro-modern take on a sports coupe. But the real money was in the luxury car market, and with the D3 and C6, Audi narrowed the gap between the newcomers and the established luxury brands like Bentley and Mercedes-Benz. The cabin layouts grew increasingly tech-heavy, but also filled with supple leather and the dash had beautiful inlays of warm woods. Like a Scandinavian ski resort, they pampered their guests with modern designs in slick packaging. Move on to the D4 Audi, and the change in engine lineups in addition to the further revised cockpit meant you now had the setting and motivation to shock your Wall Street business partners. Today’s 4.0T, for example, comes stock with 414 horsepower and 443 lb.ft of torque – good enough to launch the Audi from 0-60 in under 5 seconds. Yes, you read that right. The massive bank vault-esque A8L will hustle from a standstill in 4.6 seconds. What’s perhaps more amazing about that is that within the A8 lineup, that’s actually third from the fastest model, with the massive W12 and S8 models both being a few ticks quicker. What an insane world we live in. Speaking of outrageous, massive luxury and speed cost, and when you consider this Audi Exclusive model, you’ve racked up charges close to $160,000 by the time you’ve signed on the dotted line….
For a few short years, Audi indulged us. In 1995 only, we received the first S6 Avant on U.S. shores; though the C4 Avant would soldier on until 1998, the 220-odd horsepower turbocharged 5 cylinder hooked to a manual transmission would be gone for a few generations and not seen again in the large wagon. Though the next generation C5 platform would grow in size, Audi would answer with a new S6 Avant for these shores. Now with a seemingly impressive 340 horsepower in an all-aluminum V8, it unfortunately only came to the U.S. in automatic form. It was still a very fast car, but one that catered to a slightly different crowd than the original. It was also, for all intents and purposes, a bit of a sales flop; enthusiasts I think correctly found it difficult to pay the premium when you could get the spiritual successor to the “Ur-S6” in the 6-speed manual, twin turbocharged Allroad 2.7T. As a result, when the new C6 platform launched, although there were new forms of the S6 Avant available, they stopped coming here. Indeed, as soon as we hit 2010, Audi stopped bringing the large Avant all together; you can thank the popularity of the Q7 for that. So today we’ll look at two of the forbidden fruit; the last two generations of S6 Avant that didn’t come to the U.S.: