If there’s one thing I hate about attending large sporting events, it’s dealing with merciless traffic. So when I planned my trip to this year’s Indianapolis 500, the largest attended single-day sporting event in the world, I knew I needed a car that could comfortably handle the melee, all the while preserving my sanity. For that, I chose the 2013 Audi S6.
There are legitimate arguments for numerous cars; at last year’s 500, I took the exponentially fast Nissan GT-R. The GT-R sports practicality with a large trunk, room in the back for kids (or adults minus legs), and, with a 0-60 mph time of 2.7 seconds, boasts enough speed to keep me perilously entertained, I thought.
But supercars often lack comfort, and the various inviting features, such as boost pressure monitoring, lateral g’s, and 0-100 mph times, bear little relevance when burbling along at 4 mph for hours on end. So, this year, I decided I needed something different. I chose the Audi S6 because it too boasts impressive power at 420 hp from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, but it delivers it in a far subtler manner. Plus, the ride is more refined, and the car comes loaded with relevant technologies that might actually assist in enduring the agony of endless race day traffic.
Heading to the track on race morning, fearing Satan’s highway of hell, I left at 6:45 am. My intention? Arrive by 8:30 am. As it happened, Satan hadn’t yet risen, and I drove in barely detecting another vehicle. Weird, I thought. Nevertheless, with close to 400,000 people expected to grace the gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I knew heading home would be torture.
After enjoying a spectacular race, I returned to the S6 to vacate with the masses. I quickly realized hell had arrived, and this time, it came in the form of a man in a yellow shirt. Indianapolis Motor Speedway yellow shirts are notorious for being whistle happy; they continuously blow the wretched, noisy device displaying false power amidst annoyed spectators. This particular yellow shirt decided I mustn’t turn right where there were no cars, but rather turn left where there were many.
“This way’s quicker,” he lied.
Stuck in a queue as long and tedious as watching Les Miserables, I decided to check out the S6 I’d deemed ideal. The interior, for starters, was magnificent, boasting diamond stitched leather seats, a 7-inch infotainment system with more goodies than Inspector Gadget, and a $5,900 optional Bang & Olufson sound system. With carbon-fiber trimmings accentuating every conceivable nook, the S6’s cabin remains one of the finest of all. And, more importantly for me, it was plenty comfortable.
The ride was also excellent, with its adaptive air suspension cushioning jolts from mowing over empty beer cans and dodging passed out, scantily-clad drunks. The sound deadening was so profound that only the faintest whispers of foul-mouthed yobs could be detected from behind cabin walls.
The downside, potentially, to all this luxury, is the sereneness causing driver fatigue. Fortunately, the twin-turbo V-8 kept my senses lively, with each stab of the throttle careening to the bumper of the car in front; if traffic dissipated, the S6 bursts to 60 mph in a scant 4.5 seconds.
While the soundtrack of the big V-8 bellows and booms like Goliath thumping David, the volume of said thump remains oddly subdued. You can hear the roaring growl, but it’s eerily quiet.
Placing the S-tronic transmission in Sport mode, upshifts were seamless. The downshifts, however, would over-rev and blip violently, making decelerating jerky and unpredictable. It felt like a few simple mapping adjustments might solve this issue, but as simple as I presume them to be, I've also experienced this to a degree in the Audi RS5.
Two words I’d use to describe the S6 are subtle and refined. From its beautiful yet submissive looks to its muffled engine note, the S6 feels somewhat restrained. And, of course, it is, as Audi only ventures full hog on its RS line – a lineup we barely see in the U.S. Nowadays, we can grab an RS5, and soon the RS7 will hit dealerships. But with the S6, you’re always aware that somewhere on a far away European island, an RS6 (wagon) offers attributes we can only dream of.
As far as technology, however, nothing has been spared. The $71,900 base price ramped up to near $90,000 on my tested model, with options like adaptive cruise control, lane assist, night vision, and parking cameras displaying every conceivable angle. Yes, the S6 had everything.
These options became entirely useful as I pottered along the police cordoned streets, desperately seeking a route through the maze. The adaptive cruise control, for instance, allowed me to set the distance between the car in front, and have the system control that space by accelerating and braking as necessary. The lane assist worked by buzzing the steering wheel when I became distracted by the intoxicated hoodlums in the lifted Wrangler, and wandered across the lane in despair. I’d hoped it was a device that gently turned the wheel to realign, enabling me to effectively conquer the queues autonomously. No cigar. For that, you need a Lincoln MKZ.
After an hour of boredom, with police incessantly directing traffic the opposite direction to which I yearned to go, I began scouring the Audi MMI navigation for an alternate route. The traffic display left me with hints as to where roads flowed, and the images, powered by Google Earth, left a uniquely interactive feel. As more virtual displays appear, this will soon be the norm, but as of today, its look remains fresh and distinctive.
After I finally figured a route through the mess, I stopped briefly to grab some food. The parking assist, displaying images from the front, rear, and up above, remain a lifesaver. It's easier, legitimately, to simply maneuver staring at the cameras – although a quick glance to confirm its accuracy is a must.
As far as handling goes, engulfed in traffic makes it tough to evaluate. Let’s just say this; while it might not be a track-hound, it certainly holds its own. And with Audi’s Quattro sports differential offering an abundance of torque to the outside wheels when cornering, rotation isn’t lacking.
The more I drove the S6, the more I enjoyed it. While I desired more engine rumble and a gearbox that matched downshifts effectively, the interior and its gadgets proved perfect for my trip. No backache was endured, the ride was comfortable and the stereo upgrade was worth it's supersized sticker price.
Of all the races, the Indianapolis 500 marks the one to watch. I’ve said it before, but there’s something magical about the place. And if you’re worried about dealing with 400,000 people on race day, like I was, fear not. The Audi S6 comfortably outruns drunks.