Outstanding all-season ability and impressive everyday practicality, but lacking intimacy on challenging roads and beginning to show its age in certain areas

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Here is what can only be described as the warm version of Audi's Audi A6, which is strange to say when it comes with a 4.0-litre V8 and churns out 444bhp. 

But the S6 is the warm-up act for the quick RS6 and the outrageous RS6 Performance that grace the top of the range.

Audi’s already rapid S6 is a case and point of improving the familiar, with tweaks and refinements key to its thinking

Costing over £59,265, a premium of more than £1255 over the outgoing model. Customers will find there are no significant changes to the engine or gearbox; Audi clearly believes its twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol unit and standard seven-speed dual clutch S-tronic automatic don’t require any major fettling to keep the luxury estate in the hunt. 

Nor has there been any alteration to the mechanically operated Torsen torque sensing four-wheel-drive system.

With a stout 444bhp and 405lb ft developed across of range of revs between 1400 and 5700rpm, the S6 blasts up to the sort of speed limits in place in the UK with great bravado. 

On a heavily pegged throttle, the in-gear acceleration is relentless – perhaps not quite as extreme as that offered by the Audi more powerful RS7 but sufficient enough for fast lane superiority over all but the most exotic machinery.

Despite tipping the scales at a rather hefty 1960kg, the S6 Avant is claimed to hit 62mph in just 4.6sec, and it accelerates hard up to the limiter at 155mph. Running down a wide autobahn near Dresden, the plush load hauler felt right in its element.

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Audi’s traditional quattro four-wheel-drive system nominally sends the majority of drive to the rear wheels, but is quick to react when the front wheels have more purchase and the rears are slipping. It also includes a so-called Sport differential that juggles power between each individual rear wheel for added purchase.

The benefits are most obvious during hard acceleration in lower gears and at the exit of a corner, where the S6 Avant provides exceptional drive no matter what the weather conditions.

Thanks to a long overdriven 0.519:1 seventh gear ratio that operates in combination with a 4.09:1 final drive, it possesses effortless high speed cruising capabilities. An active noise cancellation device, which dampens mechanical sounds by broadcasting antiphase resonance over the speakers, also provides the S6 Avant with pleasingly hushed qualities when rushed along.

Yet for all its high-speed authority, it lacks the sharpness to make a truly memorable back road proposition. Yes, it corners flatly with impressive grip, but the S6 Avant fails to connect with the driver in a truly engaging manner. 

The main problem is the steering, which lacks for off-centre response in anything but the most extreme of driving mode: dynamic. It never really manages to shake off the feeling of mass, either.

Still, the new Audi continues to prove an easy car to get along with in stop/start city driving, where its strong low-end reserves give it pleasingly responsive step off qualities away from the lights.  

The inclusion of cylinder on demand technology that closes down four cylinders on light throttle loads at urban speeds for added fuel savings sees it return a quoted average of 30.1mpg and a CO2 figure of 219g/km on the combined EU test cycle.

Inside, the ambiance is familiar, although some of the fittings are beginning to show their age. Nevertheless, the S6 is fine place to spend time, thanks to its outstanding ergonomics, highly supportive seats and excellent levels of fit and finish. Befitting its price, equipment levels are high. New options, including a head-up display unit, also help extend its appeal.

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The equipment list is also pretty comprehensive, with Audi's MMI infotainment system including a 6.5in display, sat nav, DAB radio and multimedia connectivity, while there is a raft of other tech thrown in too. LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and an enhanced braking system are all standard, and the interior is upholstered with Valcona leather, with the front occupants getting heated sports seats.

It’s a case of improving the familiar here, which in the S6 is no bad thing. Quiet, refined and comfortable, the Audi S6 Avant remains a powerful semi-sporting alternative to the likes of Alpina's B5 Touring.

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Audi S6 First drives