What is it?
The new Audi RS6: lighter, quicker, bigger, cleaner and more economical than it was before. But not more powerful. Where once there was a 572bhp 5.0-litre V10, there is now a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 developing 553bhp.
Given the flagship model’s normally brazen display of power, the slight backward step is a notable development — even if it does prove largely inconsequential given the hike in performance.
That, in real-world terms, is more typical of Audi’s progression. Thanks to the pair of twin-scroll turbochargers mounted within the engine’s ‘V’, torque has grown from 479lb ft to 516lb ft. Alongside a 90kg reduction in kerb weight (credited to increased use of lightweight materials) the RS6 now manages 62mph in a supercar-fast 3.9 seconds. That makes it, unsurprisingly, the quickest-accelerating estate car in the world.
Depending on how much you really want it, there’s also the potential to make it the fastest overall: two levels of the optional Dynamic pack push the electronically limited top speed first to 174mph, and then to 189mph. In the real-world, however, it should prove to be a more economical car. Cylinder deactivation, which turns the RS6 into a four-cylinder car when circumstance allow, help a claimed combined score of 28.8mpg.
Along with that technical first for the model comes another: adaptive air suspension is now the standard set-up, with stiffer steel springs relegated to the options list. Audi’s latest all-wheel-drive system uses a self-locking centre differential to split the available torque 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear (and all the way up to 85 per cent to the rear if required), as well as left to right courtesy of a standard sport diff on the back axle.
The car arrives in the UK with an on-the-road price of £76,985, which is a marginal reduction on the sticker worn by its predecessor. Audi has also delivered an impressive 31 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, although at 229g/km the RS6 just misses out on the VED boundary between expensive K and exorbitant L.
What’s it like?
Mean looking. Few manufacturers possess a blistered-arch history as distinguished as Audi’s, but even for quattro GmBH the RS6 is a squat, savage thing up close. Dramatic air intakes and a gaping honeycomb grille help tug the A6’s soft expression into a wicked grin. Elsewhere, in proportions almost too big for a single gaze, there’s the sprawling wider stance that could only be the result of a serious four-ringed fettling.
On optional 21in wheels, the car’s presence registers on a scale usually reserved for Manga animation. While the outside might be amply endowed with adolescent fantasy, the inside is all business. The piano black and brushed aluminum cabin is a sculpted siren song to the car’s middle-age, high-income buyer. Aside from the badges and associated brouhaha it feels much like it is: a seriously well kitted-out A6.
Without the blustery sports exhaust fitted, it fires into life much like one, too. There’s the merest whiff of a snarl, and then the V8 disappears into a noiseless, lavishly refined background.
So consistent and unrelenting is the new turbocharged V8 that, flat out, it better resembles a prodigious and violent winch than a sophisticated petrol motor. In a straight line (and, tellingly, on the autobahn) the pick-up, eagerness and capacity for giving its digital readout a workout is phenomenal, if not as organically satisfying as the high-revving, naturally aspirated V8 aboard the RS4.
It’s predictably less visceral than a supercar, but the RS6’s poise beyond 150mph is something to behold: no nervousness, no elevated sense of dynamic anxiety, just an unflappable grasp of the fast-departing Tarmac.
In this guise – a sadly unfamiliar one to British motorists – the car is terrific. Away from the motorway, its extraordinary capabilities are desensitised by an electromechanical Dynamic steering system that wants to be light and direct at slower speeds, and hefty and reassuring at pace.
By not being either dependably, the car is too often and too easily the victim of piloting second guesses, and the driver is left to be overly reliant on a basic faith in the all-wheel-drive chassis to judge turn-in speed. The affect of this detachment will differ from person to person, but even with an almost total lack of feedback, the RS6 can still be driven cross country outrageously quickly. If only because the limits of its traction and acceleration are so wildly permissive that one could quite easily encounter a prison cell before finding them on the road.
Inside the performance envelope there is evidence of handling spirit displayed by the RS4. Although more nose heavy and cumbersome, the asymmetrical torque distribution keeps sufficient drive at the rear axle to make the RS6 feel like it is being pliably pushed under throttle rather than benignly pulled.
Disappointingly, Audi couldn’t provide a test car with adaptive air suspension fitted, so we’ve only tried the steel sports springs with the three-way adjustable (and diagonally interconnected) shock absorbers. Even in the softest setting, this set-up keeps the Avant’s body washboard flat, and on German roads at least, it keeps ride compliancy respectable without being overly busy. One would suspect, though, that the (allegedly) softer standard arrangement will be better suited to the UK.
Should I buy one?
Traditionally, verdicts on big RS models come punctuated with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and, inevitably, this one continues the theme. As usual there is much to admire, if not savour, and many strengths that do not quite add up to genuine affection.
On the plus side, this is a great looking car, inside and out. Credibly, it fills out its price tag, too. Whatever you feel about it, this is not a machine that is going to leave you feeling shortchanged. Its performance, detached or not, and in the bluntest terms, is phenomenal.
If your (deep-pocketed) life were a daily sprint up and down a derestricted autobahn, this would be the ride of choice, no question.
Equally, if your commute involves a 30-mile stretch of highland A-road, and you like the idea of completing it, in all weathers, at Mach 2, then it also probably deserves a place somewhere near the top of the list.
But if your relationship with cars (and roads) is a little less one-dimensional, a little less concerned with outright speed and a little more involved with the nuance, flavour and entertainment of actually driving, then, once again, your money is better parked elsewhere.
The duff Dynamic steering must shoulder some of the blame for this, but even beyond its ham-fistedness the RS6 does seem like a car intent on showing what it can do to you rather than what you can do with it.
Audi RS6 Avant
Price £76,985; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Top speed 174mph; Economy 28.8mpg; CO2 229g/km; Kerb weight 1935kg; Engine V8, 3993cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol; Power 553bhp at 5700-6600rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1750-5500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic
What is it?