Another performance car for the mid-life crisis, then?
Harsh. The Audi RS6 carries on what the original car started back in 2002: it’s an all-wheel drive large family car – the estate goes on sale first to stress its versatility – with supercar-crushing performance. And that’s no hyperbole. With its 5.0-litre V10 – a heavily re-worked version of the 5.2-litre naturally aspirated unit we’ve already seen in the 429bhp S6 – aided and abetted by not one but two turbos, the RS6 musters 572bhp at 6250rpm and a torque curve that’s anything but curvy – the maximum 479lb ft is available from just 1500rpm all the way to 6250rpm.
Forget the obvious BMW M5 Touring and Mercedes E63 AMG comparisons, this is Lamborghini territory.
Aren’t the M5 and E63 comparisons kind of essential?
Both these rivals are rear-drive only with naturally aspirated powerplants (M5: 5.0-litre V10; E63 6.2-litre V8) that lose out to the RS6 with 500bhp and 384lb ft and 507bhp and 464lb ft respectively. On paper – and on a damp and twisty road – the RS6 has the upper hand. The trade-off comes in the shape of a £77k purchase price – £10k more than the M5 and £8k more than the Merc.
How does it drive?
Impressively. It pulls off the around town stuff admirably. There’s light steering, good visibility – the rear-facing camera helps guide you into those tricky parking spaces – a smooth ride and some very comfy seats. Only the edgy, ultra-aggressive throttle gives the game away.
Hit the open road, open the throttle only a quarter of the way and the RS6 gathers momentum at an astonishing pace. Bury the pedal deep into the carpet and there’s a bassy eruption from under the bonnet, a cacophonous thunderclap between gearshifts and a sense that – even though you’re now moving at highly illegal speeds – everything’s in hand.
A twin-turbo V10 that goes quite quickly? Well I never…
Okay, the revealing stuff. The quattro system splits torque 40/60 front-to-rear. Thread through a fast but twisting road and you do get that satisfying sense of rear bias. But take to the hairpins and it’s the nose that pushes wide, making for jerky progress as the master of four-wheel drive tries to calm your exuberance. Here the M5 in particular would be sharper, gripping hard at the front while the rear powers on.
While the steering is light at low speeds, it is speed-sensitive. And although that lends an artificial edge, it does offer a very real and consistent heft right from the moment you turn in. Not wishing to be sexist, but working against this resistance is the most obvious sign that you’re in a Man’s Car. If you’re thinking about dual duties behind the wheel, let the other half have a test drive too.
And you say it’s got a smooth ride? In a sporty Audi?
Believe it. There are three suspension settings to choose from: Comfort, Dynamic and Sport. Body control gets a little too sloppy for our liking in Comfort (though it’s nice to have the option for straddling urban potholes), Dynamic offers the everyday compromise while Sport really tightens up the damper control which makes for the sort of short, spiky vertical movements that are best avoided after feeding a young family. Yet the ride still isn’t crashy.
However, all three controls are only accessible via the multi-media interface so you press ‘car’, then select ‘suspension’, then choose your setting. It’s easy enough to locate and avoids more buttons cluttering up the dash, but it’s not as intuitive as pressing a ‘sport’ button when you stumble across that dream bit of tarmac.
I’ll take the manual, please.
Only a six-speed tiptronic gearbox is offered but it’s actually very good, responding to your paddleshift inputs in a tenth of a second and making a good job of second-guessing what you want in full automatic mode. It’ll even let you crash into the limiter with a noisy rat-a-tat-tat. We’re all for having that degree of control over a semi-auto, but it can catch you out initially. That’s because the car charges to the rev limit so quickly and because the flat torque delivery mutes the kind of soaring crescendo you might expect from such a powerful car. Not a complaint, just an observation.
So let’s make a complaint: why do the paddles have to move with the steering wheel? You never know where they’ve gone when you get into the really twisty stuff and once you’ve got accustomed to using them it’s difficult to suddenly recalibrate and bang the gearstick down the ’box. Fixed paddles please.
How does the RS6 get on at the track?
The track is not the natural environment for a two-tonne estate car with four-wheel drive. And as much as we love lapping the Paul Ricard test track, the RS6 was not the car we’d have chosen. There’s absolutely no fun to be had in finding this car’s limits. Get some satisfying oversteer and it’ll only be overruled by clumsy understeer. So you end up winding back a little and driving within the grip limits. So you never feel like you’re really pushing and, strangely, a 5.0-litre twin-turbo V10 manages to feel ever so slightly pedestrian.
However, the track did allow us to try out a couple of options: bucket seats and ceramic brakes. The buckets are much more aggressive than the standard chairs (only 10 percent of buyers are expected to spec them) and are manually adjusted save for the trick bolsters which tighten around you at the press of a button. Good as the buckets are, we’d stick with the standard chairs unless you’re spending much time on track – and, as we’ve said, that’s not a place we’d be heading with the RS6.
We’re even less certain about the ceramic brakes as we only got three laps of the circuit and had to come in to cool down at the end of each one. As ceramics usually work at their optimum with some heat in them, we struggled to notice any difference over the perfectly adequate standard stoppers.
Does the world need an Audi RS6? Not really, but Audi predicts that around 8000 people will and that’s good enough for Ingolstadt. If you’re wealthy, love performance cars, have a family and take the odd excursion to winter climes, the RS6 will appeal. But you’ll struggle to tap into its limits on the road and it’s not much fun when you find them on the track.
As a driver’s tool, the M5 is more convincing, has the more engaging power delivery and a more exploitable chassis that still offers huge amounts of grip – if it’s wet just leave the traction control on! It’s also £10k cheaper.
Credit where it’s due, though. The RS6 is an accomplished machine: well-built, beautifully engineered, desirable and incredibly fast. If you can stomach a best of 20.3mpg on the combined cycle and couldn’t care less about heroic missions in search of the limit, you’d better put your order down quickly.