This is new Audi RS6 Avant, a 552bhp rival to the BMW M5, Jaguar XFR-S and Mercedes E63 AMG. It’s also the second of four new Audi RS models due in 2013, but after the disappointment of the first (the RS5 Cabriolet) can the new RS6 deliver? This über Avant is less powerful than its predecessor, but it is faster and more efficient, and nearly 100kg lighter too. Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Audi RS6 Avant…
How powerful is the new Audi RS6 Avant?
It’s 20bhp down on its predecessor, so the outgoing Mk2 RS6 remains the most powerful road car Audi has ever built. Hardly surprising, as it had a twin-turbo Lamborghini-derived 5.0-litre V10 that produced 572bhp and 479lb ft.
This new third-generation RS6 Avant? A twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. It’s the same base engine you’ll find in S6, S7 and S8 Audis, and Bentley’s Continental GT V8, but it’s in its most potent guise for RS6. Peak power is 552bhp (on par with the BMW M5) and there’s 516lb ft too, up 37lb ft on the old RS6.
Is the new Audi RS6 quicker than the old RS6?
It is. The latest Audi A6’s aluminium-intensive construction means it weighs around 15% less than if it were built from steel, and the RS6 has inherited those lightweight foundations. So with the bonnet, front wings, doors and bootlid all built from aluminium – plus the downsized engine – the new RS6 weighs 90kg less than the old RS6. Add in a faster-shifting gearbox, and the latest Launch Control electronics, and the RS6 will blast to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. Old car? 4.6 seconds.
And, at least officially, it’s a more frugal machine too. Consumption and emission figures of 28.8mpg and 229g/km CO2 are huge 40% improvements. Thank the reduced friction of two fewer cylinders, a stop/start system, and the VW Group’s cylinder-on-demand tech which shuts down half the cylinders under light loads. And active engine mounts counteract the vibrations so you’re never aware when the RS6 is running as a 2.0-litre V4.
The top speed is limited to 155mph, but can be increased to 174mph with the optional Dynamic Package, or 189mph with the optional Dynamic Plus Package. Why you’d bother with either is beyond us.
What’s it like on the road?
Four-wheel drive means there’s no need for the traction control to intervene when you bury your foot from a standstill, and after that the RS6 just hammers forward with an unrelenting urge. Is it quicker than the M5 or E63? Does it matter? All of three will leave a Porsche 911 trailing and the RS6 is as fast as you’ll ever need (though there is a more powerful Plus variant coming).
The V8 rumble from the two big oval exhausts is crisp, but as the revs rise it becomes a louder rasp, and as the boost builds the twin turbos overlay a filthy urgent roar. The bi-turbo engine doesn’t quite have the flamboyant muscle car rumble of an AMG Merc, but it’s a more rousing sound than the rather anodyne and artificial noises made by the M5.
So it’s quick and sounds good, but how does the RS6 ride and handle?
The RS6 Avant has air suspension (a first for an RS model) as standard, but our test car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Ride Control suspension, which has steel springs and diagonally connected shock absorbers. Clever stuff, but not worth the money: you’ll only ever drive your RS6 with DRC in its Comfort setting, as even on smooth German roads the ride is far too firm and abrupt in Dynamic. The Comfort setting will be just about acceptable on UK roads.
You can configure a lot more on the RS6, too. Use the Drive Select system and you can toggle between pre-set Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes, or set your own preferences via Individual. Go with Individual, set the exhaust to Dynamic (it’s still hushed on part-throttle) and do the same with the rear ‘Sport’ differential (because you won’t really notice any difference on the road). The engine/gearbox setting? Comfort, with the gearbox in its Sport setting for swifter shifts, or opt for Dynamic and get a sharper throttle too – either way it’ll be quick. Nearly done. Our car had the Dynamic Steering option, but like the DRC suspension it’s best left in Comfort otherwise there’s too much extra weight rather than actual feel.
And when I’ve sorted all these settings?
Then you can finally start enjoying the RS6. With the smaller and lighter engine most of the weight savings have come over the front axle, so the RS6 is more agile than its predecessor. And the Quattro four-wheel drive system means you don’t have to modulate the throttle out of corners like you do in an M5 or E63.
On the country roads that wind through the hills north of Audi’s Ingolstadt HQ, you can drive the RS6 like a big front-wheel drive hot hatch and not worry about what the rear end might do if you’ve been too keen with the power. It’ll keep up with an M5 in the dry, and leave it behind in the wet.
The new RS6 doesn’t have the ur-Quattro-aping squared-off wheelarches of the old RS6 or current RS4, but there’s no mistaking it thanks to the big twin tailpipes, a smattering of aluminium highlights, and the ‘quattro’ detailing in the grille.
Inside there are superb honeycomb-quilted leather seats embossed with ‘RS6’ logos, lots of RS-specific touches (so it feels more special than an M5) and loads of kit, and best of all there’s a big boot too.
Want a smaller boot? There’s no RS6 saloon this time, but the same drivetrain can be found in the new RS7 Sportback. The UK market will get both models, but the USA will miss out on the RS6 Avant as estates apparently aren’t popular models across the Pond.
On-the-road price not withstanding, the Audi RS6 Avant is a brilliant family car with all the talents of our long-term A6 Allroad: it’s practical, cabin quality is peerless, and it’s very desirable.
But it’s also a brilliant performance car, one with peerless traction and grip, a stonking engine that makes a great noise, and it’s surprisingly fun to drive too.