THE FOUR RINGS OF POWER
Audi's RS6 has long been the go to choice if you needed a dementedly rapid big estate. The competition's become a lot hotter since the old V10 model was deleted. Can the latest V8 model cut it? Andy Enright reports
Ten Second ReviewThe concept of accelerating from zero to 62mph in less than four seconds takes a bit of bending your head around, but that's the capability on offer from Audi's latest RS6. A top speed of up to 189mph and the potential for up to 28.8mpg are also delivered by this £80,000 leviathan. Overkill doesn't come any more polished than this.
BackgroundIt's hard to believe that Audi could retire the last RS6, a car with a V10 engine from Lamborghini Gallardo that then had a couple of turbocharger bolted to it for good measure, and then consider an even more extreme replacement. But that's exactly what's happened. It doesn't seem that way at first, such is the more nuanced character of the latest RS6, its savagery disguised by claims of improved fuel economy, better ride comfort and lower emissions. Blow through that smokescreen and the fact that - steel yourselves - power is actually down from 572bhp to a mere 553bhp, and you end up with a car that's improved in a myriad of respects.
Of course, some buyers choose the RS6 exactly because of its overblown spec sheet. They want a car that comprehensively aces every other load lugger out there, but there's more to this latest car than being the flat track bully of the autobahn. Audi has demonstrated that working smarter is, in this instance, a whole lot more fruitful than merely working harder.
Driving ExperienceI think I'd have put money on Audi being the last of the big three German manufacturers to pull back from what seemed a futile power struggle and bring out a sporting car with less power than its predecessor but colour me pleasantly surprised here. An RS6, that famously excessive estate, wouldn't have been the car I'd have fingered for suddenly going on a 100kg diet and shucking off a bit of power in the name of efficiency and response but that's exactly what's happened here. Though the new V8 4.0-litre twin turbo engine can't hope to match the wailing 5.0-litre V10 for aural fireworks, the reality remains that while the old car is singing for its supper, the latest RS 6 is marching off into the distance. It'll sprint to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. If you also feel that 155mph is just inordinately tardy as a top speed, a Dynamic Pack will push the electronically limited top speed first to 174mph, and subsequently to 189mph.
Adaptive air suspension is a standard fit item for the first time on an RS6, although should you want a stiffer set up, you can choose steel springs from the options list. Audi's all-wheel-drive system utilises a self-locking centre differential to split torque 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear. It'll send as much as 85 per cent to the rear axle if required, where a sport differential decides which of the two back tyres are best set to deploy that torque to the tarmac. Ride quality has improved significantly on the standard air springs but steering response is tuned more for major roads than switchbacks. Some will criticise this, although it's easy to see why Audi has chosen such a set up.
Design and BuildThe massive blistered wheel arches might have gone, replaced by a sleeker shape, but it doesn't take long to figure out that this RS6 is no cooking A6 wagon. The most noticeable changes are the matte aluminium applications on the body, the matte black honeycomb radiator grille at the front of the car, the bumpers, the wings, the sill flares and the roof spoiler. At the rear of the car, the diffuser and the two large, elliptical exhaust tailpipes ensure that the back end looks as mean as the front.
Audi will also sell you two optional exterior design packages - Matte Aluminium or Carbon - are also available to further customise the look. Inside it's as well finished as you'd expect from a range-topping Audi model with swathes of buttery honeycomb-quilted leather and slick controls that look and feel expensive. The driver's information system even gets a shift light which illuminates green segments as revs increase. The bar turns red and begins to blink when revs approach the red line. Space in the back is more than adequate, with up to 1,680-litres when the standard split rear seat folded.
Market and ModelFirst the good news. The latest Audi RS6 is less expensive than its predecessor, a car that first appeared back in the UK back in 2008. The bad news is that this RS6 is around £1,500 more expensive than the quite magnificent Mercedes E63 AMG estate, a car which is even more powerful than the Audi and which pips it for torque as well, for what that's worth. A few years ago the Mercedes wouldn't have really been a credible option, as it was never a very well resolved car but AMG has upped its game and the big Merc really gives the RS6 something to think about.
One area where the Audi has a clear advantage - in the UK market at least - is through the provision of its quattro all-wheel drive system. It's decently equipped too, with xenon plus headlights, LED rear lights, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, illuminated entry sills and the RS-specific driver's information system. Also on board will be the parking system plus with visual and acoustic prompts, cruise control, four-zone automatic air conditioning, MMI navigation plus with MMI touch, a BOSE sound system, a DAB radio and the Audi Music Interface (AMI). RS sports seats with pronounced side bolsters, integrated head restraints and RS 6 logos are covered in high-grade, honeycomb-quilted Valcona leather in either black or Moon Silver. Interesting options include carbon ceramic brakes and the sports suspension plus set-up, while seating can be specified in an optional combination of black Alcantara and leather and the centre sections feature diamond quilting. There's even a Dynamic plus package, which lifts the top speed to 189mph.
Cost of OwnershipEfficiency is one area where the Audi RS6 is leagues better than its predecessor. That car managed 20.1 and put out 310g/km of carbon dioxide, figures that just don't cut it these days. While you might question how relevant these measures are to buyers, they're good indicators of how advanced the technology underpinning the car is and manufacturers like to use them to keep score against each other.
This latest RS6 manages 28.8mpg and emits just 229g/km although a few grams less would have made a big difference to the VED taxation you'll pay. It gets to this point thanks to features like cylinder deactivation when cruising, lower kerb weight and its efficient eight-speed tiptronic transmission. Depreciation is a tough one to figure. Despite having an almost cult status, the fact remains that big, relatively thirsty petrol-powered estate cars tend to depreciate sharply. This Audi will require deep pockets to own, despite the increase in efficiency.
SummaryThe Audi RS6 needs to wriggle into a very well-defined genre, so you kind of know what you're getting with this one. It's crushingly rapid, faster indeed than the old V10-powered car, despite ceding a few brake horsepower. It's better finished than ever before and is also usefully more economical, giving it better touring range. Although Audi has worked at fine tuning the suspension offerings, this remains a car that's better suited to big, straight roads rather than the twistier demands of a British lane.
While the numbers have improved, the car's personality has changed. It's now something that's a good deal subtler than before, Audi being confident that wherever it's sold, the RS6's target customers increasingly understand its particular lingua franca. That's a gamble but I think it's one that has a reasonable chance of success. In being the first manufacturer to blink in the power arms race, Audi has also bought itself significant credit. Curiously, that may well be this car's most significant legacy.