Big Read: Alpine duel: Audi RS6 vs Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo

By topgear, 26 March 2020

Which is the better ski chariot: Audi's 600bhp über wagon, or Porsche's hybrid estate?

We were about four hours into France when the texts started pinging. “Geneva motor show cancelled”. Rowan and I were unfazed by this development. It was Friday, we weren’t due in Switzerland until Monday and besides, we had plans for the weekend. Plans that involved two super-estates, a ski resort and a pair of roof boxes. You join us in a pizzeria a couple of nights later.

OM: Well this has been thoroughly pleasant. Skiing, mountains, fresh snow, sun, beer and Netflix in the evenings, 600bhp estates and no motor show to ruin the end. We’re going to have to keep this quiet or people are going to think we’ve been away on holiday.

RH: Especially when you say it like that. You’ve made it sound like we’ve bolted from our significant others for alpine ‘Netflix and Chill’ – so mum’s the word. But as the ancient Chinese proverb states: one man’s cancelled motor show is another man’s scrambled group test. And these two aren’t a bad pairing – even though it’s not a level playing field. Yes, they’re both Germanic, expensive, luxurious wagons, but the RS6 annihilates the Porsche in the performance stakes. I haven’t got the full-fat Turbo S E-Hybrid, remember. Just Charlie Turner’s boggo 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo; a 2.9-litre turbo V6 and e-motor pairing up for a total output of 456bhp. You’ve got an eight-cylinder twin-turbo anvil up front pumping out 600! 

Words: Ollie Marriage and Rowan Horncastle // Photography: Rowan Horncastle

OM: I know, and I did enjoy every hoof away from a peage on the way down, watching your froggy headlights rewind in my mirrors. The right way to start life on the Garage fleet if you ask me. This is one of the Launch Edition models. Which I always thought meant high spec, but a knowledgeable chap on the inside tells me that besides fulfilling early demand for keen customers, identical Launch Editions coming down the line makes it easier to get production up to speed. Oddly, it does without radar cruise and keyless locking, and I hadn’t realised how much I’d come to rely on both. Excusez-moi Monsieur, deux grand bieres s’il vous plait. Aside from that, no complaints. It looks awesome, rides gently and was very refined on the way down. How was yours?

RH: Easy. If not a little – err – whistly. Admittedly, Charlie had warned me about the roof box being vocal. It’s by no means a 6ft kazoo, but it does kick up a racket. Luckily the £1,062 Bose sound system can shout louder. But worse than that, it’s had a hand at demolishing my fuel economy. And no amount of hybrid could claw that back. Mainly because I’d used all the e-juice before I’d even crossed the Thames, let alone the Channel. So that V6 has been doing all the heavy lifting, and this is a hefty 2,190kg lump to shift. But the seating position is ace – bum on floor, legs stretched, fantastic steering wheel adjustment – and there are plenty of menus to get lost in on a long drive.

OM: Porsche and Audi basically share screen and menu systems. I’ve got wireless Carplay and charging in the RS6, which means no cable confusion. And Bang and Olufsen tunes, although I have to say I’m a bit underwhelmed by that so far after the astonishing Naim Audio hifi in the Bentley Conti GT. And your hybrid – ho, ho, ho. I surreptiously checked how many litres went in your car after the first 350 miles (563km) – 68.5, which gave you fuel economy of 13.5 litres/100km!

RH: Don’t have a pop at me – that was your second fuel stop!

OM: There is that. And yeah, the best I’ve done from a tank is 335 miles (539km). Roofbox on I’m at 14.1 litres/100km – about 2.3 litres/100km off normal. It’s got this 48v mild hybrid tech that’s meant to shut the engine off at speed and when you’re coming to a standstill, but in reality that makes absolutely no difference in the real world. I ran a last gen RS6 six years ago and I’m getting exactly the same economy again. But anyway you’re distracting me – how come yours is doing 13.5 litres/100km when it claims 3.7 litres/100km?

RH: Don’t be facetious. You know better than me that hybrids subvert WLTP testing, but yeah, 13.5 litres/100km from a pretty ordinary V6 is terrible. But now we’re in Morzine and the clever tech knew our destination, so charged the battery on the way down and left me enough to coast about town on electricity. You’re still going to be pumping hydrocarbons across the snow-covered slopes getting angry looks from the locals. Ah, merci monsieur. And cheers Ollie, it’s been a fun few days.

OM: Cheers Ro. And yes, point taken about silent running. Stop with the smug face. Stop. Because which one got all the attention? Mine. You saw how people engaged with it – they love it: the blistered bodywork, the angry face, the fact it goes blub-blub-blub. No one has bothered to bat an eyelid at yours. And have you looked up local chargers? Of course not. Time to order isn’t it? Margherita for you – that’s about as bland as your car.

RH: I’m guessing you’re getting the Raclette… so you can clog your arteries just like the RS6 is doing to the planet’s. Now, which drives better?

OM: Damn right. Une Montagne s’il vous plait. All the cheesy goodness of Tartiflette on a doughy base for me. You may have to drag me out of here. Anyway, on the way down the RS6 edged it. Marginally heavier on fuel, but so impressively refined and comfortable – on air suspension it’s as effortless as a boggo A6 and it’s on 22-inch wheels. It’s mad how good it is.

RH: And now we’re down here?

OM: Come on, that’s not even a question. The RS6 of course.

RH: Wrong! Even though they’re both riding on air, the Sport Turismo cancels out the niggles in the road better than the RS6. And with real weight to the steering, you have to use two hands everywhere – instantly doubling the engagement. Whereas in the RS6 I easily slip into driving one-handed, given it’s as easy to drive as an A3. Do you not feel disconnected while driving the RS6 normally? I find the only way to feel more involved is to drive like an utter bellend. Which it flatters you when doing so. And explains why so many Audi drivers do drive like bellends.

OM: Be nice. I like the way the Porsche turns into corners. It’s got good steering, you know what the front end’s up to and it gives you confidence. The Audi’s steering is way too light and flighty. I don’t agree that the Panamera rides better over niggles, I think it just deals with them more quickly. And it’s so sodding wide! Nice low centre of gravity, good grip, feels and drives like a sports car up here. But without the engine to make anything of it. The RS6 is more of a muscle car alright, and needs more detail in the steering and communication from the chassis when you ramp it up, but the rear wheel steering doesn’t half work well. It’s very nimble up here, I can thread it around hairpins without ever having to move my hands on the wheel. Two hands.

RH: Yeah, without the four-wheel-steer trickery, the Porsche does feel like a properly big car in the mountains. But I find the Panamera has a solidity to it that the Audi is lacking. The materials feel that bit more luxurious; the leathers thicker, plastics not so scratchy and so on.

OM: I kind of agree, although I really don’t think there’s much in it. And I can’t get on with that touch-sensitive panel around the gearlever in the Panamera. Looks sleek, operates terribly. In the Audi I’ve managed to turn off the haptic feedback, and the screens are so much more responsive and need less pressure.

RH: But what about the seating position? I’m sure the seat in yours is mounted far higher than the one I drove in the US last year. It’s like being in a crossover. In the Porsche you’re in the bowels of the chassis. But one thing that hasn’t changed with the RS6 is how rapid it is. Jeez. You just plant the throttle and it fires off into the direction of the next mountain. And with that Quattro magic, the commitment you can apply in these conditions is astonishing. In comparison, the Porsche just felt a bit asthmatic and weedy. Especially when we went for that blast up to Avoriaz.

OM: That was good, wasn’t it? I love the RS6 for that – it’s so hearty and good natured. It’s having a good time and wants you to have a good time too. Yes the engine noise is a bit synthetic in loud mode, but it storms off down tight twisty roads with such speed and composure. There might not be much feel, but it’s got an abundance of ability. I did really want a car with DRC, though – that switches the air suspension for cross-linked conventional spring/damper units – which does give the RS6 more firmness and bite. But also means no height adjustment.

RH: That was bloody useful in snowy car parks wasn’t it? The ability to raise the suspension 20mm on both these cars meant we weren’t dragging our bellies through slush.   

OM: You know when I went and had a slide about in both cars in that icy, deserted layby? Well, the RS6 was better at that – it seemed to instinctively know where I wanted the traction and then deliver a surprising amount of it. The Panamera was less wieldy, more reluctant to put power to the back. 

RH: Only you and Chris Harris drive like that.

OM: OK, practicality then. The Audi is much bigger in back and boot. More legroom and 565 litres of load space plays 425 litres. Plus my Thule Vector Alpine is way cooler than your Porsche roofbox.

RH: Mine was a very reasonable £350. How much was yours?

OM: It’s hard to put a price on internal lighting, locks that slot home properly, being able to open from either side and – most importantly of all – bugger all wind noise at speed.

RH: Well I’m sure Thule do put a price on it. Come on, how much?

OM: £1350

RH: For 380 litres of air? That’s hilarious. To be fair, mine is very flimsy and a bit too plasticky for my liking. It’s very un-Porsche.

OM: Let’s wind this up so we can move on to discussing season two of Drive to Survive. Has the Panamera lived up to your lofty expectations?

RH: Yes and no. It’s plodded along with the comfort and refinement you’d expect but turned into a bit of a bus when the roads got twisty. I have to say the biggest disappointment is the hybrid drivetrain. I was expecting to cruise down here with the leccy system rewarding me with a sanctimonious fuel economy figure that I could rub in your face.

In reality, I got the same as I did on the same journey in a G63 last year. It makes me wonder what a diesel would’ve done. Or a normal V6 without having to lug around the weight of all those batteries. What about the RS6?

OM: I genuinely love it. More steering weight would be good, even more schportiness, but I’m so impressed with the comfort and quietness when cruising, and the ease with which it potters about. It’s completely viceless – which kicks both ways. I want it to be more spicy and overt sometimes. Aside from that, I’m smitten. And very happy not to have to put on a suit tomorrow.  

RH: Amen to that. Ah perfect timing, let’s get tucked in. Look at the state of yours – that’s a coronary in disc form.

OM: I’ve earned it. Encore deux bieres, s’il vous plait. Bon appetit, mate.