Audi RS6 Review: Kneel, puny earthlings

By topgear, 27 November 2019

OVERVIEW - What is it?
Audi’s practical family car laced with supercar performance. Ever since its collaboration with Porsche in the early Nineties to investigate surprisingly spacious speed courtesy of the RS2, the folks at Ingolstadt have made a name for themselves by producing knuckle-biting, performance-orientated five-door estates. This latest iteration has added sophistication and technology to go with its speed. Boy-oh-boy, a hell of a lot of speed.

Angry-looking thing, isn’t it? Only the front doors, roof and tailgate are shared with a rep-spec A6. And it’s got heaps of attitude: blistered bodywork a whopping 80mm wider than standard, a contemptuous frown (a throwback from the ’84 Sport quattro) and bazooka tailpipes. These features compound for unparalleled presence.

Over the years, the RS6 has had a multitude of engines, including, hilariously, a V10. Now for the fourth-generation, a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 is buried in the nose and can dispatch 592bhp and 800Nm through the eight-speed auto ‘box and all four wheels.

The results are quite something to behold: 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds, 0-124mph in 12 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 249kph.

Tick the ‘Vorsprung’ pack, and that top speed rises to 280kph. Option on some ceramic brakes, and it rises yet again to 306kph.

This supercar performance is paired with a boot that’s capable of swallowing 1,680 litres of stuff, making it a direct competitor for the Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate and Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo. But, with prices starting at £92k, it undercuts them all. No wonder the RS6 is not so much catnip, but black tar heroin for petrolheads who don’t want to be banished to eternal damnation and hum-drum kid-friendly crossovers.

The new RS6 certainly isn’t as blunt as the previous car – that was a V8 warhead with a boot attached. This is more multi-faceted and intelligent. There’s cylinder deactivation, a keen coasting mode and 48V mild hybrid assistance. (Take that hybridisation with a pinch of salt, as the battery in the boot doesn’t provide any propulsion.) It’s also a lot plusher inside, with better use of materials, stacks of digitisation and seemingly infinite customisation and configuration.

Power is still sent to all four wheels, and you can’t disable the front driveshafts like an E63. In real-world situations, this means you can use a ridiculous amount of that near 600bhp grunt all the time. That’s the difference quattro makes; it gives you traction and confidence. Plus, thanks to new chassis tech such as optional four-wheel-steering and a Sports Differential (standard in the UK) it’s more agile and accurate than ever. Oh, and for the first time in its 25-year history, the Audi Sport team is bringing the RS6 to America. Yee-haw!

DRIVING - What is it like on the road?
Both power and torque have swelled (39bhp and 99Nm) over the previous generation. But where the RS6 has really moved the needle is in its ability to seamlessly shape-shift from everyday runabout to see-ya-later-supercar hyperwagon. The gulf between these two states of tune is now even bigger, making it a lot more useable and even more enviable to your neighbours.

The twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 isn’t as rampant or raucous as the offerings from AMG. It’s not as shouty and doesn’t dominate proceedings. But it’s a wonderfully smooth operator and works brilliantly with the eight-speed tiptronic gearbox (that could easily be mistaken for a double-clutcher) to give you oodles of oomph when you want it.

Saying that, given our increased exposure to electric cars and their instantaneous torque delivery, it can feel a tad laggy at times. But this means you just have to work a bit harder with the paddles to make sure you’re in the power band to get the most out of it.

When you are going quickly, you can feel every kilo of the 2,075kg kerb weight. As a point of reference, that’s 80kg more than a E63. But improvements have been made to mask its mass and make the RS6 not so nose-heavy.

First off, there’s an optional £8k Carbon Ceramic brake package. Weighing 34kg less than the standard steels, they’re not only beneficial for unsprung weight, but they also have the power and longevity to fire your jowls through the windscreen all day, every day. Be warned: it will take a while to get used to the unnecessary squidge at the top end of the pedal around town or when they’re cold.

f you are driving like a twonk, inevitable understeer arrives. How Audi. But now you can just floor it and let the new Sports Differential and recalibrated quattro system cancel out the push. Up to 85 per cent of oomph can now be sent to the rear and help you around the bend. But it’s not as physically engaging as an E63. You never feel like you’re in a fight with it to go fast, and there’s not much steering feel or sensitivity (especially with unpredictable and numb Dynamic Steering). But for point-to-point blasts, there’s nothing quite as effective as the RS6. Also, with the new optional four-wheel-steer system, there’s a sharpness to the estate’s turn-in and generally agility that’s not been present before.

There also aren’t many other cars in the world that have such an intrinsic ability to make silly speeds feel safe. The numbers speak for themselves: 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds, 0-200kph in 12 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 249kph with the potential of opening the taps all the way to nearly 322kph. Plus, with a new launch control mode, you can hit those numbers more consistently than ever and endlessly butter your dog up against the rear window.

There are numerous driving modes to consider, ranging from an eco-minded ‘Efficiency’ mode featuring predictive start-stop from 21kph, coasting up to 159kph and cylinder shutdown, all the way to maximum attack ‘Dynamic’ mode. The efficiency tech isn’t rammed down your throat or sanctimonious like other systems, and works away in the background, making for a serene experience when paired with comfort suspension and the double-glazing.

There are also two new customisable driving modes accessed on the steering wheel. Having obviously had a look at BMW’s homework, they’re dubbed ‘RS Modes’. Notably, RS1 and RS2. Because we’re nerds, we obviously favour the second. Both allow you to switch up the steering, suspension, ESC and augmented sound into your preferred strength. Actually, while we’re on the subject of noise, disappointingly, the exhaust doesn’t have the thunderclap and rowdiness of old. But there will be plenty of people in the aftermarket to clear its throat. Paging Litchfield. Paging ABT.

Finally, one thing to be mindful of is the suspension options. Adaptive air suspension is fitted as standard and has 40mm of travel through the various driving modes. It goes from a raised variant for bumpy roads, to a hunkered-into-the-arches (30mm lower than a standard A6 Avant) if you’re over 120kph. But if you’re serious about going quickly the optional sports suspension might be more up your street.

Rather than air, it features steel springs and three-way adjustable dampers. It rides surprisingly well – especially considering you can be on 22-inch wheels if you spec the ‘Vorsprung’ pack/ceramic brakes – offering control and comfort with little brittleness. Saying that, we’re yet to try it on our favourite pockmarked British tarmac, which could be a different story. But first impressions are very good.

ON THE INSIDE - Layout, finish and space
There’s been a big shift in cabin tech over the last few years, and the RS6 can attest to this. It’s a huge step on from the previous generation – primarily because the world has gone screen mad since 2013, but also as the materials in the cabin now reek of sporting luxury; there’s double glazing, haptic glass, carbon fibre and a gear-selector finished in Alcantara that’s weirdly satisfying to stroke… a bit like a bald cat.

Your attention is drawn to the two driver-centric screens that have seemingly endless menus and configuration. It’s a good-looking and slick system to use, as is Audi’s class-leading digital Virtual Cockpit display in the binnacles as well as the head-up display. If you want info, you can easily get it beamed to you. There’s now also a retro throwback to the Original Quattro courtesy of a Hockey Stick rev counter while in the more sporting modes, and onboard lap and drag strip timers.

Overall, the cabin is a great blend of comfort and performance. On the whole there’s been a marked improvement to the NVH – tyre roar is kept to a minimum and the integration of double glazing cocoons you from the outside world. However, it also does mute that thumping V8. The quilted chairs are supportive but not arse-numbing on a long journey and the thin Alcantara wheel is great to use, even though it doesn’t deliver much feedback.

RS6 Avant
RS6 Avant
RS6 Avant

As for space, you’ve got 565 litres to play with seats up, and 1,680 litres seats down. Audi has worked on the loading width, adding 14mm of space compared to the previous model. How does this compare with its competitors? Well, it’s more than the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, but the E63 still dominates with a whopping 640 litres seats down, and a cavernous 1,820 when the chairs are folded flat. But, you can now spec a tow bar, so if you’re a horrendous over-packer, you can always bring a trailer.

OWNING - Running costs and reliability
In the UK, there are three spec options available. The standard car starts at £92,750, ‘Carbon Black’ that’s more murdered out and expensive for £100,650, and the range-topping ‘Vorsprung’ package that increases the top speed, throws in the posh hi-fi, sports suspension and 4WS as well as the monster 22-inch wheels for £109,250. You can then add the carbon-ceramic brakes on top of that. Fundamentally, in its most basic spec it’s cheaper than both the Mercedes E63, Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo and the less boot-y BMW M5.

Obviously, a big V8 isn’t going to be the epitome of a hypermiler. But thanks to all the efficiency tech and 48v mild hybrid system, mpg in the early 20s is more than doable. Just remember that it’s not going to give you any emissions-free driving or benefit.

The RS6 is loaded with safety tech, though. In top-spec trim or with the ‘City’ and ‘Tour’ packs fitted, you’ve got more than 30 guardian angels looking over you. They can be turned up or down depending on how many bings and bongs you want in the cabin, but include: adaptive cruise assist, autonomous lane-tracking as well as pre sense safety measures, 360° camera and rear cross-traffic monitoring.

These are cars that hold their value well, too. There’s been incredible demand from the Americans given it’s the first time it’ll be sold in America, and it’s predicted 45.1 per cent of the original OTR price will be retained after 36 months/60,000 miles, bettering the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate.

There’s something a damn sight more palatable about a performance estate than an SUV and the Audi RS6 proves this. In the current political and social climate, does the world really need a 600bhp family wagon? Probably not. But boy are we glad we have one as it’s one of Audi Sport’s best executions to date. Previous thuggish edges have been sanded down to make way for a more intelligent and useable package that’ll appeal to more people.

It’s not as rambunctious or sideways as its competitors, but it’s far from anodyne. It’s fast, practical, comfortable, the right side of attention-seeking and properly desirable. What’s interesting is that there’s not one component of the RS6 that stands out. This can be mistaken for it not having character. But in reality, it’s just that Audi has engineered some excellent hardware to work together. It’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Audi’s fast five-door family estate now has more brains to go with all that brawn, making it a consummate all-rounder


Bags of attitude, loads of tech and shed loads of speed Sometimes not the most engaging drive. But up there with the quickest
SCORE 9/10


RS6 Avant