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Car reviews - Audi - A6 - RS6 Avant

Our Opinion

We like
Incredibly potent engine, great sound, wagon practicality, strong brakes
Room for improvement
Busy ride, doesn’t have a dual-clutch automatic, some fairly basic options should be standard

31 Oct 2008

TO DRIVE the RS6 Avant is to experience a most extreme case automotive overkill.

Most of us would think that a V10 engine should deliver way more than enough punch for a sporty wagon. So who in their right mind would deem that insufficient and bolt on a couple of turbochargers?

Audi obviously wanted its RS6 Avant to be more powerful than the BMW M5 and E63 AMG wagon and came up with 426kW to make sure. Thank goodness all that power is being fed through all four wheels.

Riding the incredible RS6 slingshot is an incredible experience, but after a few hours of neck bending acceleration, heavy braking and the high G-force cornering you want to hand the keys back.

Yes, you read that right, but we’ll get to the reasons for that later.

Of course, the most wonderful thing about this car is the engine. Yes, it is ridiculously powerful and no, you don’t need that much grunt - but it's a lot of fun just the same.

The torque figure of 650Nm is indeed something special, but it is the fact that it is available all the way from 1500rpm to 6250rpm that really make this a simply astounding powerplant.

It just unleashes a seemingly inexhaustible supply of monstrous pulling power. With this much urge it simply doesn’t matter which gear you are in. The mixture of a V10 growl, turbo wastegate chatter and induction rush is one of the best automotive sounds you'll ever hear.

Then there is the sound of the momentary cylinder cut for gear changes that is best described as an meaty ‘thrump’. Ford’s XR6 Turbo and FPV’s F6 automatics do it, albeit far more quietly, when you change gears with a wide-open throttle.

You will pay for the pleasure of the sound and the performance, with the test cars showing an average of around 23 litres per 100km. It should be noted that the cars were being pressed hard, but that's still a number to make you grimace.

The auto gearbox changes relatively quickly, although it's not as fast as a dual clutch unit. It also changes up by itself in manual mode, sometimes just as you are approaching a bend and would rather it held the gear instead.

The RS6 Avant does a pretty good job of getting the power down and the all-wheel-drive is very handy. The idea of so much power going to the rear wheels only is indeed frightening.

Even with all wheels lending a hand, the system was sometimes overwhelmed on the media launch in Tasmania this week and the traction control had to intervene. You could turn this off, but given the cost of the vehicle I decided that in the interests of my mortgage that doing so was not a good idea.

Thankfully the stopping power of the RS6 is simply eye-popping. These anchors manage to pull up two-tonnes plus remarkably quickly. They were also able to withstand 400km or more of punishment without the slightest sign of fading or catching fire.

Of course, I’m sure the optional ceramic discs would be wonderful, but it would be hard to justify spending the $20,000-odd when the standard anchors do so well.

The main problem with the RS6 Avant comes down to its weight. The issue of propelling this considerable bulk can be solved with massive power and the braking challenges are helped a lot by incredible anchors, but the ride/handling compromise is not easily solved.

To be frank, Audi doesn’t seem to have worked out a solution in the case of the RS6 Avant. It felt very, very busy on our test drive on some of the best driving roads in Tasmania.

You can select whichever suspension mode you like, but at the end of the day the RS6 moves around so much that it ruins the drive. In fact, it made me feel green, even when I was driving.

Now, before you conclude that I don’t have a stomach for driving fast, I must point out that I race a rally car at weekends for fun. And another journalist at the launch felt crook after belting the big Audi.

There's no doubt the incredible acceleration, braking and cornering forces probably contribute to this, but the way the car’s body moved around on the bumpy roads on the launch was also undoubtedly a big factor.

It never feels settled. Select the Comfort setting and sea-sickness is almost inevitable. Put it in Sport mode and you are likely to suffer a collapsed vertebrae. Really, on those roads it was so stiff it was almost comical.

The Dynamic setting is probably the best compromise and even it felt too stiff on many stretches of less-than-perfect surfaces, yet moved around a lot.

Yet, while Audi has done its best the RS6’s body still pitches into and then through the corner. There is no doubt the car has tremendous grip in the corners and great traction on the way out, but it is a big car to hustle through the bends.

To put it in perspective, Audi had some small S3 turbos along for the ride and they were able to easily keep pace with the RS6 cars through the twistiy sections. On good smooth roads, the RS6 seemed fine, so it would be great on an autobahn, but on typically less-than-smooth country Australian roads it's out of its depth.

The RS6’s steering feels well weighted and is quite firm when you get going. It is very firm at lower speeds, maybe too heavy for some, but lightens off at parking speeds. It is accurate, but as is the case with other Audi’s you don’t get much, or any feel through the wheel and there was also some steering rack rattle when it got very bumpy.

Tyre noise is also an issue on coarse chip roads. Some surfaces on the launch created a dramatic howl and yet on smooth surfaces the big Audi was remarkably quiet.

But the interior of the RS6 Avant is brilliant. The crisp design and well finished surfaces really do match the pricetag and the carbon-fibre trim on the doors, dashboard and centre console make the cabin look like a million dollars.

In a car like this it is important to have supportive seats and the front seats certainly hold us through the turns and they are also very comfortable for long runs.

There is loads of room in the back row. There are five seats, but the middle one in the back is so uncomfortable you wouldn't want to subject your kids to it. But while it’s easy to forget this is wagon, there is a lot of room for cargo in the back.

As you'd expect, The RS6 comes with a lot of gear as standard, but some omissions are sure to make potential customers stop and think. The fact you have to pay extra for MP3/iPod connectivity is a bit rich, as is the idea that you have to cough up extra for a rear-view camera - something that's standard on a $40,000 Toyota Kluger. Surely these should be standard on a car that costs this much.

All up, the RS6 Avant is a truly remarkable car with a simply amazing engine. Some people will be able to live with its suspension conundrum, but for me it is a show-stopper.

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