Car reviews - Audi - A6 - RS6 sedan
Engine performance and sound, roadholding, handling, braking, build quality, equipment, seats, safety, subtlety
Room for improvement
5 Jan 2004
By TIM BRITTEN
IF the almost ludicrously oversized wheels and crouching stance don’t do it for you, try walking around the back of Audi’s RS6 and listen to the sound of the bi-turbo V8 on idle.
The rumpa-rumpa beat of the V8 is the closest street-legal car equivalent to a 999 Ducati with a worked-over exhaust. The large-diameter dual pipes emit a deep, oscillating right-to-left (or so it seems) thudding that has enough apparent force to clear the driveway of a year’s supply of fallen leaves.
With no less than 331kW and 560Nm, this impression of vast power is not illusory. Not many sedan cars (and not many sports coupes) accelerate like an RS6.
Zero to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds is rocket-launcher fast. As Audi reminds us, the car is quicker from zero to 100 km/h than a Tiptronic Porsche 911 Turbo.
The engine starts as a 4.2-litre, all-alloy V8 - the same five-valves-per-cylinder powerplant fitted to the A6 quattro. Largely with the help of twin, intercooled turbochargers, power is lifted substantially from the base engine’s 220kW/400Nm.
If we have the all-wheel drive quattro drivetrain to thank for transferring the RS6’s massive torque effectively to the road, we also have Audi’s engineers to thank for the clever, non-electronic "active" suspension system and the racetrack-worthy brakes, complete with composite disc rotors and alloy calipers.
All this, coupled with the wide, 19-inch wheels and ultra low profile tyres, contributes to a chassis that is well capable of dealing with the RS6’s restless energy.
For $219,570 at the October 2003 Australian launch ($225,100 in station wagon Avant form), the RS6 is a total package.
There’s nothing missing, from a solar-cell sunroof that ventilates the unoccupied car on a hot day, to satellite-navigation, TV, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming external rearview mirrors, bi-Xenon headlights, heated, fully power adjustable and leather-lined Recaro front seats, power adjustable steering column, sunblinds and a Bose multi-CD sound system.
It’s hardly necessary to say the RS6 feels something special. There’s an unquestioned air of class that should satisfy those wanting to feel they’re justified spending so much money on a car with its roots in a base model costing "only" $80,000.
The Recaros contribute a lot here, with their unquestioned anatomic perfection, while the generous supplies of top-quality leather, carbon-fibre inserts and general impeccable attention to detail leave no question as to the RS6’s ranking.
The visual impact is all due to the on-road stance. The actual body add-ons are the last word in discretion (comprising a redesigned, three air-intake front spoiler area, discreet side sills, a new rear apron and a very subtle boot spoiler), but the wheels are so big they appear to protrude beyond the bodywork.
Straight away, the RS6 looks the road projectile it actually is.
And, is it necessary to say the RS6 is one of the most stimulating sports sedans on the road?
With its massive power and torque, and constant four-wheel drive, it’s pretty fair to expect it would be something special something that could comfortably stand alongside a BMW M5, or a Benz E55 AMG.
To Audi’s credit, the RS6 is right up there, in terms of sheer acceleration, road-holding ability – and price.
Just 4.7 seconds from zero to 100km/h is mixing it with the very best – and there’s constant all-wheel drive still to go.
If the Audi is at its most impressive when pinning its inhabitants back in their seats with the surging power of the bi-turbo V8, it’s abilities at gripping the road in all types of conditions are almost equally as impressive.
This is aided by the clever Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) system that eschews electronics as a means of determining where shock absorber forces should be increased and decreased, depending on both fore-aft and lateral forces.
The RS6 thus tends towards a flat cornering stance by stiffening up under lateral forces, and remains level during heavy braking as the front shock absorbers are forced to stiffen up under forward weight transfer.
Yet the ride quality, considering the potential of the car, is quite comfortable and there’s rarely the problem with ground clearance that often afflicts ultra high-performance cars.
The full-time, three-differential all-wheel drive means there is never a question of finding traction for a forceful start, even if the road surface is wet or unsealed.
The Audi simply slingshots away with a deep thrum from the dual exhaust system and a series of quick, precise upshifts from the five-speed sequential automatic transmission.
The RS6 offers an each-way bet on preferred gear shifting functions the driver has the choice between either steering wheel paddles or the more conventional but generally more acceptable central shifter – using the forward-upshift, backwards-downshift pattern applied in most systems.
Often the driver will leave the transmission to its own devices, allowing the electronics to decide the best time for an up or downshift. Appropriate for its eager delivery of power, the RS6 will downshift on deceleration as well as accelerator kickdown.
The engine’s midrange verges on stupendous. With twin turbos supplying the boost, there is no detectable turbo lag. Even part-throttle acceleration is formidable, and the RS6 will walk away from traffic with an ease that puts it in a different realm to other, mortal cars.
Accelerating out of a corner, or passing other cars on the highway, is a quick, thunderous, transfer from one speed range to the next.
And the braking, with the RS6’s very special system, is just as secure. Without the aggressive and sometimes disconcerting initial bite that otherwise applies universally across the Audi range, the all-ventilated, fade-resistant composite disc system hauls the car down forcefully and securely.
Forceful and secure: That just about sums up the Audi RS6.
It succeeds where the A6, which never quite made it to the top of the large prestige class, didn’t. It will be remembered as one of the most stunning, desirable and almost-reachable sports sedans of the decade.
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