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First drive: RS6 is a blastzzz

Rocketship: The RS6 is the most powerful production Audi ever.

Understated Audi builds an over-the-top sports model. Meet the 331kW RS6

7 Nov 2002

By BRUCE NEWTON in GERMANY

EIGHT months and counting. That's what the 10 or so people who have stumped up substantial deposits on Audi's RS6 must be thinking.

Eight months till they get their hands on the most powerful production car the German manufacturer has ever made. Eight months till they have to stump up the balance of the $230,000 asking price.

Those 10 buyers already slapping their hard-earned dollars down will be joined by no more than 15 more by the time the RS6 lobs here around June 2003. That's right, just 25 of them are guaranteed to grace these shores.

RS is Audi's ultimate performance moniker. There's the "A" models at the entry-level (A3, A4, A6 etcetera), then the pumped up S models (S3, S4, S6) and finally the RS line. There used to be an RS 4, for now there is only RS6, but one day in the not too distant future there could be RS3, RS4, RS6 and even RS 8.

The way Audi appears to be planning forward, the S versions will get big normally aspirated engines and the RS the same engines with forced induction. So a V6 for S3/RS3, a V8 for S4/RS4, a V10 borrowed from Lamborghini for the next generation S6/RS6 and a W12 for S8/RS8.

The current RS6 only broke cover back in February and was officially launched to the public at the Geneva motor show in March. Audi Australia got in on the act by shipping one in for the Sydney motor show last month.

It's based on Audi's luxury A6 in either sedan or five-door wagon (Avant in Audi speak) formats.

The 4.2-litre V8 engine, which is a close relation of the unit seen in the A6, A8 and S6 but different to the unit in the new S4, has been the subject of some intense development work by Audi, its subsidiary Cosworth Technology (not to be confused with Cosworth Racing which is owned by Ford) and quattro GmbH.

The latter is the most significant player in the whole RS6 story. Think of it as being to Audi what HSV is to Holden and FPV is to Ford. Quattro takes A6s off the production line at Neckarsulm in Germany, wheels them next door into its own mini-assembly line and adds some serious go-fast bits, most of which it has developed.

Let's start with that engine. A turbocharger and intercooler per bank plays a key role in boosting power to a staggering 331kW at 5700rpm and 560Nm between 1900rpm and 5600rpm.

To cope with all that, the five-valves per-cylinder heads have been toughened up, the Bosch Motronic engine management system adapted to cope with biturbo technology and a completely new dual-branch exhaust system designed and installed.

All that work translates to a 0-100km/h dash in 4.7 seconds and 0-200km/h in 17.6 seconds. Top speed is supposedly governed at 250km/h, but there have been reports of RS6s recording 275km/h-plus. Apparently the German speed limiting "gentlemens" agreement isn't holding up all that well.

How do the RS6's figures compare with potential rivals? Well, it outdoes the BMW M5 which has 294kW and 500Nm, but is well beaten by the new Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG with 350kW and 700Nm (!). The local hero is the HSV GTS with 300kW and 500Nm (although the forthcoming Falcon GT has 290kW and 520Nm), Further down the RS6's drivetrain there's an adapative ZF five-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic semi-manual function that's already seen service with the previous generation A8 6.0-litre W12. Drive spreads to all four-wheels from here via Audi's quattro system.

Understandably considering the performance levels, brakes and suspension have also been further developed by quattro.

The brake discs are a motorsport-derived composite design, and have a diameter of 365 millimetres at the front, and 335 millimetres at the rear. Eight-piston fixed callipers are used at the front, single-piston floating-calliper brakes with integral handbrake at the rear. ABS and EBD provide electronic assistance to the mechanical system.

The RS6 is the first model to be equipped with a quattro-developed system called Dynamic Ride Control (DRC), which works with the standard four-link front and double wishbone rear suspension.

DRC is designed to counteract rolling and pitching movements of the vehicle body without the use of electronics. It does this by linking diagonally opposite shock absorbers with two oil lines. Oil flows between the two shocks via a central valve to create additional damping forces when cornering to keep the car riding flat on the road.

Audi hasn't eschewed electronics though. ESP (electronic stability program), EDL (electronic differential lock with active brake control), ASR (anti-slip regulation) and MSR (engine drag torque control) are all in there doing their bit to keep the RS6 on the straight and the narrow.

The package is completed by styling that is about aggressive as Audi gets, yet still somewhat restrained. There's a low front apron with three specific air intake apertures, 18-inch alloy wheels with 255/40 R18 rubber, side sills and a rear spoiler above a redesigned rear apron.

Inside there are heated Recaro sports seats, a choice of leather interiors, three-spoke sports steering wheel with shift paddle, a "concert" radio with Bose sound system and the Acoustic Parking System.

The standard-fit passive safety equipment includes airbags for the driver and front passenger, side airbags at the front and the Audi Sideguard head-level airbag system.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

The rain is monsoonal. It's getting darker by the second. I'm jet-lagged. The car I'm sitting in has a more power and torque than I can add up and I'm about to drive it on bumpy, narrow German mountain roads I've never seen before - and on the wrong side of the road.

At least I'm not wearing sunglasses... Hit it! The RS6 is that slightly insane, surreal sort of car. Serious young Germans from quattro GMBH point out its features, explain the technology, the process and the finished result. But no-one explains the rationale.

Could there be one? Does the RS6 need one? In heavily policed Australia it's a cancelled licence waiting to happen, but in Germany where you can still go for a gallop on an unrestricted Autobahn there's a skerrick of logic to it all.

Because once you strip away all the technology the RS6 is all about a big V8 performance engine. That much at least Aussies can understand.

But it's not until you're out there on the Autobahn and hit the throttle that you truly appreciate how superior the RS6 sedan's capabilities are compared to normal performance iron. All the cliches turn to reality - the shove in the back, the blurring scenery, the speedo needle racing the tacho around the dial.

And then the transmission kicks down at 190km/h and you accelerate - harder. [email protected]#$ F%^&*() [email protected]#$% this thing is quick! And turbo lag? What the hell's that! Yet this engine is no one-trick pony. The RS6 can cruise as well as bruise. The V8 is as civilised as they come, able to trickle along in heavy traffic without a hint of the grumps, just the exhaust note an ever-present reminder of its abilities Certainly, there are none of the creaks, groans and clunks from the driveline that any local V8 driver would be familiar with.

There's more focus to the suspension, which is firm and lacking in subtlety. Bumps, holes and road joins all jolt and jiggle back into the cabin while the big tyres have a tendency to tramline, which is no surprise.

But the grip levels are high and the steering very accurate although quite light. To be fair the shocking weather conditions discouraged serious testing of chassis limitations.

No question about the brakes though, which (thankfully) are hugely responsive with plenty of retardation although not a lot of feel.

The package is wrapped up in a typically understated Audi way. The bodykit lacks the drama of a big rear wing or outrageous graphics, the interior shares much with the donor car including a busy instrument pod. But it also gets superb sports seats and a sweet little leather tiller.

Mounted in that steering wheel is a small RS6 badge, one of the few obvious giveaways that you're sitting in something pretty special.

Sort of sums up the RS philosophy. Walk quietly but carry a very big stick. Or in this case, a tree trunk

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