Hitting a cattle grate at 130km/h is no problem for the Audi RS6 Avant. This $225,000 wagon-only may have been engineered as a autobahn-stormer but it is also utterly adept at dealing with Aussie outback bitumen, as our local first drive proved.
Audi Australia imported three RS6 Avants two months before the model’s official on-sale to coincide with the launch of its first local advertising campaign tagged 'land of quattro'. It shipped them to Alice Springs, then flew journalists there to drive 470km down to Uluru.
Although the satellite navigation isn’t very busy on this trip – it’s left turn out of the airport, right turn a few hundred kilometres later, and that’s it – the suspension in the RS6 certainly is. More on that later.
Two facts encapsulate the enormity of this big bruiser. The Audi RS6 Avant gets nine radiators and 19-inch brakes – yep, that’s brakes, not wheels, which are standard 21-inch cast aluminium units.
Two other numerical standouts are 700Nm and 412kW, the outputs from the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine in the RS6 Avant. With peak torque on strong from 1750rpm to 5500rpm, then maximum power taking over just 200rpm later and staying in full force until 6600rpm, there is barely a spot on the rev range that isn’t determined to maximise the car’s ability to move forward really rather quickly.
Specifically the RS6 Avant will run from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds and on to a limited top speed of either 250km/h (standard), 280km/h (optional) or 305km/h (optional again, probably not coincidentally mandatory with ceramic brakes).
Our test cars were fitted with the middle top speed setting (read full specs here) not that it was usable in the Northern Territory’s now-130km/h-limited roads (though let’s just say the RS6 Avant probably does have very good stability pushing past 280km/h…)
We didn’t quite come close to matching the 9.8L/100km claimed combined consumption, which is helped by stop-start and cylinder decativation technologies when stopped or on lesser load respectively; considering the cruising speed quite a bit higher than the legal limit in the other states, though, an indicated 15.8L/100km isn’t too excessive.
Adaptive air suspension is standard in the RS6 Avant, and it quickly demonstrates its efficacy when approached by an oncoming car straddling the middle line sporting a ‘wide load ahead’ banner and with a damn wide truck behind. We move the left side of the big Audi wagon off the wrinkled kerb of the road and onto dirt. The ride remains superbly absorbent in the suspension’s softest comfort mode.
It is astonishing that an RS6 Avant on 21s can ride more comfortably than an A4 1.8T on 19s driven the week earlier.
Other modes include auto, dynamic, individual and lift. While the firmest dynamic setting creates a noticeably jiggly ride, individual allows the driver to select comfort, auto or dynamic for specific areas – suspension, drivetrain – turn the sports exhaust on or off and activate the centre differential.
The Stuart Highway that carves a vertical line almost exactly down the centre of Australia may look straight on a map, but it is punctuated by sweeping turns. Likewise with the adjoining Lasseter Way that leads to The Rock.
So while the bends weren’t nearly enough to explore the on limit chassis balance of the RS6 Avant, tipping into sweepers at speed proved no problem for the Audi.
A sports differential pushes torque to the outside rear wheel when exiting corners, while the quattro drive system typically sends 60 per cent of torque back there in the first place, but can shift up to 85 per cent behind.
We only tried the RS6 with the optional dynamic steering, which varies the rack ratio constantly to become quicker and sharper in tight bends and more relaxed at higher speeds. In the latter scenario it provides plenty of on centre feel as the big tyres stream up road imperfections to the tiller.
So incisive is the steering that a mental note is made to check whether it is a hydraulic steering set-up, which uses a pump off the engine to provide assistance and is more traditionally renowned for delivering road feel to the driver's hands, or an electric assistance steering set-up renowned for hiding feel. It feels like the former, but is in fact the latter.
It will be interesting to test the system on a tight mountain pass to see if it retains that feel.
The optional dynamic steering can be purchased as a stand-alone $2730 option or as part of two packages – with dynamic package along with RS sports suspension with dynamic ride control and the 280km/h top speed for $4900, or with all of the above plus a 305km/h top speed and the ceramic brakes for $25,840.
After 200km, and for the final leg to Uluru, we swapped into another RS6 Avant, this time equipped with RS sports suspension and dynamic ride control.
Deceiphering the marketing-led terms is easy – the RS suspension replaces the adaptive air suspension with fixed steel springs and a single sports setting, while the dynamic ride control denotes that all four dampers are diagonally linked together with oil flow adjusting mechnically.
The upshot of the single setting ride is somewhere firmer than the air suspension’s comfort setting but less unsettled than its dynamic setting.
It’s in the RS sports suspended RS6 Avant that a sudden cattle grid is brushed off with ease.
Although the 21s throw up a fair bit of coarse chip road noise, the RS6 Avant is otherwise superbly quiet and stable.
At cruising speed the eight-speed torque converter automatic is ticking over way down in the rev range, yet prodding the throttle quickly prepares it for super-strong performance.
The twin turbo V8 hurls alright, but it’s perhaps a bit too quiet, particularly after the old Lambo-derived twin-turbo V10’s shrill to redline.
There’s some lovely exhaust crackle to be had if the windows are down – or you’re in the back seat – but otherwise the RS6 Avant delivers its storming speed softly.
As ever, the Audi RS6 Avant interior is a masterpiece of the beautiful and high quality. Bits of knurled silver trim interplay with stitched leather armrests and door grab handles, and soft white mood lighting to create a properly premium ambience.
The fact the 1935kg RS6 – 100kg lighter than before – also pampers rear passengers and offers a sizeable 565 litre boot with split-fold backrest flexibility only further adds to this car’s appeal.
Audi could have made a sedan RS6, but it knew the point of difference of this car is its wagon bum, and will supply an RS7 Sportback for those who disagree anyway.
With bulging front and rear wheel arches, a honeycomb grille with vaguely retro quattro applique, and all-LED headlights, the RS6 Avant looks very tough. When our stormtrooper-grey test car had finished its 500km covered in the NT’s finest anthropods glued to the front bar, it looked weak-at-the-knees great, and good enough to convince any cliched sports coupe fan who may look down on practical wagons.
Obviously the Audi RS6 Avant is no ordinary wagon, but it’s also a very enticing sports car.
Its closest competitor right now is probably the recently announced Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake with 430kW and a $265K pricetag, but the RS6 should do well against the BMW M5, the forthcoming Jaguar XFR-S and even the HSV GTS – all of which enter the ‘400 (kilowatt) club’.
The only thing left to do now is fly home, round up those rivals and find some properly twisty roads…