Is Audi's refreshed RS6 the hottest wagon on the planet? Curt heads to Phillip Island Circuit to find out.
Launching the freshly updated and face-lifted version of the world’s quickest series production wagon, the 2015 RS6 Avant, at Australia’s fastest permanent race circuit, Phillip Island, is manna from petrolhead heaven. Unless, that is, the most powerful force on earth, Mother Nature, decides to be a particularly fickle mistress at the same time.
Horizontal rain and near-Arctic 60km/h crosswinds are hardly ideal for a car ferocious enough to nudge its 250km/h speed limiter on Phillip Island’s front straight well before it runs out of available hot mix. It’s worse still, when patchy sunshine makes track conditions variable and random lap to lap.
Even at slightly more sombre terminal velocity, lap one, I’ll happily outlay a chunk of the RS6 Avant’s $229,500 entry price to be anywhere but hard on the optional ($20,940) ceramic brakes, 2.1 tonnes of family-friendly Audi squirming around on entry to Phillip Island’s daunting, high-speed first turn. Somewhere like sunkist Uluru, where this generation of RS6 Avant was launched in 2013 at a modest $4500 discount.
Even in perfect weather, the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit is too confined for our healthily optioned test car’s impossibly long legs. An optional and arguably essential Dynamic Package, at $4900, adds dynamic steering and revised suspension with Dynamic Ride Control to sharpen RS6 Avant’s dynamic fringes, while lifting top speed to 280km/h. However, the Dynamic Package Plus as fitted to our steed adds those massive 420mm ceramic front anchors and lifts terminal velocity further to a frankly unusable – locally, at least – 305km/h. Ticking this $25,840 box alone – and there are many options available here - nudges RS6 Avant beyond a quarter of a million dollars.
The RS6 Avant’s core specification and general stats shared with concurrently refreshed RS7 Sportback, though, have changed little since 2013.
The twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 remains at 412kW between 5700-6600rpm and its peak torque again clocks on at just 1750rpm and hangs in there until 5500rpm. Fuel consumption of this cylinder-on-demand, or COD, version (which shuts down cylinders two, three, five and eight under some light-throttle conditions) is a 0.2L per 100 kilometre improvement (now 9.6L/100kmh) over the outgoing model. From its mechanical details to the tuning and applications of its drive modes – comfort, auto, dynamic and user-assignable individual – little has changed in RS 6 Avantland.
The revised front and rear styling, aligned with the rest of the A6 range, is sharper, flatter in profile and subtly freshens that ‘war wagon’ look. The bespoke Matrix LED headlights and dynamic ‘strobing’ indicators, though, are neat jewelry that contributes to justifying the facelift’s modest price hike.
Outside of the across-the-A6-range infotainment updates and instrument binnacle’s high-resolution Driver Information System display that provide a nice lift in presentation and bells and whistles gadgetry, the cabin area again underpins richness and quality with an overt, driver-centric sportiness.
The big question, however, is whether Audi’s “ultimate RS model” is a proper high-performance machine – a device of all-round go-faster talent – with practicality and utility as a bonus? Or is it merely an outrageously (over)powerful station wagon?
At around 150km/h through the wet-and-dry patchwork of Turn One, a seemingly random tug-of-war between manic grip and sudden slippage, the RS Avant’s handling package, anchored by a hard-core Rennsport iteration of Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive, feels the absolute thoroughbred. While the sensation of its 2025kg weighbridge ticket through corners feels ever-present, the levels of grip, the tautness of the body control and neutrality of the chassis’ balance confidently counteract the shifting mass.
In fact, the RS6 Avant attacks the circuit’s smooth, flowing curves with such poise, its handling package so sublime, that it’s difficult to pinpoint how, where and when the Quattro system is plying its mastery.
Is the crown gear centre differential, constantly varying between 40 and 80 per cent of torque rearward, flattering my driving talent on corner exits? Is its the electronic torque vectoring, which selectively brakes individual wheels, saving my bacon by tucking the car’s nose tighter during too-ambitious corner entry? I’m not entirely sure. But dynamic ability feels as natural as it does potent. The RS6 Avant can make a chump feel the hero.
Without venturing beyond pit lane, let alone exploring the pockmarked public road environment, the jury is out on the steel sprung RS Sport suspension’s ride comfort, or how well it balances ride and handling. Or how this optional system differs tangibly from the standard fit air suspension.
Switching from a preferable Dynamic suspension mode to Comfort on track, though, reveals not a lot of difference in lofty outright pace despite some dulling of driver engagement. Also, in its default ON setting, the stability control system allows an ample window to extract its heady talents before intervening.
Planted and surefooted, yet engaging and friendly, the RS6 Avant demonstrates, in no small manner, that big performance can also serve as a mechanism of safety. If this hefty wagon can carve across a greasy Lukey Heights crest with utter confidence at hot pace, it’ll handle a wet country road at the speed limit with consummate ease.
So convincing are its sporting credentials that, from behind the wheel, you simply forget there’s room for five adults and 565 litres of luggage space lurking back there in your rearview mirror. It’s a bona-fide, red-misted performer to its core then, added utility notwithstanding.
And while a handful of full-noise circuit laps reveal one side of the RS6 Avant’s holistic character, it’s got the crucial fire and brimstone stuff well covered. Though it’s not without criticism.
Fortuitously, Audi had a number of smaller RS4 Avants at its big brother’s local launch to sample. At sub-$150K, just 331kW and 430Nm from its naturally aspirated V8 and a mere 4.7-second 0-100km/h claim, surely the more compact wagon is an experience diluted, right?
Indeed not. In fact, the RS4 Avant managed to shed unfavorable light on its larger sibling: a much fiercer soundtrack, brisker off-the-mark response, a chassis lighter on its feet and a generally more charismatic vibe.
So while the RS6 Avant may well remain the hottest wagon on the planet, the enemy in the fight for the best high-performance family car on the market looks to come from within the Audi family itself.