An erupting volcano – it seems the only fair way to describe the level of power unleashed by the immense twin-turbo V8 shoehorned under the bonnet of the new 2016 Audi RS6 Avant Performance.
Whoever it was at Quattro GmbH (the division that builds Audi’s high-performance models) that struck on the idea to add more power to the RS6 must be positively certifiable – and in the best possible way.
The previous twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 Audi wagon generated a supercar-sized 412kW of power and 700Nm of ground-shaking torque, but the new Performance edition boosts it to 445kW and 750Nm between 2500 and 5500rpm on overboost.
Off-the-line acceleration is simply astounding: 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds (two-tenths quicker than the old RS6) and a top speed of 250km/h, which is electronically limited. For what its worth, that’s as quick as the second-generation Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.
These are truly staggering numbers, especially given the fact that we’re talking about a two-tonne-plus (2025kg) family hauler capable of lugging around five adults and their luggage in unbridled luxury.
But this is no free kick, either. That extra firepower comes with a $15,500 price hike over the old RS6 Avant, though for its $245,400 (plus on-roads) you do get some additional kit along with it. Premium stuff, such as Audi’s Matrix LED headlights and dynamic turning indicators at the front and rear are now standard.
There are a few other points of difference between this new powerhouse model and its predecessor, like the titanium look finish for the single frame grille, front spoiler and air intakes, mirror caps, window surrounds and rear diffuser. They match up well with the new 21-inch cast alloy wheels.
There’s also a bunch of tasty optional extras available, none more valued than the huge ceramic brakes (390mm discs up front) that also shave 10 kilograms off the standard steel units.
You won’t need them here on Australian public roads given the relatively low speed limits, but in Europe where you can regularly commute between cities at speeds well above 200km/h, I’d suggest they are all-but mandatory.
Of course you’ll pay for the privilege, but also included in the $25,840 Dynamic package fitted to our tester is dynamic steering, RS Sport Suspension Plus with dynamic ride control, and increased top speed regulator – you know, the electronic gizmo that releases the shackles and allows you to wind it up to speeds beyond 300km/h – useful only on a German Autobahn these days.
Clearly, this isn’t a car for frugally minded individuals. That said, it’s hardly a showy bit of kit either. Apart from the indiscrete RS6 badges, you’ll need an enthusiast’s eye to spot the real go-fast signs on this Nardo Grey, five-door speed demon, despite the fitment of an exterior Carbon styling package to our test car that's an $8500 option.
There aren’t many, but most telling are the pumped-up guards – front and rear – that shield a set of monster 21-inch wheels shod with ultra-low profile Continental rubber. Another telltale indicator is the deep front apron with the word “quattro” emblazoned smack bang in the centre, along with a pronounced rear diffuser.
To the average punter though, it’s just a big, grey station wagon ready to tackle school runs and weekend sport duties.
Inside, it’s pretty much the same discrete affair, with luxury trimmings and plenty of space being the decided focus of the RS6.
The combination Alcantara and Valcona leather-upholstered seats with blue honeycomb stitching are exquisite, offering armchair-style comfort, with the obligatory side bolster.
It’s not the latest and greatest Audi fit-out you get in the new TT, A4 or Q7, all of which get the tricky Virtual Cockpit, but it still feels special with the brand’s trademark aluminium inlays and knurled knobs featuring front, right and centre.
The carbon-fibre with blue twill inlays look sensational, too. They’re a high-gloss finish and beautifully fashioned - a perfect match for such an exclusive estate as this RS6 surely is.
While it’s doubtful that prospective buyers of the RS6 would rate space as a key purchasing trigger, it’s nice to know that it’s got plenty of it: 564 litres behind the rear seats alone and 1680 litres when they’re folded. Rear seat passenger room is just as cavernous, with ample head, shoulder and legroom for three adults (yes, in the RS6 you can fit three, but in its RS7 liftback sedan sibling, there are only four seats).
The main drawcard, though, is that monstrous twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 powerhouse under the bonnet. Hit the starter button and it erupts, much like that volcano I mentioned earlier. There’s a deep, deep burble to the soundtrack, and right from the get-go you get the sense that it’s begging to be let off the leash. It likes to rev: redline is set at a lofty 6800rpm – although all 445kW arrives at 6100rpm – and it had no problem getting there, at least in the Dynamic mode.
Acceleration out of the blocks is truly mind-blowing, unsettling even, at least for anyone not accustomed to high g-force assaults on one’s torso. There’s a constant 700Nm of torque available from just 1750-6000rpm in tamer drive modes without overboost activation, so it’s always ready for battle. Full-throttle moments are obviously short-lived and mostly confined to overtaking in this country, but in Europe, where you can stand on it and keep your right foot pinned, the pace builds rapidly, almost without warning.
We’ve driven the current RS7 Performance, which uses the same drivetrain at as the latest RS6 Avant and you only have to prod the throttle (even in top gear) to see 250km/h appear in the head-up display – I’m not kidding, it piles on the pace that quick, and there’s still heaps of pedal travel remaining, even at that speed.
The problem is, you end up running out of road long before you exhaust this wagon’s massive potential.
You know you’re moving fast, because everything outside is a blur, but the sensation of speed is somehow concealed by the effortless nature of this engine, even under big loads. It just never seems to be working all that hard.
In the wet the RS6 - with Audi’s trademark quattro all-wheel-drive system - is simply untouchable. Full-throttle standing starts produce little or no wheelspin, and that’s in a torrential downpour. That kind of traction inspires huge confidence, to the point where you wouldn’t know it was raining at times.
Unlike the sedan rival BMW M5, which gets a dual-clutch transmission, both the Audi RS6 and RS7 are equipped with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic, and while it may not be quite as crisp, the shifts are super smooth around town and still very quick when you’re really banging through the gears.
Once off the high-speed motorways, it’s also dead-easy to drive around town, particularly when left in either Auto or Comfort mode. It’s almost docile, preferring to settle back and amble along in one of the higher gears in this eight-speed transmission, while gently sipping premium fuel at the equally astonishing rate of 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres. It’s achievable too, but only if you feather the perfectly calibrated throttle.
The ride is as expected for a car capable of such savage performance, particularly this example, which has traded the more pliant standard air-sprung set-up with the tauter Dynamic Ride Control dampers. It uses a hydraulic link between the front and rear dampers for absolute poise when hard charging in the bends.
The system is hooked up with the car’s Drive Select module, which opens up a good breadth of ride changeable ride modes for different conditions. It’s clearly a softer ride in the Comfort setting, but even then, there’s an underlying firm side to the ride without being crashy or jarring.
Switch to Auto, and you’ll get the best of both worlds - limiting body roll when you’re having the occasional crack (as you tend to do in an RS6), while the Dynamic mode is reserved for proper spirited driving when conditions permit. Funnily enough, I tended to switch between Comfort and Dynamic, rarely using Auto.
The carbon-ceramic brakes fitted to our tester are simply spectacular in their ability to pull this monster up, seemingly on a five-cent piece. Brake fade is, of course, non-existent. And while you most certainly don’t need them here in Australia with our current speed limits, it’s still nice to know you’ve got some of most effective stopping power on the planet at your disposal.
Even for the hardcore enthusiast, it’s difficult to think of a better all-rounder than the RS6 Avant Performance. It’s ferociously quick, can carry a big load and to the conservative punter, it pretty much looks like a big Audi wagon.
It is, in fact, the ultimate luxury sleeper car.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.