Audi 2011

Audi RS 6 Review

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Model Tested:
2010 Audi RS6, V10, petrol, six-speed semi-automatic transmission, four-wheel drive

During World Wars I and II, the British Navy cunningly used ships that appeared to be quite normal to lure German U-Boats into making surface attacks. The ships were, in actual fact, heavily armed and, once a U-Boat had surfaced in order to sink these seemingly merchant vessels, the covers were removed and massive artillery obliterated the enemy. Just nine of these were commissioned by the Royal Navy and they came to be known as Q-Ships because they were built in Queenstown, Ireland. They were seagoing wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So if you ever wondered where the term ‘Q-Car’ came from, there’s your answer. And there’s a lot to be said about Q-Cars because they can offer visceral, supercar thrills in a variety of quite convincing disguises. If you want the performance of an Italian exotic without onlookers questioning the proportions of your private parts, there are plenty to choose from and, it has to be said, some of the best come from Germany…

At the moment, there’s no doubt in my mind that the world’s best Q-Car is the Jaguar XFR. When the new BMW M5 comes along that may well change but there’s an Audi that barely registers on the radar these days and that’s a shame because under its svelte suit beats the heart of a Lamborghini and that alone makes it worthy of consideration, if not all-out veneration.

The Audi RS6 is frankly a ludicrous piece of kit, particularly in Avant form. Ever wanted to shift a wardrobe but found the Gallardo to be a bit tight for space in the back? You need an RS 6 Avant. Which in itself is a ludicrous thing to say because the chances of you actually needing to move furniture at over 300kmh are practically nil. So you won’t need one but should you want one? Tricky one, that.

Initially only available in five-door Avant form, the four-door RS 6 saloon came along a few months later and it was obvious to all which car Audi had in its sights: BMW’s epic M5. Yes, there are some crazy models on offer from Mercedes’ AMG division but they all rely on V8s to provide a hammer blow and you can discount the Jaguar XFR because there’s no estate version. But the M5 was available in both formats and had a fearsome V10 engine under the bonnet. What was Audi to do? Develop its own V10? Why, when there’s a perfectly decent V10 fitted to Lamborghini’s sublime Gallardo?

Lamborghini has benefited from parent company Audi’s four-wheel drive know-how over the years so the tables were turned and the RS 6 was treated to one of the planet’s greatest engines, long before it found its way into the R8. Potentially the RS 6 could have been the world’s greatest Q-Car but sadly it isn’t.

That’s not to say it isn’t a very good car, because it is. Let’s start from the outside before looking at the peerless engineering beneath. It’s identikit Audi wherever you look, which might be a bit boring but there’s no denying that the RS 6 is a handsome car, whether four-door or five. Personally I think it looks best as a five-door because there’s a great deal of gravitas and presence to be enjoyed and it’s way better looking than the equivalent M5. Huge, five-spoke alloys nestle within blistered wheel arches that pay tribute to the original quattro and there’s a pervading sense of peerless build quality wherever you look and it’s far more modern in every respect than the model that went before it.

To the informed observer, apart from the RS 6 badging, there are giveaways in the rear diffuser and twin, oval exhausts and opening the electric tailgate of the Avant reveals 565 litres of luggage space, even before the rear seats are folded flat.

Take a seat inside and that sense of quality continues unabated. Whatever you look at, whatever you touch, looks and feels utterly perfect. Granted, it’s just a more luxurious A6 in here but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s lovely leather upholstery mixing it up with carbon fibre trim and more than enough room for five adults with normal limbs. For the driver there’s a thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel and alloy pedals and paddle shifters.

Twisting the key stirs the V10 into life and, at this point, it’s worth noting that Audi claims it’s ‘based’ on the Lambo motor, not the same unit. It’s certainly tuned differently and offers 650Nm of twist from as little as 1600rpm and maximum power of 426.5kW. 0-100km/h takes 4.6 seconds and it maxes out at a restricted 250 (Audi claims it would easily hit 280 without the electronic nanny) – figures that cannot be easily ignored. Audi has bolted a couple of turbochargers onto this masterpiece so the character of the unit has changed greatly. But then the RS 6 weighs 2025kg in Avant form so it needed to, really.

With all that power there was a real danger that the RS 6 would be an unwieldy brute but Audi has spent quality time developing a suspension that won’t throw you into the nearest hedge if you put your foot down. Naturally, there’s quattro four-wheel drive and the torque is divvied up 40:60 so it feels like it’s rear-wheel drive in normal circumstances, which is a good thing. There’s Dynamic Ride Control, too, which has three settings: Sport, Dynamic and Comfort.

The engine tone is severely muted when you compare it to the raucous Gallardo and this is initially a disappointment because the Lambo V10 makes one of the most amazing noises – it’s, and I’m sorry about this, nothing short of eargasmic. I think if I had an RS 6 I’d try to find some way of liberating more aural pleasure from it but let’s forget Lamborghini even exists for the sake of this test as neither company is keen for comparisons on any level.

On the move, the steering is light and easy. Well, that’s at a walking pace, at least. Get on the gas and it all becomes extremely heavy and the RS 6 feels cumbersome, every bit the two tonne monster it actually is. On a race track this wouldn’t be much of a problem but on the open road it’s just unpleasant and strips away all the feelings of luxurious splendour provided by the wonderful accommodation. The steering isn’t the only problem, though, because that adjustable suspension is chronic.

Set it to Sport and the ride becomes so firm that your fillings will shake loose and you can’t hold a hand still enough to shift to the next gear so best leave it in auto mode. The sheer weight of the car cannot be disguised, either, and the nose insists on running wide whenever the car enters a tight apex at speed. On a track you can knock off the electronics and get a smoking tail slide but on a public road you’d need psychological help for attempting it because it’s far from sprightly. Get it out of shape and you’ll need plenty of room to reign it back in.

Brain-frying power and grip is there in abundance, as you might expect, and if you find yourself in an RS 6 in either the North or South Poles you’ll be able to get further than you might in an M5 but there’s precious little interactivity in normal conditions. Which means that, despite the massive reserves of power constantly available, the fun factor just isn’t there. And this is where the RS 6 has to give way to both the M5 and the XFR because they never feel anything less than a riot on four wheels. Which is what a Q-Car is supposed to be all about.

I’ve seen a few of these on the road since my test and I can’t help but feel some respect for their drivers because, at the end of the day, they’re inside a stunningly fast Audi and there are few cars in the world better engineered. But when I handed back the keys after my spell in one I felt no desire to own it. Audi does know how to make a brilliant, almost perfect car, because there’s the R8. The RS 6, however, is just too compromised and too confused to make it truly desirable.

The current model has been with us since 2008 and this year sees the launch of the all-new Audi A6 so there’ll be a new RS 6 with us fairly soon. If Audi has paid attention to its critics and customers then the new one could well end up being the world’s greatest Q-Car – a proper wolf in sheep’s clothing. We live in hope.