Audi’s blockbuster RS6 is back, in grand Avant style
IAIN ROBERTSONNo single motorcar of the past quarter of a century has impressed Iain Robertsonas much as the Audi RS6 Avant and the all-new, imperious, ‘master of all it surveys’is being readied for January 2020 deliveries, in its most competent form ever.The growth of the estate car market, which is intrinsic to the UK motoring scene,every bit as much as our demand for convertibles and sports cars, has beenrecognised by a number of manufacturers over the past few years. While Volvo isacknowledged as a brand serving that segment, it is not alone, with Peugeot,Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and, naturally, Audi all pitching their finest offeringsinto the ring.
However, with utilitarian needs central to the estate car’s existence, most of thosecarmakers tending to it relied on external suppliers, usually car tuners and their like,to produce limited numbers of higher performance variants, among which the 1980sAMG (Merc) Hammer and its in-house, current and thunderous E63 successor areprime examples. Yet, it was Audi that established a manufacturer-based option thatwould combine super-luxury with ultra-high-performance around 25 years ago, whenit leant on its close relationship with Porsche to create the first RS2 Avant.
If the prospect of trans-continental, all-season travel, with partner, two children,granny and family pet on-board, out-accelerating Porsches and topping-out at closeto 190mph has even an ounce of appeal, then you may start to comprehend theimpact that the original RS6 had on me, in 2002, at its Scottish-based launch. Agroup of us flew into Edinburgh Airport, grabbed the keys to an RS6 and drove to thestately Balbirnie House Hotel, in Markinch, Fife, our abode for the night. We werejoined by Audi fan, Jay Kay, lead singist of popular beat combo, Jamiroquai.With its widened fenders, purposefully low stance and big alloy wheels, all enrobedby an estate car body and driven by a grumbling bi-turbo V8 petrol enginepossessing a basso profundo exhaust tone, it was a touch of class that was doingwhat no other carmaker had dared to do before. In some ways, it was an intimidatingand exciting machine but its quattro drivetrain and impeccably good road manners
ensured that, despite its ability to smash the 0-60mph increment in less than 5.0s,familiarity with its dimensions and immense potency grew rapidly and easily.
Four generations in and RS6 has been redressed. Personally, I feel that it looksslightly more ‘overkill’ externally, with (for Audi) a particularly heavy hand applied tosome of its bumper detailing. Huge vents intended to gulp copious amounts of air atthe front compete with similar outlets at the rear to exhaust pent-up heat. While notthe conservative visual feast of the Mark One version, it remains beguiling. However,what lies beneath is the epitome of formidable RS engineering, with complex five-linksuspension front and rear, a road-ripping 595bhp, fuel-sipping mild hybridtechnology, illuminating LED laser headlighting and a promise of 0-60mph in aTesla-taunting 3.3s (0-124mph in 12.0s). It is a confident statement of performanceintent, terminating in the signature drainpipe exhausts; still of big oval design, justone at either end of the back bumper.
Developing a hefty 590lbs ft of torque, at the heart of the 4.0-litre V8’s potency is a48v electrical system, with a 12kW lithium-ion storage battery for harvested energy.At speeds between 34 and 99mph, should the driver lift off the accelerator pedal, theengine will enter ‘coast’ mode for up to 40s, while also recovering energy. The mildhybrid belt-driven starter/generator restarts the engine imperceptibly, as conditionsdictate. Combined with a ‘start:stop’ facility that works at speeds of up to 13mph, fuelsavings of around one pint every 60 miles can be attained. Okay. It is not much but,when you take the RS6’s vast performance envelope into account, it is a practicalmeans to a fuel-saving end. However, the engine also incorporates a ‘cylinder-on-demand’ system that, at low to medium loads, can switch off cylinders 2, 3, 5 and 8,by turning off their injection and ignition systems and closing their inlet and exhaustvalves; once the throttle is re-applied, the engine bursts into life and returns tonormal instantly.Of course, it would not be an Audi RS, let alone a pinnacle RS6, did it not have somebravado in its armoury. An innocuous, flush-fitted switch in the centre consolecarrying an ‘exhaust’ graphic, allows the driver to select one of two ‘noise’ settings;one a just-letting-you-know-I’m-here level, with the other a more hell’s-bells blast ofraucousness, which might be unseemly for a luxury estate car but, then, this is anAudi RS6 estate car.The new multi-link, air suspension system uses aluminium extensively in its construction, while the comprehensively re-engineered power steering ensures remarkable levels of agility and vital feedback to the driver’s fingers. Audi’s fine-tuning engineers sought to achieve a series of significantly enhanced dynamic improvements to the car, partly to respond to requests for less heft at the helm but, also, to make the RS6 feel wieldier. Using the ‘Drive Select’ program, two specific chassis set-ups can be customised by the driver and an RS switch on the steering wheel activates them. While 21.0-inch diameter alloys are standard, the 22.0-inch option (pictured on the test car) equips the car with 285/30 section tyres in Vorsprung trim for even greater grip levels. Advanced ceramic brakes that save around 34kgs over the normal steel system provide prodigious braking potential.The clear black, fully digitised instrument panel is activated at start-up and provides an enormous array of detail information that the driver can dial-up. In fact, with the sort of details that a race engineer might find mildly discombobulating, the readouts can include temperatures of drive components, levels of G-force and individual tyre pressures…when you would have time to look and contemplate any of them, is anybody’s guess. The ventilated and heated Nappa hide seats are luxuriously comfortable but still allow decent space fore and aft, with a load area that can grow from 565 to 1,680-litres, when the rear seats are folded.Conclusion: Audi works to its own Kaizen system of constant product improvement. Just as you think that it cannot make its subsequent model better, it does so. The new Audi RS6 Avant is an ultimate car in innumerable ways. Prices will be announced soon.