Back in 2008, I was fortunate enough to test the second-generation Audi RS6 Avant in southern France on the supremely well-sorted circuit at Le Castellet, a.k.a. Paul Ricard. I was thrown out there with the 572-horsepower bi-turbo 5.0-liter V10-equipped behemoth behind one of Audi's DTM pros and was convinced in short order that the flaming hippo in my hands was going to get the better of me on one or another of the track's tight esses. I made it out alive and invigorated, of course, but knew that that RS6 Avant was the heaviest that these thunderwagons should ever be allowed to get. At around 4,650 pounds with driver aboard, it was just way more lateral momentum at speed than any pilot needs on a track – or for that matter, on a favorite hot curving road.
Now it's time for the 2013 Audi RS6 Avant to lay us out with a flying scissor kick from the corner ropes. This version of the highway and byway marauder from quattro GmbH is a decidedly greater piece of work than was the car I drove in 2008. This time, there will only be the Avant body configuration – no RS6 sedan – and, as with the previous generation, North America won't be at the receiving end when deliveries start at the end of July this year.
I can only whine loudly about what a pity that is; the new RS6 Avant with its 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 is the absolute best Audi RS model I have tested in over a decade. It weighs in 220 pounds less than its predecessor, loses 20 horsepower, gains 37 pound-feet of torque, and torches the previous car's acceleration time to 60 miles per hour by seven-tenths of a second, or in other words, it needs only 3.8 seconds. That's seriously hair-brained action in a family-car wrapper. There are a few reasons as to why it's that much quicker, but one key is the greater 17.4 psi of boost pressure from each turbocharger versus the 10.2 psi per unit on the last generation's spec sheet. Then there are the tighter ratios of the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox against the six-speed Tiptronic of 2008.
And that's exactly why I am so smitten: Audi RS models have routinely depressed me with their ultimate lack of racy finesse, leaving me invariably convinced that the S models are by far the best bet, as they at least deliver as much as they promise – and for a mess less cash. This time, this RS6 Avant was properly smacking me around when I wanted to be smacked around, squeezing almost all lateral staying power out of my torso and generally forcing the optional 21-inch Pirelli P Zeros to work harder than I've felt rubber work on any such car. This thing is delightfully disturbing.
My test car has the Dynamic Package Plus and is let out to 190 mph.
Buyers of the RS6 Avant can get the stock setup limited to 155 mph, or they can grab the Dynamic package that takes things to 174 mph. My test car, painted Suzuka Grey Metallic (though it sure looks white), however, includes the Dynamic Package Plus – cue the chorus of angels – and is let out to 190 mph. To go with the added speed, the "Plus" includes carbon ceramic brake discs, a rear sport differential, RS sport suspension plus with dynamic ride control, dynamic steering, full LED headlights and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
So, it's a holy terror... with a super hot auto-dimming rearview mirror. But it's also, of course, possibly the most practical expensive holy terror you'll ever come across. The RS performance seats up front – manual fore-aft adjustment, but automated all other ways – and the slightly elevated rear bench are comfortable, very supportive, and with buckets of space for all five folks aboard. In back, cargo is decent at between 20.0 cubic feet and nearly 60.0 cu-ft when you fold the seats and load to the roof like a coed returning to the dorms. Load flexibility is just enough back there, and this RS6 Avant also has a floor cargo net, a low load barrier on aluminum runners to keep everything from flying forward on hard stops, a vertical separation net and a cargo-hiding retractable cover.
Audi estimates 3.9 seconds for a dalliance with 100 kmh.
Yadda-yadda, practical schmactical – I'm here for the 4.0-liter EA 824 bi-turbo V8 bolted into the eight-tenths-of-an-inch-lowered RS chassis. Audi estimates 3.9 seconds for a dalliance with 100 kmh, so we took the liberty of knocking off a tenth for the sake of the 0-to-60-mph run, making it 3.8 seconds. Yet if the RS6 Avant, as hefty as it is, doesn't do this dash in 3.5 seconds or less, I'll be the one most surprised. Driving this wagon on the various loops around Munich, I had a mental image of this ultra-hot A6 wagon rumbling along and my body attached to the steering wheel just waving like a banner flapping in the wind. The RS6 Avant is exactly this omnipotent, authoritative and dominating. Yet fuel use is 30-percent more efficient than the previous model's V10 thanks in part to the cylinder-on-demand technology, in part to the start-stop function and in great part to the higher-pressure and altogether wiser fuel-injection system.
The Autobahn was drying off after a rain when I merged onto it, and was thus clean. It was also relatively empty and a three-laner. So off I went, torpedoes be damned. At 190 mph, every single fuel-saving boast of the new V8 with COD and start-stop is summarily thrown out the window as the Audi swigs the heady fuel liqueur, mad with power. Countryside in the periphery became a blur as my eyes stared bolt forward. The chassis' stability on 21-inch Pirellis is as though on the proverbial rails. The gusts of wind that happen following a storm front blowing through get shattered by the RS6 Avant ramrod, though this wagon does present one helluva frontal area with which to be dealt. Whatever windblown sidesteps that happen at this speed are deftly and subtly corrected by the sleek RS6 Avant shooting through the atmosphere. Coming down off such a multi-mile fling is sensational stuff – it's as though the Audi is asking you for a cigarette after all that passion-letting.
At 190 mph, every single fuel-saving boast of the new V8 is thrown out the window.
Leaving Audi Drive Select in full Dynamic mode via the onboard interface results in great exhilaration. But switching to Comfort or Auto and hanging loose in everyday driving is equally fine. The behavior of the eight-speed gearbox as dictated by the dedicated ECU is calibrated in expert fashion to allow complete smoothness whenever desired. Leave it in Dynamic mode at in-town speeds, though, and the loud sucking sound from the off-throttle backdraft of the optional RS Sport exhaust can also result in notable lurches from the powertrain. (Maybe it's just best to keep it at 190 mph at all times?)
That might not make for a refined drive, but I love this track-car style of reaction; this is RennSport, kids, not some cash-dragging marketing exercise like some other models wearing the RS badge. The RS6 treatment is ridiculously better than the already good S6 treatment. Given that the base price would work out to around $107,000 if it ever came to the United States, it had damned well better be, too. That's getting toward Porsche Panamera GTS territory, so there's no messing about with half measures allowed.
The RS6 treatment is ridiculously better than the already good S6 treatment.
Even on tighter technical bits of Bavarian two-lane, the lowered RS6 Avant on its Italian treads, more rigid springs and adaptive RS dampers continues to wildly impress. The sheer thrust that one feels increasingly comfortable – and safe – carrying through curves is truly shocking, while understeer is nicely managed and the sport differential heightens the all-conquering feeling at the wheel. There's a lot of car here, but it has received the correct heart transplant from quattro GmbH, and its mass feels almost light in most maneuvers. Add in the rear-biased quattro all-wheel drive and ceramic brake discs, and the sports-car feel simply grows. And all the while that new RS exhaust music just makes me swoon.
The Audi marketing folks tell me that the RS7 will essentially be identical to this setup, and not softened up in any way, when it arrives at the very end of this year in the States. And they reminded me that the RS7 configuration weighs 110 pounds less than this RS6 Avant. For the RS7, we can look forward to paying upwards of $112,000. So far, there is approval to have the optional Dynamic Package for reaching 174 mph, but the Dynamic Plus Package as tested here has yet to get the green light. This all has something to do with the specific carbon ceramic brake disc supply, so it is likely that the 190-mph Dynamic Plus and all its goodies will arrive Stateside later in 2014.
They tell me that the RS7 will essentially be identical to this setup, and weigh 110 pounds less.
If all this comes to pass as promised, North American Audi RS seekers might not have the emotion of this thunderwagon, but a similarly steroidal RS7 Sportback is not a half-bad thing to look forward to.