Driven: 2009 Audi RS 6 Avant

With every European car manufacturer it seems, there will always be a selection of models not available on the left side of the Atlantic – the greener grass on the other side of a row of pickets. For Audi, there is no more in-your-face example of this European forbidden fruit than the latest and greatest RS 6 Avant. And even though a more American mainstream-friendly sedan is known to be on the way, there’s been no mention of any potential sale of the car in the States. That said, the car hasn’t exactly been ruled out yet either and, combined with our own taste fruit we’re told we can’t eat, we headed to Germany’s Eurospeedway Lausitz to get sample the car.

As its name would suggest, the Audi RS 6 is the next step up in performance from the company’s V10-powered S6, currently on sale in the US. However, simply walking up on the Sprint Blue wagon as it sat in front of us on the tarmac, it’s easy to see there are clear and significant changes.

Before a hood is raised or door opened, the more radical nature of the car is clearly defined. Inspired by the original Quattro coupes that rallied to worldwide success in the eighties, fender blisters never looked so mean as they do on the RS 6. The fattened arches give the RS 6 a wider stance and allow for even more tire to be crammed underneath, shod on a new 20-inch RS 5-spoke wheel design.

The front fascia of the car has also been changed, with all focus on airflow to feed the engine that lies behind it. The S6’s strip of lower LED lights has been integrated into the headlight itself, leaving the new gaping intakes below unobstructed. Even the grille of the A6 loses its traditional crossbar, rendering the mandatory-in-Europe license plate floating on the front of black honeycomb grillework that’s a trademark of the RS range.

At the rear, changes are more subtle. The wider stance means the car gets a unique bumper to match, though the overall shape isn’t changed much. Two wide oval chrome exhaust tips hint at the potent engine feeding them gases – another RS cue, while the lower valance gets a ribbed splitter design seemingly inspired by Audi’s DTM racecars.

Under the hood, the already tight confines thanks to fitting the large V10 in the nose of the A6’s chassis are made even more intimate thanks to the addition of a new twin-turbo setup and other upgrades made to help account for a significant increase in power. With turbos the big V10 jumps from 435 hp and 398 lb-ft to 572bhp at 6250rpm and 479lb-ft of torque from a low 1,500 RPM all the way up to 6,250 rpm. For those counting benchmarks, that puts the RS 6 well ahead of the BMW M5 (500bhp and 384lb-ft) and even the Mercedes-Benz E63 (507bhp and 464lb-ft) in the legs race.

Opening the door of the RS 6, it’s clear this is another place where the car steps well beyond Audi’s S6. Our particular tester came complete with a whole host of Audi Exclusive interior upgrades from quattro GmbH. The car’s leather was a hue somewhere between amber and dark beige, with accenting black stitching on leather swathed across the door panels and armrest. Inverse black leather with amber-beige stitching skinned the dash,, steering wheel and shift boot while even matching piping was added to the floormats.

All of the buttons controlling the car’s MMI system have been finished in satin silver aluminum finish to match the aluminum accenting elsewhere in the car, such as new aluminum pedals and dead pedal down by your feet. Like the RS 4 before it, door handles have a hollowed out look that suggest weight savings but probably don’t save you any more than hitting the lav on the way to the garage. The RS 6 gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel. For the RS 6, the wheel is cladded with perforated leather – fatter and more contoured than any Audi wheel we’ve seen to date.

Hopping inside, we depress the RS 6’s console-mounted starter button. The bi-turbo V10 fires up and comes to a quiet idle ever-so-subtly more gutteral than that of the S6. Rolling at a slow pace to leave the track and first sample the car on nearby roads, the sound is again not far from the S6. Out on the highway though, the differences are clear and present. Under healthy throttle, the call is not at at all like the V10 in the more pedestrian S-version. You would perhaps expect that given the RS 6’s biturbo mill, but our first run through the gears makes it immediately apparent that Audi engineers spent plenty of time on exhaust note. Where the S6 sounds throaty and deep – almost NASCAR like, the RS 6 sounds screaming mad as revs pile on, then dials out as the transmission shifts cogs for the briefest of moments, paired with a gutteral “bwap” as the engine takes to the lower rev count, only to begin the scream all over again. It’s intoxicating.

“I love this car,” said the Volkswagen Group’s and Audi AG’s engine guru with board level position Wolfgang Hatz, before launching into an audible impression of the RS 6 under full throttle. “Grrrrrr, bwap, grrrr, bwap.” He’s admittedly proud – something even more significant when you consider this is the development mind behind such great engines as the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder in the first-generation M3, the 3.6-liter boxer in the Porsche 964 RS and the R8’s own high-revving 4.2-liter mill.

From a stop, the RS 6’s initial acceleration is not unlike an S6. The throttle is touchy, though not razor-touchy like the S6. As boost comes on, the superior power ratings become apparent. However, even then, the delivery is so smooth that it makes the RS 6 deceptively fast much like the twin-turbo W12 found in the Audi’s Bentley Continental GT corporate cousin.

There’s only one transmission available in the RS 6 – an Audi-termed Tiptronic with conventional torque converter and manual control over gear selection if you so choose. Shift inputs take only a tenth of a second to change a gear, and our RS 6 tester even let us bounce off the rev limiter when the engine first wound up to redline faster than we’d anticipated. Like all other modern Audi Tiptronic transmissions, you can also make use of a sport automatic mode when seeking the best performance, as it does an admirable job keeping you in the heart of the power range albeit swilling fuel all the way. The normal automatic D setting is best for daily driving and the bank account.

We’ve got limited time in the smurf blue metallic grocery-getter and find ourselves torn. We eventually find signs indicating the legendary Autobahn is just klicks away, but we are in danger of missing our window of track access back at the EuroSpeedway. With reluctance, we swing a U and head back. We know the claimed top speed, and are more curious about how this 4464-lb. car will handle hot into a curve where we know we can run it with fear of no Polizei intervention.

Eurospeedway Lausitz is the latest home of the Audi Sportscar Experience driving school and, in fact, our RS 6 tester is one of their charges. With no spare parts, tires or wheels, they’d prefer we go out with a lead car. All’s well though as the driver is a professional driver with rally cred and 25-years of experience at Audi… and he’ll be driving an R8. Open track might be preferable, but we figured it’d be interesting to see how the more powerful and heavier RS 6 fares against the lighter and lower R8 with its horsepower disadvantage.

As a Sportscar Experience car, there’s no way to defeat ESP in our RS 6 tester. The theory is that they don’t want to toy with the idea of an inexperienced driver stuffing this $100,000+ wagon into the wall, though we’re happy to have it after the first few curves of the course.

Before we hit the back straight of the track, several nuances have already come to light. While we’ve learned the track in an R8 just this morning, the RS 6 Avant has clearly more weight to throw around as well as a significantly taller center of gravity. That said, it feels surprisingly light on its feet – even willing to throttle-off oversteer or swing the tail with the right flick of the short-ratio steering.

Unlike the S6 and its conventional steel spring and shock suspension, the RS 6 has an adjustable damper controlled by the MMI with three settings – Comfort, Dynamic and Sport. Comfort is nice on rough roads and definitely more comfortable than the sometimes-harsh S6, while Sport is the clear choice on the track.

This suspension configuration isn’t to be confused with the air suspension in the S8 or the magnetic ride system in the TT. Rather, think of it like the old Koni adjustable shocks where the pressure of the shock is changed by adjusting the valve. In the Koni this was done by a manual action, though it is all done electronically via controls in the MMI system in the RS 6.

Hot into a corner, there’s more need for care with input to the throttle or brakes, but an experienced driver can use this to his or her advantage in dialing a small bit of oversteer or drift into a turn before the ESP kicks in. As with the R8, Audi’s left some wiggle room in the ESP’s programming to let you have some fun, though less experienced drivers may find themselves constantly sliding into the embrace of the safety net and significantly lessening the lifespan of the tires and brakepads.

The RS 6 has the same 40:60 bias Torsen quattro system as most any Audi north of and including the A4 nowadays – a setup that offers some rear bias, but will also understeer if you aren’t careful. The RS rotates admirably, but it should be clear that you still can’t play open parking-lot drift king.

Steering feels as if it’s been lifted wholesale from the S6. It’s light enough around town, and weights up in the curves but is still not as communicative as a rear-wheel drive application where no torque is pushed through the front wheels.

We do wish the car had column-mounted paddles over the wheel mounted satin silver butterfly wings in the RS 6. We’ve seen the column controls before in Bentleys and even a European Touareg V10 TDI we once tested. Even though they’re not quite as sightly, they’re much more functional. With the wheel turned 180 degrees and your hands rotating from the 10 and 2:00 positions, there’s no quick and easy way to make a shift.

The lead R8 is clearly not pushing it in the corners, but we’re surprisingly not that far off our morning pace in an R8 of our own. Out on the back straight, the R8 hammers it and so do we. He’s not pulling on us but, in turn, we’re not reeling him in either. The RS 6 and all its horsepower is at a stalemate in a straight line with the lower-powered R8 due clearly to the ample amount of extra heft it’s pushing around the course.

After just five laps, our track time with the RS 6 has come to an end. Audi’s carbon ceramic brakes are optional on the RS 6, though the car we had on track has the base setup 12.6” rotors clenched on demand by six-piston aluminum calipers. Even with the lesser stopper fitment, we experience no fade in our five laps. Still, a cool-down lap is in order to let the rotors (and the turbos) dissipate heat a bit before we head into the pit.

Running laps on a track isn’t the best way to milk high mileage from any car, much less a 5.0-liter V10 fitted with two turbochargers. In the real world, the RS 6 is said to be able to actually get 20.1 mpg on the highway and drop considerably when you press on the alloy pedal – not bad, but not all that great with today’s fuel prices. We’re guessing though, anyone in the market for an RS 6 doesn’t really care about price per gallon.

Having bitten this blue apple, there’s no surprise that we’d like more. Audi tells us the car hasn’t been ruled out for America, but that’s far from saying its coming. A sedan is on the way (to Europe at least), with pre-production versions having been spotted cruising around Neckarsulm and lapping the Nurburgring. Knowing Audi’s past offering of an RS 6 sedan and the brand’s 10:1 sedan to wagon ratio, we’d bet it will arrive as a sedan if it arrives at all. However, if they’re listening, we suggest the Avant. The new RS 6 is even more of an exotic than the old and it’s our belief that it wouldn’t be as susceptible to the normal buying trends applied to mass market Audis. Our gut says bring it as a wagon and the car will get even more attention – a ballsy move to be sure.

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