ABT's modified RS 6 reminds us just how good the 'standard' car is
It just looks right, doesn’t it? Even though it’s just the seven-year old shape of an A6, rolling along on 21-inch alloys. Bold, blistered wheelarches stretched thin over the top. Silver door mirrors. Oval tailpipes. Big, brash ‘Quattro’ legend stamped up front. And yet… cor. What a looker. The RS 6 has presence in quantities no family estate car has any right to offer. And it’s a similar story with the pace.
But so what? Plenty of Audis have looked knuckle-bitingly punchy. And served up obscene portions of power. Why this RS 6 goes down among Audi’s finest is because the Quattro boys and girls realised - albeit briefly - less is in fact more.
You might remember the RS 6 before this one had a detuned 5.2-litre Lamborghini V10 crammed into the nose, boosted and torqued-up for super-wagon duty by twin turbos. It was the undisputed fast estate king, thanks to 572bhp. And when Audi replaced it, the new RS 6 boasted fewer cylinders. And less power. Could der fasczinating German power wars really be over?
No. The new 4.0-litre, bi-turbo V8-powered RS 6 was indeed 20bhp down on the old car, but it was marginally lighter (the right side of 2,000kg this time) and actually torquier still: 700Nm plays 650Nm in the V10. So you had a car with more on-demand poke, slightly less weight (especially over the nose), a quicker eight-speed auto gearbox, and a more flatulent, less muted V8 rumble. All the ingredients, then, for supreme teleportation of you, your nearest and dearest, and yes, the dog. Because every piece about an RS 6 has to contain a minimum quota of canine-themed jokes. It’s the law.
Sure, it’s not a chassis festooned with sensation, but the steering’s a sensible speed and weight (this is a car largely conceived before Audi got to messing around with Dynamic Steering) and despite its size, the RS 6 is remarkably easy to place and hustle. Hot-hatch-esque, in fact, I’d say (mind you, hatchbacks have got kinda huge these days). When Audi itself tried to sportify the A7 to make the RS 7 a palpably sharper device, it mucked it up. Six is greater than seven…
The RS 6 didn’t stay second-best to its dad in raw numbers for long. In 2015, Audi revealed the RS 6 Performance, boosted to 602bhp. The age of the six hundred horsepower estate car had arrived. Yet, none of the endearing day-to-day abilities were ruined by the RS 6 overwhelming a 911 Turbo S’s output. Still rode well. Still shrunk around you at speed. Still shut up and cruised politely when yobbery was not the order of the day.
Only now, the top speed was 305km/h – still limited – and it’d see off 0-100km/h in a claimed 3.7 seconds, and sub-3.5 in real life. It was the consummate super-estate.
And then, in 2017, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. The glorious new Mercedes-AMG E 63 S also topped the 600bhp mark, and brought with it a rear-biased all-wheel drive safety net that out-handled the RS 6’s ruthless traction. The AMG also sounds fruitier, steered with greater clarity and verve, and it has the advantage of a six-years-younger cabin and tech. Oh, and it’s got a bigger boot. The biggest estate car boot of all, in fact. Woof-woof.
But, if you drive them within a few days of one another, the RS 6 proves it’s by no means schooled by the boisterous AMG. There’s no doubt it generates less tyre roar and its engine/exhaust are happier to melt into the background than the effervescent E 63’s V8. So, the Audi’s a better GT car, and that’s before you get to the big one: the ride. The new E 63 is very, very firm. Right on the borderline, in fact, of what you could tolerate in an everyday wagon, and that’s in the Comfort setting. Forget Sport and Sport Plus in the UK – they’re jarringly pointless.
This is where the RS 6’s softly-softly approach might just win you back. It’s a more one-dimensional machine than the Benz (how often have we said that about Audi Sport and Quattro GmbH products?), but boy does it suit the brief of a weaponised workhorse.
And then we come back to that stance. It’s so achingly handsome, isn’t it? 2018 will be this generation of RS 6’s curtain call. Fingers crossed Audi remembers how much it got right about this one when it’s replaced…
STORY Ollie Kew