By on October 9, 2002

 When you fire-up the Audi RS6, its twin-turbo V8 engine produces the perfectly modulated burble of a modern day muscle car. Then something odd happens. A low whine fills the cabin, quickly and steadily ascending in pitch. It's the same noise you hear in a jet before the engines start, as the Auxiliary Power Unit spools up.

In reality, the RS6' air conditioning pump creates the whine. Or does it? If you so much as breathe on the go pedal, the RS6 accelerates with all the seamless, relentless resolve of a jet fighter. Give the accelerator a hard shove, and the afterburners kick in. The RS6 shifts down a cog, growls in the time-honoured V8 tradition, and blasts forwards like a Tomcat off an aircraft carrier.

 Provided you slot the auto box into Sport, there's no lag. It's quick, quicker, oh-my-God-we're-all-going-to- die-quick! It doesn't matter when you light it up: zero, fifty, 120, whatever. There's only way to stop the headlong rush to the RS6' electronically limited 155mph maximum: take your foot off the gas. The sound stops, and you coast.

Or brake. Hard. With 450 horses underfoot, it's all too easy to find yourself dog sniffing the rear end of a vehicle in front. Other than the Ferrari 355, with its narrow and offset pedals, the RS6 is the only road car I've driven that requires thin-soled racing shoes. Unless you treat the gas pedal like a bees' nest, the RS6 literally lunges down the road. Is this a good thing? Can Audi drivers live with a car that's never more than a toe flex away from adrenalin overload? I suppose that depends on their ability to avoid solid objects and local law enforcement. But generally speaking, yes, of course it is. Absolute power delights absolutely. Until you come to a corner…

 The UK motoring press have continually slated the handling abilities of fast Audis. They've labelled every previous Audi S mutation 'uninvolving'. This is a complete misinterpretation of the products produced by the company's performance-minded engineers. The correct word is 'unpleasant'. The RS6' negotiates bends in the VAG style: heave to and hold. Once the RS6 adopts a cornering stance, it deploys every trick in Durch Technic's book to maintain the car's attitude: ESP traction control, four-wheel-drive, 'supplementary oil damping between diagonally opposed shock absorbers', the works. For the most part, it's genius. The big Audi dispatches long sweepers with turbo-charged Prussian efficiency. If the corner is progressive, with a smooth surface, the RS6 will go 'round with astonishing poise. It can circumnavigate the huge roundabouts over motorways at motorway speeds.

On sharp corners, forgeddaboutit. You can feel every one of the RS6' 1840 kilograms lurching into position. Charging into the blind corners and mixed surfaces that lead to Cheddar Gorge, I was tempted to shout 'hard a starboard' or 'hard a port' before each turn. Sure it's safe and predictable, but I wouldn't recommend it immediately after a Sunday lunch. Nor is hard cornering an activity designed to delight passengers of a nervous disposition. In fact, hustling this car through a series of sharp bends is a little too involving, for all concerned.

 The RS6' newfangled 'floating' disc brakes help matters. The steering doesn't. While there's enough road feel to position the beast appropriately, there's too much play in the wheel to make quick, accurate corrections. If power is nothing without control, the steering is nothing to write home about. The car's low profile tyres are equally disappointing. Given the RS4's bent rim situation, you'd think Audi would have bitten the bullet and sacrificed communion wafer style for a bit more comfort. The RS6' overall ride quality provided is best described by Audi's TV ad for the car. It shows a cowboy on an enormous bull trying to send him skywards. Eventually, the bull tires. The animal's violent shaking, twisting and turning motions cease. And that's it. So who says there isn't truth in advertising?

Bullshit aside, the RS6 is one weird beast. For example, the handful of body mods – grated front nose, blistered wheel arches, boot spoiler and ovoid tail pipes – only serve to underline the essential blandness of the basic car's design. Inside, you get the same high quality ergonomics that make the brand a hit with the sensible shoe brigade. Great seats. Kick ass stereo. I'm not a big fan of elephant coloured headlining, or metallic grey paint, but I suppose that's all part of the Q-car mystique. Even behind the wheel, the RS6 is one of those cars you'd never, ever expect to go fast, that bloody well does.

 Is that enough to usurp the mighty M5 or searing S-Type R? For a car to succeed in the gentlemen's express category, it must cruise effortlessly, pose discreetly, corner convincingly and accelerate dramatically. In the final analysis, the RS6 only wins the last battle. It's more than enough for the RS6 to earn its keep, but nowhere near enough to make it the class leader.

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