RS6 Avant: Grocery-Getter Turns Fast-Food

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September 20, 2008

By: G.R. Whale

At it’s electronically-limited 280 kph top speed the RS6 Avant shoves air and reluctant Mercedes drivers out of the way at about 255 feet per second, so when that bug dies in a camera-click 1/250th of a second on your windshield it still leaves a trail a foot long. In warm weather at least, you’ll spend considerable time cleaning dead bugs off an RS6’s leading edges.

Although a sedan has joined the RS6 family for 2009 Audi hasn’t said anything about potential import to the North American market. What with the flunking dollar/euro relationship, NHTSA/DOT drones, and sales numbers on the only remotely competitive car—the E63 AMG wagon–in the single-digit-per-month realm, the caution is understandable. We’re pessimistic given the costs of certification and diagnostics for a low-volume engine that is not otherwise offered here.

On the other hand bringing it stateside would offer some benefits. Even at small volume every unit counts when amortizing parts like custom fenders. You could scare the bejeebers out of…oops, um…educate Americans on Audi engineering three at a time as opposed to one at a time in an R8, maximizing exposure at marketing events. The same engine could be plugged into an R8 GT and make a homologated racer. Finally, Audi would become the only automaker with a waiting list for a station wagon, and how cool would that be?

Even those lacking any experience with four rings quickly recognize the RS6 is different. The bulbous fenders are a softer contemporary version of those shelves on the “original” quattro, the added width emphasized more on certain paint colors. The outer intercooler air intakes, with a cooling fan behind each, resemble some of the changes applied to the ’09 A6 lineup and eliminate the separate fog lamps, and the 20-inch wheels are a dead giveaway.

Out back, a small spoiler atop the rear window and a shallow diffuser molded into the bumper cover keep the car stable at high speed, as does all the ducting underneath you need a ramp or lift to inspect; it might not be the cleanest underbody and the exhaust pipes aren’t as big as you expect, but the air management is well-sorted. The other changes are all RS staples: matte-finish aluminum-look trim for center grille, door handles, and outside mirrors, and a pair of big oval exhaust outlets.

The side signal repeaters are now in the rear-view mirrors rather than a simple front fender mount, more visible to oncoming traffic but less so to that adjacent or off a quarter. Your correspondent prefers the older style for awareness and it made knocked off mirrors cheaper to replace.

Other differences are a function of location rather than model, with some detail changes to lighting systems and wide-angle rearview mirrors on each side. Unlike the U.S. spec A6 Avant, a sunroof is not standard equipment and if you choose one be sure it’s closed before the speed run as it will pop your ears if you shut it at triple-digit velocity.

Everything inside will look familiar to Audi-philes, and changes from a U.S. market S6 are limited to small bits like the trim choices, KPH speedometer that reads to 320, different gradation markings on fuel and coolant gauges, and the flat-bottom steering wheel. German-spec cars use the same labels for MMI and stalk controls but the data displays reflect the methods used there, like liters/100 kilometers for fuel consumption. If you’ve driven MMI before you won’t need the German owner’s manual to select English.

Standard seats are much like those in the S with integral headrests, shoulder bolsters and adjustable thigh extensions up front and no map pockets in back. Whether you’d prefer the severely bolstered hard-shell sport seats from an R option list rather depends on the size of your pants and tire budget. Our skinny butts had no issues sliding about and we got as far as tire-squealing corners, mild drifts, and the kind of heavy braking you have to remember to start breathing again afterwards.

Leather is the default material and done to Audi’s typical benchmark standard but not as soft and cushy as a full-tilt W12 A8. This one was trimmed in piano black and while it might easily get scuffed where it curves over the forward console, unwanted reflections of sun glare were surprisingly minimal. Overhead, the largest single piece of Alcantara I’ve run across; every high-end car I’ve tested with a roof this size also had a sunroof.

The parts-bin flat-bottom steering wheel doesn’t feel out of place here, nor does it interfere with control and instrument viewing. With just more than two turns lock-to-lock you’ll rarely have to take your hands off it except for parking maneuvers best accomplished with palming it rather than shuffling the flat through your hands.

It has been suggested that the shift paddles should be mounted to the steering column rather than on the wheel—a personal decision but your correspondent sees no need. The gearbox does everything you want in “Sport” mode and even with the stability of quattro and a competent chassis there is nothing to be gained by potentially upsetting an at-the-limit car mid-corner by changing gears, which is why the best auto-boxes (including this one) won’t do it. Second, there’s an elastic, deep well of torque to deal with and smooth torque often makes a cleaner corner than unrestrained horsepower. But if you wanna have your hands and the car all crossed up and prefer column-mounted blades, by all means drop Audi a note.

The only downside to the cabin relative some other wagons, including Mercedes’ E63AMG, is the sloping rear window line identical to the A6 Avant that takes away some big-box cargo space. And you can fold down the rear seatbacks but not quite flat. Neither will cause defection to another brand but don’t expect five people and Q7 volume.

Perhaps one of the best plusses for traveling abroad, even with locals on board, was the navigation. Not only did “she” (at least in English) give quick directions that only faulted once on a street that was one-way for 50 yards, if you missed a turn she knew as soon as the front tires passed the apex and got you back on track, and she recalculated your route automatically based on traffic information received. The “avoid toll road” choice should be checked if you plan on venturing into many of Germany’s neighbors.

Stuffed under the hood you’ll find the cars’ soul and despite the tight packaging you can actually see some recognizable engine parts. Off to the passenger’s side is a larger-than-average screw top with an oil can symbol on it because this isn’t a dipstick but the tank for the dry-sump oil system. Plugs and the fuel rail look fairly accessible, but anything major will require some time just to get to the engine.

The 5-liter V-10 uses a common-pin crank and four chains to drive the camshafts and pumps; since they’re at the front and other noises take over it doesn’t have the mechanical sweetness of the higher-revving RS V-8s. The crank is carried by an aluminum structure that combines girdle and lower-block duties, with an aluminum sump below that doesn’t cost ground clearance or need a hood bulge. Oil cooling through a thick air-to-oil radiator behind the lower grille is thermostatically controlled.

The small turbos are right on the exhaust manifolds and like a Bentley W-12 won’t be heard inside. They push max boost of 1.6 bar through twin throttle bodies into a compression ratio of 10.5:1—amazing what direct injection can do for combustion control. As a result you get that flat torque “curve” with almost 480 lb-ft spread across 4700 rpm.

Audi claims 0-62 mph (100 kph) in 4.6 seconds and 0-124 mph (200 kph) in 14.9 seconds. We don’t know if those numbers were generated in auto or the manual mode that’s said to shift 10% faster, but our German watches and the lap timer both said they are conservative. With just a hint of traction searching we saw 100 kph in about 4.4 but we saw 200 kph in a range from very high 13s to mid 14s and some publications have seen 0-200 kph in less than 14.5 so any way you look it’s a steamroller. Kept on the mat it was up to its 280 kph limiter right around 30 seconds from launch…and the “range remaining” was losing numbers 10 times as fast as tenths-of-kilometers were adding up.

Bereft of its limiter the RS6 would outrun an R8. Rumor has it an engineer got an RS6A to 205 mph but given that a 600-hp Bentley Continental GT Speed with a slightly better Cd but more weight and likely frontal area quotes 202, a low-200 figure sounds good for bench racing.
Of course, there is always something faster somewhere, and we gladly left lots of room for the quickly closing 599. Since the Audi didn’t feel it at all we have to assume he must have when he passed with a nod from his string-backed driving glove.

Despite its prodigious performance the Audi is quite docile rumbling along cobblestones at 20 mph and effortlessly gathers momentum if you don’t wish to disturb occupants or buy stock in Aral. At 125 mph it’s loafing at about 3200 rpm, and the sweet spots show up around 100 mph, at that 125, and around 145; you won’t often have the opportunity but it does gravitate to the 165-mph mark in the upper reaches.

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