September 2, 2002

World's Fastest Production Sedan: RS 6 Road Test
Article by: Gavin Conway, UK Correspondent

We are on the M90 highway just north of Edinburgh when it happens. I am behind a slow-moving truck lumbering past an even slower moving motorhome. Light rain falls while an impatient Porsche 911 Carrera 2 hovers close behind me, its driver mysterious behind mirrored Ray Bans in spite of the gloom. The truck in front has just about cleared the motorhome when the Porsche's indicator comes on and he gives me a flash of high beam. A not-so-subtle warning that I should move over with the truck to let him through.

I don't move over. Instead I give the Audi a wide open throttle as soon as the truck is clear. The Porsche driver is doing likewise and I'm nearly as surprised as he that the Audi is pulling away, building an ever-increasing gap as the V8's twin turbos spool up. Riding a mountain of power and torque, the Audi is still pulling like a Pikes Peak rally car at 140 mph. I lift and the Porsche finally catches up, taking position just off the Audi's right flank. The driver's Ray Bans are off and he is studying the back of the car for a clue. And if he understands what the 'RS 6' script is telling him, he'll feel a whole lot better about our brief encounter.

Because he'll know that this Audi is the fastest series production four-door sedan on the face of the planet. And the numbers are simply astounding - the RS 6 quattro's 4.2-litre twin-turbo V8 develops 450 bhp and 413 lb ft of torque, enough to rush it from 0-62 mph in just 4.7 secs. It's top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, but limiter off, I believe we're looking at a 190 mph-plus car.

To call these supercar-league figures does not do this sensational new Audi justice. In fact, the RS 6 has more power than Ferrari's F360 Modena, Aston Martin's DB7 Vantage, Maserati's V8 Coupe and even Porsche's outrageous 911 Turbo. And only the Porsche and Ferrari are quicker to reach 60mph.

And unlike some previous hi-po Audis, the RS 6 leaves observers in no doubt about it's potential. The wheel wells wear massively swollen blisters to contain enormous 19-inch alloy wheels, and on the tail you'll find a quite convincing Gurney flap residing high over those big, oval tail pipes. From the front, a massively deep cheese-grater-clad front spoiler complements the bulldog stance of the Audi. In the flesh, the RS 6 looks sensational.

We abandon the M90 highway at junction 5, choosing instead to go cross country toward the Crook of Devon and beyond there to the Ochil Hills. These secondary roads are an intriguing mix of high-speed sweepers with good sight lines and technically challenging S's with tightening radii. They also throw dips and crests at you, often where they'll do the most damage to the car's cornering attitude. If the Audi has any serious dynamic failings, these roads will quickly reveal them.

Initially, it is that sensational engine which completely, utterly dominates any impressions of the RS 6. Without question, it is the most charismatic powerplant to have graced any modern Audi. And it is as soulful and tuneful as the best V8s out there, hitting those wailing NASCAR notes on its way to the power peak at 6400 rpm. And the way that the thing crackles and pops on the over run puts me in mind of a Cobra 289, which is not the sort of car I'd ever imagine getting a name check in a story about an Audi sedan.

As for turbo lag, that's easy. There isn't any. Not even a trace as this engine dumps 413lb ft of torque on the deck, right here, right now.

Which is why you might regret the absence of a manual gearbox to exploit this remarkable engine. The RS 6 is only available with a tiptronic-style five-speed automatic transmission. It is linked to steering wheel mounted paddles that give an F1 style sequential shift for a more sporting experience. In truth, though, this 'box feels a bit slow-witted when you poke along in normal 'Drive' mode.

Things improve dramatically when you slip the center console shifter down a notch to 'Sport' mode. In this mode, each gear is held for longer and downshifts are swifter. The system also measures lateral acceleration, so if you're really going for it, the 'box will move the shift points upwards to avoid unsettling the car with a mid-corner gearchange.

It works. Drive the RS 6 aggressively and the shift points are held up to about 6500 rpm, giving you the most out of every one of those 450 bhp. And this is where the quattro four-wheel drive powertrain really comes into it's own. Audi believes that it would be irresponsible to offer a sedan with this much power, but without the stability and grip offered by quattro. To illustrate the point during the pre-drive presentation, an Audi press man flashes up a picture of a BMW M5 in the middle of a smoky oversteer moment.

In fact, the RS 6 could be the best ever application of road-going quattro technology. Through some of the tighter corners, I find myself able to put the power down far earlier than I would dare in any other road going super sedan. Without quattro, I suspect that this would feel like a dangerously overpowered machine. But the truth is that point-to-point on challenging roads you simply will not find a swifter car with four doors. And precious few with two, at that.


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