Audi RS6 first drive: monster energy

Dean Evans
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Audi RS6, in California

  • Immense performance
  • Wagon practicality
  • Sounds like thunder
  • Just 35 coming to NZ
  • Quarter-of-a-mill price
  • Expiry date of cars like this

More of anything? More of everything! A V8, two turbochargers, all-wheel drive and petrol burning through its veins were all recipes for success for putting the Audi RS6 on the performance map 20 years ago.

Two decades on, as the world counts down to the seemingly inevitable fate of only electric new cars by 2030 – Audi included, with its e-tron GT heralding the way – the same brand has delivered another RS6 along the lines of Burger King’s motto: have it your way. With a V8, two turbochargers, all-wheel drive… and a mild hybrid system, but we’ll deal with that shortly.

With Audi’s TT being phased out this year and the R8 production ending in 2024, we won’t be as dooms-daying and say this is the ICE RS’s last blast, but it’s exactly what car enthusiasts still crave, with a rip-snorting, monster machine and performance as the ultimate priority, closely followed by luxury and practicality - especially in estate/wagon form that is purely reserved for New Zealand.

The RS7 Sportback was also part of our exclusive one-day launch, an Audi event held over two weeks, sequentially hosting 100 media from around the world, in Sonoma County, north of San Fransisco; a location chosen because USA is the number-one global market for the model, with RS6 not far behind (those Americans aren’t fans of wagons like we are).

With New Zealand as one of the most popular markets for the ultimate performance models, including Audi RS, BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, as is often the case, demand eclipses supply; just 35 RS6s due for NZ in 2023 and even Audi Germany has put a halt on RS6/RS7 orders until 2024, to help cope with the backlog.

Historically, it’s also a milestone for the RS brand, says Sebastian Grams, Managing Director of Audi Sport, also in California for the event: “Audi Sport is now 40 years old [launched in 1983], and we started as an accessory company,” he says. “In 1996 we launched the first actual car, the Audi S6 plus; it showed what we wanted to do, and it was the first car with more power and exterior parts, paint and wheels.” The “plus” name was changed three years later, in 1996, to RS (Racing Sport).

Since then the numbers have been churning, according to Grams: “More than 250,000 RS models, and the most exciting portfolio with 16 models now [S and RS]; in 2022 we delivered 45,000 worldwide… which includes RSQ3 10th anniversary, TT, RS4 and RS5, R8 GT.”

The headlines of the new fourth-generation Audi RS6 are very traditional – which makes them just awesome. A 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 produces up to 463kW (just 15kW short of a Porsche 911 Turbo), with 850Nm (which is 50Nm more!).

Yes, there is a mild hybrid system, which means it’s basically invisible and imperceptible, and was barely mentioned throughout the event. It’s the first RS model to get the electrified powertrain, and is a 48V system that offers cylinder-on-demand technology and the ability to save up to 0.8l/100km from its mild assistance. Let’s move on.

Mechanically, another highlight is the updated centre diff that offers rear-drive handling and power – as evidenced by the way it likes to send subtle hints about its grippy front and agile rear end through tight corners, despite its 2.1 tonne. The numbers are a rear-biased static split of 40:60, though it can apportion up to 85 per cent to the rear in extreme situations. Grip has rarely been a problem with quattro, and now the balance and handling and drive is equally immense with understeer eliminated.

It’s all aided by gorgeous new 22-inch lightweight wheels that save 20kg in total, and Continental tyres, among a choice seven wheels in NZ.

Just one spec for NZ and it’s the good one: the performance model sees the full house 463kW and 850Nm (compared to the paltry 441kW/800Nm of the standard model). Extra power comes from larger turbochargers and a little more boost, from 2.5 to 2.6 bar (35 to 38psi) – quite a lot of boost, considering 1 bar/15psi was considered high when the RS6 launched in 2003.

It’s fast and sounds super thunderous thanks to reduced sound insulation and flaps in the mufflers that open in different modes, such as pressing the RS button on the steering wheel, to release the beast: through a conventional eight-speed automatic, there is also a launch control mode where the dash animation lights up and revs flare to 2500rpm with both pedals mashed, and it advises the ideal moment to launch. There isn’t the dual-clutch ferocity but nor is ever which-gear-would you like uncertainly of some dual clutch gearboxes, with the sturdy auto doing a sterling job to throw the RS6 to 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 302km/h (with certain safety provisions such as the ceramic brakes), all the while thundering like a 1970s muscle car as the V8 gargles as loud as laws allow. Check out our video for a sample.

6 awesome things in the Audi RS6

Compared to its key rivals, the Mercedes-AMG GT four-door and the BMW M5, the Audi RS6 has always had a slightly more restrained attitude. Slightly. According to Audi Product Marketing’s Kenneth Dose, the new RS6 provides: “maximum differentiation to the base model. It’s more subtle but even more distinctive.”

RS6 exclusive exterior features include matte carbon on the mirrors, front bumper and rear diffuser. Three new colours include a silver matte, and two blues including matte denim Ascari.

The cabin and interior look, feel, fit and finish are all stunning, and new for 2023 is an optional RS design package with blue accents on the seats and a carbon look with blue accents on top of the dash.

On those drive modes, there’s more differentiation between those, too, with S mode offering tighter, faster shifts. Comfort mode is plenty fast and sharp enough though, and dealing with our roads, probably a better choice: save the full-blown RS mode for smooth roads or the track.

Given around six hours of alone time with the RS6, our first drive loop took us to the west coast of northern California, towards Jenn, then along the coast south towards Bodega Bay, back through Santa Rosa and then to our base at the quaint boutique town of St Helena, full of sports and supercars, fine wine and dining.

Mostly grand touring, the RS6 is almost overqualified for these roads, eating up the miles with power and torque barley registering more than 20 percent on the useage gauges. But when the call is put out, the RS6 responds like Thor’s hammer, building boost and walloping out insane levels of speed and intoxicating acceleration that needs to be quickly cut-short before the risk of a visit to the county lock-up – we don’t need reminding that this ain’t no autobahn.

The ride quality is superb, the massively efficient brakes barely bothered, and it isn’t until going rogue in the afternoon session, in search of the iconically American In N Out Burger photo locations, that we find a piece of winding, twisting road that truly showcases not just the brilliance of the ride and handling, but a series of hairpins and switchbacks that showcases all that work that went into the centre diff, the RS6 offering agility and turn-in like a sports car half its weight, while powering down – even provoking it into doing something ugly by tramping on the throttle intentionally early – simply starts to push drive towards the rear and keep the nose pointed, more like a rear-drive than a quattro, but with the all-wheel drive assurance.

It’s never more than 1-2 degrees out of shape despite efforts to unsettle it, and just wallops out from corner to corner with the feeling that few cars would be as fast over this stretch of road – the White Sulfur Spring Rod for those interested and on Google Maps – while revealing the RS6 to display what an extremely awesome machine that is it. Never a harsh jarring crash, never a tyre out of place, just effortless movement underlined by an incredible soundtrack.

With 10 new Audi models due before 2026, this RS6 could very well be launched at the magic time and the perfect model: all the old school traits of an ultimate performance car, with just a trace of electric input not to matter: a monster, incorporated.

Audi RS6 Performance
ENGINE: 4.0 twin-turbo V8, 48v mild hybrid
POWER: 463kW, 850Nm
GEARBOX: 8-speed auto
0-100KM/H: 3.4 seconds
ECONOMY: 12.9l/100km
WEIGHT: 2075kg
PRICE: $242,990


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