Last week, Audi France extended an invitation to me to partake in the Audi Sport Range tests in the Pyrenees. Nestled in the scenic surrounding Pau, the Pyrenees present a mesmerizing fusion of natural splendor and cultural opulence. With its majestic mountains, I am sure to be greeted by lush green hills, dense forests and pristine lakes, all forming a breathtaking backdrop for this journey. All I had to do was find the right moment to appreciate the full potential of this RS6 Avant performance…
The Audi RS6 Concept
In a world dominated by electric vehicles, the Audi RS6, a dinosaur of the combustion engine era, is unleashing its Performance variant to ensure the lineage continues with a final burst of pride. The Audi RS6 is unequivocally the innovative sports family estate. Let’s delve into the origins of this legendary vehicle that has faced little competition for the past two decades.
The first iteration, code-named C5, debuted alongside Audi’s initial triumphs at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Pioneering the DRC chassis, this sporty estate made its debut with a 4.2-liter twin-turbocharged V8 producing 450 horsepower. Interestingly, this robust engine was not crafted in Ingolstadt, Germany, but by Cosworth, a renowned English specialist and engine manufacturer. Subsequently, German engineers refined it in-house. Notably, it’s the only one of the four generations to have participated in a race, back in 2003 during the Speed GT World Challenge, where it clinched victory. In 2008, the RS6 Avant stepped up its game with the second generation, gaining two additional cylinders and boasting 580 horsepower.
Throughout its evolution, the RS6 has revolved around three recurring technical features: twin forced induction, regardless of engine size, Quattro all-wheel drive, and Dynamic Ride Control suspension. This nearly one-of-a-kind estate has consistently undergone meticulous refinement, starting with the first C5 in 2002. Over twenty years, its power has increased by an impressive 180 horsepower!
Before electricity fully infiltrates the hearts of Audi’s future high-performance models, the RS6 stands as a resilient anomaly. Its dimension, character, and DNA have always set it apart in Audi’s lineup. Launched for the first time in 2002, this extraordinary sports car adheres to a fundamental principle: it was born as a family estate, has always remained one (with the exception of a sedan), and continues to blend versatility with unmatched high-performance, now earning the title “Performance,” adding 30 more horses and unparalleled daily practicality.
Audi’s Sporting Spirit in Their Production Cars
Audi Sport, celebrating its 40th anniversary, is the driving force behind Audi’s development. They’ve imbued the new RS6 Avant Performance with an impressive sporting fervor, refinement, control, and docility. Any doubts? Not really. This German powerhouse for busy moms and dads possesses the soul of a supercar and the unexpected capability to transport the entire household. Like many automakers, Audi also has its sports-oriented division. “Audi Sport” offers high-performance versions, labeled “S” or “RS,” across its lineup, featuring engines that churn out colossal horsepower figures, along with a discreet yet recognizable sporty appearance that immediately catches the eye of purists.
Auberge Ostape in Bidarray
“Exploring the Pyrenees around Pau, I discover a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails weave through the region, leading me to hidden valleys, bubbling streams, and panoramic viewpoints that showcase the grandeur of these peaks.”
Latitude 43.24779 / Longitude -1.32789
Its beefy V10, a 5.0-liter powerhouse, has won the hearts of both sporty and busy families. It’s entirely manufactured by “Quattro GmbH,” which later becomes Audi Sport. In 2012, the third-generation RS6 Avant, also known as the C7, returned with a more modest V8, a 4.0-liter engine, albeit with 20 fewer horses (560 hp). However, a drastic reduction in weight, thanks to the use of aluminum, slashed 120 kg, leading to a 30% reduction in fuel consumption.
The performance gains were evident as the new model shaved 7 tenths of a second off the 0-100 km/h time (3.9 s/4.6 s). The classic RS6 sedan (the only one of its kind) made way for the RS7 Sportback. Since 2019, the fourth generation, the one we have today, incorporates mild hybridization (48-volt battery) and rear-wheel steering. This latest iteration takes a leap forward, boasting more power (630 hp, up by 30 hp), more torque (850 Nm, up by 50 Nm), less weight, and an attractive evolution. I had the exclusive opportunity to test it in Nouvelle Aquitaine.
“The ascent to the famous Col d’Iraty begins at kilometer 35. Initially through forest, the road then rises to dominate the valley and the Atlantic Ocean. From kilometer 40 to kilometer 60, the road is ideally devoid of rails and posts, with many panoramic stops and plenty of opportunities for U-turns.”
Longitude -1.0348173 Latitude 43.036493
Consistently More Performance and Comfort
As you’ve undoubtedly gathered, and while we await the new BMW M5 Touring and the 2024 arrivals of the Mercedes-Benz E53 and E63 AMG versions of the new E-Class, here’s the most high-performance estate on the market. It’s in a neck-and-neck race with the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S (also boasting 630 hp) but trails behind the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo 4.0 Turbo S E-Hybrid (with a whopping 700 hp). However, there’s a significant difference— the Audi RS6 Avant Performance costs €139,350 (€8,680 more than the base RS6), while the Panamera Turbo S starts at €204,400, with the PHEV version exceeding €210,000! A price difference of €65,000 to €71,000 is certainly challenging to justify.
Additionally, the Performance version sheds 8 kg of sound insulation, gains new 21-inch wheels (22-inch optional), each 5 kg lighter, resulting in a 20 kg reduction in unsprung weight. It also adopts a more compact and lighter mechanical central differential (with a front-rear distribution of 40/60%, but up to 70% of torque can be sent to the front, and 85% to the rear). The Audi Drive Select driving modes are now more distinct from each other, with “coasting” mode operational exclusively in Efficiency mode. The 8-speed automatic transmission has been reprogrammed. Furthermore, the RS Dynamic package (raising the top speed to 280 km/h from 250 km/h and featuring a Sport Quattro rear differential) comes standard. But the RS Dynamic “Plus” package still offers, as an option, a top speed of 305 km/h, all-wheel steering, and ceramic brakes (saving 34 kg on unsprung weight).
“At this time, the Pyrenees become a paradise for lovers of beautiful roads, offering an exhilarating escape to the land of wonders.”
43° 19′ 59.437″ N 0° 26′ 3.847″ W
While the pneumatic suspension remains standard, it can be exchanged for the Dynamic Ride Control suspension as an option. This swaps air springs for mechanical components, with hydraulically interconnected dampers (controlled via Audi Drive Select) operating diagonally, much like many McLaren road cars, to manage dive, squat, and roll more effectively. However, the Audi RS6 Avant Performance equipped with this suspension still retains traditional anti-roll bars, unlike some English sports cars.
Driving the Audi RS6 Avant Performance
I took the wheel of an Audi RS6 Avant Performance equipped with the Dynamic Ride Control mechanical suspension. In essence, it has everything needed to try and bestow upon this 2-tonne estate the agility of a Lotus Elise. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it illustrates the engineers’ Herculean efforts at Audi Sport to counteract the adverse effects of considerable mass on handling. A recalibrated central differential, the presence of the Sport Quattro rear differential capable of vectoring torque, rear-wheel steering, interconnected adaptive dampers—everything is meticulously designed to make this estate capable of tackling all types of corners.
However, for now, I’m driving in Efficiency mode, adhering to the strict France speed limits. In these artificial conditions, the Audi RS6 Avant Performance feels like an F-16 restrained from unleashing.
Its full potential, forced to fly alongside a small Cessna. Or like a T-Rex forced to nibble on daisies to avoid penalties. It’s a constant frustration, but it highlights surprisingly comfortable ride quality, even over minor imperfections, even with the optional 22-inch wheels (equipped with excellent Continental SportContact 7 tires sized 285/30). This adds to the Swiss Army knife effect of this unconventional estate, making it perfectly suitable for daily use.
But we didn’t come here to peacefully cruise on the roads of New Aquitaine. I quickly found an empty, winding road to let its potential shine. “Catch Me If You Can” – and there, we enter a different realm. The V8 becomes a dynamite stick from 1500 rpm, propelling us forward up to 6000 rpm, with each gear change taking just a fraction of a second. The exhilarating experience continues relentlessly. We didn’t push it to the redline in 8th gear; that would be excessive. Already, when pinned in 3rd or 4th gear, it feels like we’re headed straight for jail. Pushing hard in a straight line, anyone can do that. A chassis is judged in the corners. In this case, it’s nothing short of astonishing. The front end responds instantly, with no hesitation or inertia, mechanical grip feels bottomless, and you can apply throttle early and confidently, thanks to the omnipresent traction. You exit the corner with an astonishing velocity. Engine, gearbox, transmission, suspension, brakes, steering—everything works together seamlessly, creating one of the most enviable estates on the market, incredibly efficient. It’s a masterpiece.
Space in the back seats
The Audi RS6 offers ample rear seat space, making it a family-friendly supercar. It provides plenty of headroom and kneeroom for tall passengers, with subtle RS model accents like red stitching. However, the middle seat in the rear can be less comfortable due to its elevated position. The back also features generous door bins and USB-C charging slots in top-spec Vorsprung models.
In terms of boot space, the Audi RS6 boasts 565 liters, making it suitable for shopping, luggage, and even larger dogs. For those with even larger dogs, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate offers 640 liters. Comparatively, the BMW M5, though a saloon, offers a respectable 530 liters of boot space, trailing the Audi slightly but benefiting from the RS6’s more practical shape and estate boot opening for accommodating larger items.
Verdict on the Audi RS6 Avant Performance
Is it still relevant to offer a 630 hp, 850 Nm estate? Objectively, no. Subjectively, yes. Three times yes. This Audi RS6 Avant Performance demonstrates that the spark hasn’t died in the realm of combustion engines. It rekindles a glimmer of hope in the hearts of enthusiasts, as quieter times loom on the horizon. Before these dinosaurs—admittedly, on the brink of extinction—fade away, they still have some glorious years and remarkable offerings left. This rebellious estate, totally out of place in today’s landscape, boasts an extraordinarily broad spectrum of uses, from serene family transport to track escapades where it might astound with unexpected talents.
A true showcase of Audi Sport GmbH’s expertise, where it’s assembled on the same production lines as the electric RS e-tron GTs.