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Audi's RS6 super saloon tested

2009-05-22 08:06
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Audi
Model RS6
Engine 5l, 40v V10 biturbo
Power 426kW @ 6 250 - 6 700r/min
Torque 650Nm @ 1 500 - 6 250r/min
Transmission Six-speed tiptronic
Zero To Hundred 4.5 second
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 80l
Fuel Consumption 14.8l/100km
Weight 1 985kg
Tyres Pirelli P-Zero 275/35 ZR20
Front Suspension Independent-wheel suspension, four-link with virtual steering axle, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Independent-wheel suspension, trapezoidal-link, anti-roll bar
Service Plan 5 year, 100 000km
Warranty 2 year unlimited mileage
Price R1 094 500
Rivals BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG

Lance Branquinho

In a world of information overload and pseudo-engineering experts at each digital turn, the RS6 was perhaps one of the most prejudged cars of all time.

Before it had even turned a wheel on local asphalt, RS6 was castigated as being too portly, too traction-biased (allegedly robbing it of class leading standing start accelerative prowess and dynamic verve) as well as subtle to the point of looking dowdy. The last point was particularly vexing, considering the entire raison d'être of a German super saloon is stealth…

After spending a week in the company of a sinister-looking, black RS6, I think it’s only fair to do some myth debunking – correlating facts and figures, and correcting the general fiction surrounding the RS6.

Menacing in the metal?

Considering the slew of criticism directed against the RS6’s lack of visual drama, one wonders how many people actually remember what class of car this RS6 is.

The RS6 is a German super saloon - or Q-car - and owes its existence (as loathe as Ingolstadt may be to admit this) to the E28 M5 of the mid 1980s – itself a car virtually indistinguishable from other E28 5 Series models.

Super saloons of this ilk are supposed to look as surreptitious as possible, delivering stunning levels of performance with very little ornate aesthetic clues.

Judged against such criteria – and even as an overall aesthetic exercise – the RS6 is an ominous, broodingly attractive thing.

The latest A6 facelift is one of the best in the memory of recent product updates, with the range’s bulbous rear properly restyled by those new light clusters.

LEDs are starting to become a bit passé, yet Audi's restyling of the A6 rear with a liberal application of light emitting diodes is superbly executed. This is coincidently the view 99% of other road users will mostly see of the RS6...for a moment, before it disappears into the distance

In RS6 guise, the oversized Audi grille is neatly framed by a lower lip spoiler and ornately cut-out bumper air-intakes, and around the rump, the lower fascia embedded diffuser is embellished by two oversized exhausts. Subtly flared wheel arches house gorgeous, 20-inch alloy wheels featuring a five-spoke design that splits into three individual blades each.

Overall the styling renders a neatly proportioned, yet unnervingly intimidating looking car - without having to revert to a look of garish, aftermarket excess.

For all the doubters, I spent ten minutes outside the decidedly nondescript Pringle Bay Café showing the car to a babbling R32 owner, who had the glazed-over look of a man who had just had his Damascus road experience. His pregnant wife in the R32’s passenger seat, with groceries on lap, looked less impressed though…

The RS6’s cabin is standard A6 fare, which means it looks better, and feels better built, than anything else in class. Considering the RS6 retails for silly money (R1 094 500), you’d expect comprehensive specification and this car does come well kitted.

Superb sport seats, electronic everything (controlled by Audi’s user-friendly second generation MMI system) and an operatic quality Bose surround sound system are all standard.

In fact, the only things you can really option are an iPod music interface connector (R2 450 but there is a standard iPod jack), TV reception (R6 360), Audi’s advanced parking system (R5 300) and adaptive cruise control (R18 090).

Thanks to RS6 riding on the A6 platform, interior space is capacious, with the lengthy wheelbase ushering in plenty of legroom for rear passengers.

RS6 boot space borders on the ridiculous at 546l, besting its primary rival, the M5, which sports only 500l of golf club-ferrying capacity – if such considerations are core to your purchasing rationale…

Ten cylinders, two turbos. Slow? No.

RS6 has all the makings of a formidable Q-car (subtle styling presence, sumptuous interior comfort, ludicrous engine configuration), yet in reality, does this package run true to its billing?

Despite boasting phenomenal power figures courtesy of its 5l, direct-injection, bi-turbo V10, the RS6 does have one inherent dynamic design handicap – it’s a properly heavy performance car.

It might not look fat, and Audi will tell you they’ve melted down miracle lightweight aluminium to make the RS6, but 1 985kg in dry trim is a lot of car to keep tidy at speed.

Our test car had just over 6 000km on the clock and the brakes were glazed, which considering the RS6’s combination of excess mass and alarming pace, is hardly surprising.

Though it is unlikely owners will ever subject their cars to a driving regime as severe as motoring journalists do, the standard brakes, despite being dimensionally impressive (390mm front/356mm rear) are not the car’s dynamic strength.

Those optional R115 400 ceramic brakes (420mm/356mm) are an embarrassing expense to explain to the wife, but pretty much a necessity.

Dry sump lubrication enables Audi to mount it as low as possible, yet the V10's mass is still mostly ahead of the front axle line. Transmission and front differential are not repositioned like the latest A4/A5 quattros, subsequently right hand drive RS6s retain a proper left footrest - bonus.

In the world of engine design, individual cylinders 500cm3 in capacity are the golden mean with regards to smoothness, piston speed and packaging. Just think 3l six-cylinder, 4l eight-cylinder and six-litre 12-cylinder configuration. RS6’s 5l V10 slots right in with this purity of design, in contrast to the 5.2l V10s powering its siblings S6 and S8…

The V10 engine peculiarly features a torque – instead of revolution – biased long-stroke architecture, which explains the abundant rotational force available at low engine speeds.

From only 1 500r/min, an entirely wholesome (or should it read wholesomely insane?) 650Nm is available right through to 6 250r/min. Combine this torque figure with a power peak of 426kW at 6 700r/min and you have severe thrust, the two-tonne rolling mass notwithstanding.

Frantic teenage car fanatics will be impressed by the four and a half second 0-100km/h standing sprint time, yet it’s in the fullness of time and distance the RS6 numbers really start to tally. Limited to 250km/h it may be, yet covering 1 000m from a standing start in a whisper under 23 seconds certifies it as a significantly rapid car.

At Reef altitude M5 owners, even in turbocharger unfriendly midday summer temperatures, are advised to pick their RS6 victims with extreme caution, preferably when the Audi drivers are on the phone…

Overtaking acceleration is simply stupefying. With the abundance of bi-turbo rotational force at lower engine speeds (something missing from both M5 and S6), RS6 enables one to stun passengers with normally suicidal seven-cars-at-a-time passing manoeuvres - executed within a nearly inconceivable margin of safety.

The RS6's six-speed tiptronic gearbox might appear out of its depth technologically considering a slew of new dual clutch offerings and M5’s obstinate, track certified, SMG gearbox, but in reality it’s a peach of a transmission.

Left to its own devices, smoothness around town shames BMW’s SMG and when it’s dynamically engaged, the software intuitively realigns shift patterns (even throttle blipping downshifts) to the driver’s intent.

When the mood takes you – and it will often enough – you can engage the RS6’s very liberal ESP Sport function, task shifting with the steering wheel paddles and experience the V10’s awesome pace.

In ESP sport mode, the all-wheel drive system’s self-locking centre differential showcases its abilities, distributing torque commensurate to traction and lateral forces, allowing one to revel in RS6’s very tidy body control.

Optional dynamic ride control is nearly obligatory for the enthusiastic RS6 owner, ride quality varies from acceptable on 'comfort', to punishingly focused on 'sport'. The mechanically cross-linked hydraulic nature of the system ensures phenomenal body control and preditable feel.

Through sweeping, high speed corners, with the optional DRC dynamic ride control (R14 200) electronic damping set to Sport, RS6 is massively reassuring. If you pick your lines neatly, factor in the heightened pace at which the RS6 is capable of travelling, and keep steering inputs dexterous, RS6 is deftly accomplished - despite its weight.

Yes, the steering is a little numb, yet when you’re tasking an electronic power steering system to park a 2 ton car with fingertip ease and keep it steady cornering at 250km/h, it’s an inevitable compromise.

And yes, quattro all-wheel drive means very little lurid power sliding. RS6 will twitch its tail on a track with the requisite provocation and ESP completely disengaged though, with the quattro system apportioning 85% of the power to the rear wheels - allegedly...

On South African roads though, with all manner of surface imperfections and spilt construction sand surprises awaiting you mid-corner, all-wheel drive is the best way to distribute 426kW to the road.

Clever all-wheel drive system keeps the 2t mass in check and resolves the best dynamic blend from the RS6. Sand encrusted lower left fascia section indicative of RS6's limited off-road ability too - oops...


Audi has perhaps gone overboard with its LED design directive, yet with the RS6’s substantial wheels and exhausts, the smattering of LEDs do not look out of place. Better looking car than the M5 in our book - subtle yet sinister, the way a super saloon should be.


Spacious, beautifully built – Audi does it better than anybody else. Seats could do with more aggressive side-bolstering for 10/10ths track day driving. M5’s heads-up display remains the coolest interior gadget in its class, though.


Theoretically, the mass and all-wheel drive layout should anaesthetise RS6 dynamically. Brakes suffer, yet handling is unwittingly sharp and body control ace. Perhaps the overly insulated exhaust note (booming exhaust back pressure red-line changes notwithstanding) is the only detraction from the dynamic driving experience. In mitigation BMW's V10 only sounds better at excruciatingly high engine speeds and the AMG V8s remain the standout engines in class for acoustic entertainment.

ESP sportmode is the perfect partner of an early morning run up your favorite mountain pass...


Perhaps in a decade we’ll look back at the RS6, M5 and E 63 AMG as the zenith of German autobahn storming saloons, the bell-curve turning point of a nonsensical power race, which was eventually stymied by emission controls.

If you can drive like Giniel de Villiers, own a racetrack with plenty of run-off area and have a bother in law who owns a tyre fitment centre, BMW’s M5 is a very naughty, rewarding car, and ultimately a touch sharper than the RS6.

Around town though, there is no contest - RS6 is infinitely better as a daily driver.

Therefore, as an all-round, towering super saloon, the RS6 deserves to be considered an achievement in its own right.


Subtle looks

Crushing blend of symmetrical 5l V10 rev-ability and turbo torque

All-wheel drive security
Interior design and comfort


Exhaust note too refined for a 426kW car

Heavy car, eats brakes


R1 094 500


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