Egmont Sippel, has just driven Audi's new RS6 Avant -powered by a 5.0-litre bi-turbo V10 - during the car's world launch on the tight and twisty roads of southern France. And also on Bernie Ecclestone's F1-approved Paul Ricard circuit...
So you thought it was Eskom or the government?
Wrong. These frequent neighbourhood blackouts happen every time an Audi RS6 Avant is started up in the south of France, where the world launch is in full swing right now.
The mighty Avant, see, is a car - no, an estate, a station wagon - that drains the power grid silly, for the simple reason that 426 kW and 650 Nm gotta come from somewhere.
Better yet: it must go somewhere, too.
Ah-ham! We'll get back to that in a minute - and it's a long minute if you push pedal to the metal. A car like the RS6 covers a lot of ground in 60 seconds.
In fact, it burns up a decent bit of bitumen in just a quarter of that time, as 200 km/h flashes by in 14.9 seconds. That's barely 10 seconds after the Audi's bright and luminous red speedo needle has crashed through 100 km/h, which happens at 4.6 secs after take-off.
That's fantastically quick for a car - no, a wagon - carrying two tons of beef plus another 25 kg in its huge 4 928 x 1 889 x 1 460 mm frame. That's almost a 5.0 x 1.9 m belly print - yet the roof is 25 mm lower than a Golf's.
Flashy the Avant is not. Flash Gordon-like it is. The RS6 is Audi's most powerful production car ever. The Avant is also the most powerful estate in the world; more powerful, in this case, than that other bastion of power, the Fourth Estate (meaning the press, of course).
For this is one car that they won't be able to downsize; the RS6 is much more than the sum of its statistics. Barreling through Olympic sprints is not what it's all about.
Well, not entirely.
So let's establish the basics first.
Engine and soundtrack
The Audi RS6 Avant drives from a 90 degree V10 block that has been borrowed from the Audi S8, which, in turn, took a loan from Lamborghini's Gallardo.
Both marques now use four valves per cylinder, but the Audi motors are equipped with direct FSI petrol injection. With a 2 mm bigger bore, the S8's V10 capacity has also been stoked to 5 204 cc, versus the Gallardo's 4 960 cc. Shortening the stroke again (by 3.8 mm) leaves the RS6 with 4 991 cc.
Now, in the Gallardo's lightweight version, called Superleggera, the Lambo pushes out 388 kW, whilst torque peaks at 510 Nm.
That's compared to 373 kW and 520 Nm from BMW's M5 Touring.
The RS6 delivers a thundering 426 kW and 650 Nm.
The secret, of course, is that this particular 5.0 liter rendition of the V10 is charged with two turbo's supplied by Italy's INI concern. Boost tops out at 0.7 bar, although the RS6 could easily handle more than one bar without any further modifications.
That's if the tricky problem of intake and exhaust pressure losses could be solved more suitably.
Not that 0.7 bar is inadequate, heavens, no! This car is brutally fast by any standard. And the twin turbo's spool up lightly, quickly, easily. A mere prod on the loud pedal elicits instant response, with smooth, linear and meaningful boost from little more than 1500 rpm.
All of this help to build the soundtrack steadily from low in the rev range, starting with a satisfyingly deep burble that morphs into a dark muscular rumble.
In true turbo tradition the 10-piece orchestra is somewhat muffled, though, especially at low revs. But unlike the BMW M3's one-dimensional bark, rising only in volume and intensity but not really in pitch and tone, the timbre of the RS6 sound continually takes on extra colours and texture.
It's not as magnificent as the RS4's pure, normally-aspirated, multi-layered intake and exhaust symphonies, no. But it is in the healthy sonority of rich and deep vocals that Audi has now taken a lead in its race against German rivals.
Cabin and highway cruising
Other facets of the game that have long been dominated by Audi are turbo-charging, all-wheel drive, superb build quality and fantastic interiors, including wonderful instrument binnacles plus sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheels and extremely user-friendly MMI infotainment systems.
No surprise then, that build quality on the RS6 feels solid enough to take a direct al Qaeda hit. The interior has been tailored and trimmed like a queen's ball-room gown. A neatly balanced cockpit in terms of looks and ergonomics subtly cossets the driver within a slight wrap-around design. And as ever, the footwell is big and spacious, with a solid footrest.
Seats are surprisingly low-keyed for such a brutish monster, but deep Recaro sports buckets is also an option, up front.
The rear, of course, is cavernous; maximum load capacity is 1660 liter! This car - no, this wagon - can haul a mountain, let alone ass. Tap the accelerator at 250 km/h, blink and there it is: 280 km/h, but only on models with the optionally-available delimited top speed package.
In fact, Audi claims to have seen 328 km/h during final testing on an open stretch of autobahn. Even the Marlboro Man can't keep up with that. Gee wiz, that's slap bang in the middle of 911 GT2 country!
As such, Ingolstadt's latest combines the best of flat-out freeway fun with easy everyday city driving.
No. There is a boost display, but the oil temperature gauge is hidden behind a layer of MMI operations. That's no good on a missile like this.
A solid missile, let it be said. Whether cruising or bruising, the RS6 is steadier than Clint Eastwood's meanest slit-eyed gaze.
The problem is handling the beef when the road starts to cook. Rocky Stallone, for instance, would struggle to beat Bryan Habana in a slalom. And up till recently, only Porsche and BMW - amongst Teutonics - has tapped into Habana-like dynamics.
That all changed when Audi and Merc put running shoes on their RS4, A5/S5 and C63 AMG.
Benz quickened the latter's steering to 13.5:1 (the RS6's is 12.5:1) and extensively modified the front end with lighter materials plus a heavily revised sub-frame and suspension geometry, boasts a wider track, larger knuckles, tighter ball bearings, more camber, reduced castor and new strut bearings.
In the A5/S5, built off the new A4 platform, the diff and clutch have been swapped around so that the engine could be mounted further backwards. This now, for improved weight distribution and therefore quicker damping plus better handling.
The RS6 does not benefit from this arrangement.
How then, could Audi counter the detached, anaemic, lifeless feel of the S6?
Well, by starting with turbochargers. It ups the ante. The RS6 delivers war-like thrust, especially in mid-range. In-gear acceleration feels like a time-warp. And unlike most turbo's, there's no noticeable drop-off this side of the red line.
In fact, the V10 - helped along by short, punchy gear ratios - spins with such zeal and alacrity that a driver is prone to hit the limiter quite often in first.
Steering, DRC and handling
But what about the twisties?
Well, for the RS6 Ingolstadt revised the hydraulic pump, quickened the steering and loaded the system with more weight to work against.
And voila! More feel. More precision. More confidence.
In fact, turn-in is now sharp and lively enough to throw the RS6 into corners with a little bit of tail-end oversteer, even with ESP activated, dispelling nose-heavy understeer like a bad memory; this car can pull more than 1.2 lateral g's.
That's one admirable dynamic improvement, over and above four other secrets like: (1) a V10 weighing in at only 278 kg; (2) quattro drive providing massive traction and grip in all conditions; (3) dry-sump lubrication, enabling lower engine installation for a better centre of gravity (as in the R8); and (4) Dynamic Ride Control.
Being mechanical in operation, DRC's cross-linked hydraulic system instantaneously stiffens the damper on the outside front wheel as the car turns in, guaranteeing a flatter and therefore more stable platform to work off.
Body roll in cornering and pitching under braking have, as a consequence, been thoroughly tamed.
Powering out of the apex - and being driven by up to 85% of rear wheel thrust and traction - also places the RS6 firmly on territory previously owned by BMW and Porsche.
In fact, with the M3's remote steering feel it is Munich that is now under massive attack from cars like the RS4, RS6 and C63.
Ride quality on European roads was also good for such a heavy vehicle. And heavy-duty steel discs on standard 19" wheels (with 255/40 rubber), or massive ceramics on optional 20" wheels (with 275/35 rubber), arrests a serious bit of momentum like a windscreen halts an insect.
Best of all though, if not most important, is the new-found speed from the paddle-controlled six ratio tiptronic auto box. Having slashed shifting times in half, this box is now so quick, smooth and responsive that Audi's marvelous DSG (or S-tronic) suddenly seems redundant, specifically as the tiptronic's torque converter ensures a far smoother getaway - especially on uphills.
Everything in, on and about the RS6 Avant, from looks to systems to operation, is top class.
More importantly is that these elements strike a wonderfully harmonious accord with each other, providing real capital to work with in whichever way you want to go.
In this regard, the integration of frontal fog lamps into the headlamp cluster - clearing up space for bigger air intakes to feed the turbo's - creates a good metaphor for the car's pure, unflustered character and wholesome, solid integrity.
For look: the powerful front end paints a picture of clean and calm confidence. Strong wheel arches squared-off at the top, reminiscent of 1980's quattro styling, hint at the magnitude of that power. And a striking diffuser housing two splendidly big oval pipes at the back confirms the intent.
It all adds up to the ultimate all-rounder. The RS6 is an Avant and a sports car, a luggage hauler and an extreme machine, a highway brawler and a city crawler, an elegantly stylish business vehicle and a superbly functional family estate.
There's nothing, really, that leaves a gap in the driving experience, like Ingolstadt brawn used to do.
Nothing, except sticker price. When the RS6 Avant and, yes, its sedan sibling rock up over here in the fourth quarter, it will most probably blow a big, dark, Escom-sized hole in your pocket.
Think a million-plus.
That's a lot of blowing. But hey, it's also a lot of car.
Egmont Sippel is the motoring editor of Rapport newspaper, a sister publication of Wheels24.