What Car? says...
There's a belief among petrolheads that if you want something with pace and space, you buy an Audi RS6. But we’re going to let you in on a little secret: Audi’s halo car may be comfortable and ballistically fast, but it’s never been that involving as a driver’s car.
Which is perhaps why, when it finally came time to update the current fourth-generation RS6, Audi Sport decided to replace the regular model with a Performance edition.
The headline change is an extra 29bhp courtesy of two larger turbochargers, and with power now up to 621bhp, the RS6 Performance Avant is the most powerful Audi estate car of all time.
As we all know, though, more power doesn’t necessarily equate to more fun, hence the brand’s decision to fit all Performance models with four-wheel steering and a torque-vectoring differential as standard. Combined with optional lightweight forged alloy wheels, the RS6 should now – in theory – feel lighter on its toes.
Oddly, though, a number of go-faster goodies such as carbon-ceramic brakes and a sports suspension set-up called Dynamic Ride Control (which replaces the standard air suspension with diagonally interlinked coil springs) remain optional. If you take up the option in combination with range-topping Vorsprung trim, you’ll be looking at a car that costs more than the Audi R8 supercar.
When it comes to fast estate car rivals, your choice is surprisingly limited. There is the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo – a wagon that manages to combine high-class luxury with continent-crushing performance – and the BMW Alpina B5 Touring, a 200mph BMW 5 Series Touring with enough firepower to smear your dog liberally over the rear window.
And then there's our favourite performance estate car, the BMW M3 Touring. It's quite a bit smaller than the RS6 with less cargo space, but once you add a few options it costs almost as much. It’s also about as fun as fast family cars get.
So, is the Audi RS6 Performance the best of the lot? It certainly looks up for the fight. Read on over the next few pages of this review to find out how good it is to drive, how practical it is, what the interior quality is like and how it compares with its rivals in all the important areas.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
If you're looking for a serious turn of speed from a car that's comfy and not overtly challenging to drive, the Audi RS6 is one of the best performance car options out there. The trade-off is that, despite now getting four-wheel steering and a torque-vectoring differential as standard, it's less fun than a BMW M3 Touring or BMW M5 Competition.
Indeed, right up until the moment you squeeze the accelerator you could be forgiven for thinking you’re driving a regular Audi A6 Avant. Under the bonnet lurks a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine capable of dispatching a mighty 621bhp and 627lb ft of shove.
That power goes to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The results are punchy: 0-62mph in 3.4sec and an electronically limited top speed of 174mph. If that's a bit puny for your tastes, there's an option to have Audi whip off the restrictor altogether, so it'll top out at 189mph.
"Accelerates like a freight train" is rather clichéd, but there’s no better way to describe the way the RS6 launches towards the horizon. It has a truly vicious turn of speed, enhanced by a rip-snorting soundtrack. For the Performance version, Audi has ripped out some of the sound-deadening to let more of the V8’s guttural exhaust note make its way to the interior. And it's worked.
The car is extremely surefooted, grips well and steers confidently. In fact, with its standard rear-wheel steering, which is designed to help tighten its turning circle at town speeds as well as increase its stability on faster roads, it's as easy to drive in tight car parks as it is reassuring to drive quickly on flowing B-roads.
There's a 'but' here though: the M3 Touring and M5 saloon have more playful handling. If you really want to up the ante on a track, you can turn off their four-wheel drive and unleash their power to the rear wheels alone.
It’s far harder to do that in the RS6 without purposely trying to upset the balance on the way into a corner. Of course, that won’t make the blindest bit of difference for day-to-day use, but it's a clear pointer to the differences in philosophies between the RS6 and its rivals.
It’s why the RS6's gearbox isn’t quite as snappy as the M3 Touring's, with slightly slower gearchanges that are less perceptible and increase comfort. Speaking of which, pop the RS6's drive mode selector to the Comfort setting and the standard-fit air suspension – or the more focused optional adaptive Audi RS Sport setup – is supple and compliant.
Both suspension configurations work well with the huge 22in alloy wheels that are available and offer much-improved comfort, particularly on bumpy town roads, over the M3 Touring and M5 saloon. At motorway speeds, the RS6 is superb, with a calm ride and a low level of wind and road noise.
Like in the M5, there are two buttons on the steering wheel (RS1 and RS2 in the RS6's case) to add a feeling of purposeful intent when you want a bit more engagement. You can set them with your desired options for the aggressiveness of the steering weight, the suspension stiffness, the gearshift speed, the level of stability control intervention and the accelerator response.
The interior layout, fit and finish
In traditional RS Audi fashion, the RS6 takes the already impressive configuration of the standard Audi A6 Avant and dials up the sportiness a notch. There’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel, swathes of carbonfibre, plenty of Alcantara wrapping and heavily bolstered, diamond-stitched-leather sport seats.
The front sports seats are genuinely superb. They’re figure-hugging, yet remain supremely comfortable over long distances, thanks to multiple electrical adjustments, which include four-way lumbar support. They also allow the driver to sit low behind the highly adjustable steering wheel.
Our only complaint about the driving position is that your left leg is pushed over to the right due to the encroaching footwell wall. Granted, it's a problem you quickly get used to, but it doesn’t exist at all in the BMW M3 Touring.
The digital instruments are similar to those of the standard A6, but there are some RS-specific displays, such as a retro ‘hockey stick’ rev counter that mimics a 1980s Audi Quattro's dials. The screen can relay all sorts of other information, from sat-nav instructions and media tracks to track-day data, including lap times, G-forces and the temperatures of your engine oil, coolant, tyres and even the car's electronic limited-slip differential.
There are two touchscreens too. The lower screen is mainly for the climate controls, while the upper one does the rest of the features: media, navigation, car settings and so on.
The software is responsive and on the whole the menus are simple to follow, but with so few physical buttons, you do find yourself looking away from the road a lot to make adjustments. The Porsche Panamera is no better here, but the rotary controllers in the M3 and the BMW M5 are easier and safer to operate while driving.
The RS6's build quality is right up with the best performance cars including the M5 and the Panamera, and visibility is good. It's easier to see out of than the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo and comes with front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, adaptive matrix LED dipped headlight beams and laser-light main beams.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
This is where the Audi RS6 wins major points in the "only car you’ll ever need" stakes. Despite having enough performance to embarrass some supercars, it's practical enough to transport you, your family and your luggage from anywhere in the UK to the south of France without breaking a sweat.
It's big enough in the front that you're unlikely to find even two sizeable adults complaining that they feel hemmed in, and the interior feels more open and airy than the more enveloping insides of the BMW M3 Touring and the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo.
In the back, a couple of six-footers will comfortably be able to sit behind similar-sized adults, without their knees pressing into the back of the front seats or their heads touching the roof lining.
There's a bit of a hump running down the floor for a third rear passenger to straddle, but otherwise, there's enough space available for them to be comfortable. The Panamera Sport Turismo has quite a perched and poky seat for a middle passenger.
The boot is usefully square in shape, making it a doddle to load up with luggage, and is class-leading in size. It eclipses both the M3 Touring’s and Panamera Sport Turismo's by quite a margin, and is fractionally bigger than the BMW Alpina B5 Touring's boot.
The RS6 can hold an impressive nine carry-on suitcases below its parcel cover, compared with seven in the M3 Touring. The rear seats fold in a useful 40/20/40 split to give you a bigger load bay or the option of carrying several pairs of skis between two rear passengers.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
As standard, you get 21in alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, an electric tailgate, power-folding door mirrors, metallic paint, leather seats, four-zone climate control, privacy glass, RS Sport seats (with heating and cooling in the front) and keyless go. But if you’re in the market for the ultimate super estate car we suspect you'll want to option the forged 22in wheels (saving 5kg per corner), Dynamic Ride Control and the RS Dynamic Package plus, which introduces a higher top speed and carbon-ceramic brakes.
We can also see a number of buyers jumping straight to range-topping Vorsprung trim, which essentially ticks every option box, adding the lightweight wheels and sport suspension, plus a panoramic glass sunroof, a matt carbon styling package, a night vision camera system and carbon interior trim with striking looking coloured twill inlays.
Unsurprisingly, running costs are likely to be steep, but the RS6 should be no worse than rival performance cars. Unlike the M3, the B5 and the Sport Turismo, the RS6 uses engine cylinder deactivation and a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to maximise fuel economy. We managed 22mpg on a mix of roads.
The RS6 hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP but the Audi A6 Avant was awarded the top five-star rating. It has plenty of active safety systems as standard, including lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB).
We'd advise buyers to add the reasonably priced Tour Pack, which includes adaptive cruise control and a camera-based traffic-sign recognition system, and the City Assist Pack, which features blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
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Audi has already introduced the RS6 Performance. Gone is the mere 592bhp ‘regular’ version of the RS6 and in its place sits the 621bhp Performance version.
According to Audi figures, the RS6 can accelerate on to an electronically limited top speed of 174mph. If you take up the option of having the restrictor removed, that rises to 189mph.
No. The current RS6 has an Audi developed, twin-turbocharged V8. However, the ‘C6’ RS6, launched in 2008, featured a V10 engine that was closely related to the V10 in the Lamborghini Gallardo.
|RRP price range||£114,890 - £132,290|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||22.8 - 23|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£8,305 / £9,593|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£16,610 / £19,185|