Audi RS 6 Avant: low flying at Munich Airport
AUDI RS 6 AVANT
What exactly is it? The flagship performance version of the Audi A6 range and the latest to wear the coveted RS badge. It’s only available in the Avant body style, although the same powertrain will be available in the RS 7 four-door coupe.
Powertrain: 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 producing 412kW/700Nm. Eight-speed automatic, full-time four-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 9.8 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 3.9 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? The equipment “highlights” guide that came with our car was 60 pages long – and that’s the short version. The RS 6 has adaptive cruise control, side assist, LED lights – but also surprise-and-delight features such as Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) system with satellite navigation and “MMI Touch”, which allows the user to input characters with handwriting on a trackpad-like surface.
Price: To be announced closer to launch in October.
Audi does not actually own the Munich Airport Center (MAC), although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Emerge from Terminal Two at Munich Airport and you find yourself in a massive atrium of steel and glass. To your right, the famous Hotel Kempinski. Ahead, a courtyard and travelator that leads to the Audi Forum and Audi Showroom. Elsewhere within the airport environs are two separate Audi training facilities.
Ostensibly, it makes perfect sense for Audi to maintain a base at Munich Airport. It’s an ideal location for global executives, dealers and media to meet.
It’s also about status. Audi is not based in Munich: head office is 70km away, in Inglostadt. It’s easily accessible by road or train from the airport, actually – you’d think it would be vastly less expensive and almost as efficient to shuttle Audi guests to head office when required.
But that might leave room for Munich’s home brand, BMW, to make even more of an impression around the place. The very obvious presence of Audi Forum at MAC is great marketing to an eligible audience and an elegant way to push BMW about a bit.
Audi Forum was the venue for the launch of the latest RS 6 last week. The car has a smaller-capacity engine with two fewer cylinders than the previous model, produces slightly less power, consumes 30% less fuel with the help of cylinder-on-demand technology (it can shut half its cylinders down in gentle driving) and is 100kg lighter.
Audi RS, BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG: all of these flagship high-performance brands are downsizing and reducing their impact on the environment.
But is prepared to compromise on ultimate performance and dynamism. Every time a new RS, M or AMG comes out it is as focused on elegantly pushing the competition about as much as possible. Velvet gloves all round.
So the new RS 6 is also considerably faster, more aggressive and more technologically advanced than the previous model. The benchmark 0-100km/h acceleration time of 3.9 seconds is sensational, supercar-fast.
In accordance with a gentleman’s agreement among German carmakers, the RS 6 is electronically limited to a top speed of 250km/h. On request, Audi will increase that to 280km/h. Ask again and it could be 305km/h.
Why RS is still special
It’s tempting to think of the RS 6 as simply an S6 with the volume turned up. It looks very much the same and has the same base engine (which is also shared with the Bentley Continental).
But that would be wrong. Much as you can argue Audi undermines its pure RS models by sharing so much with the S-range, these flagship versions are still comprehensively redeveloped by quattro GmhB.
The RS 6 boasts another 103kW/150Nm over and above the S6 – sufficient to power a small car by itself – and it does not come from simply turning up the turbo boost. There are significant component differences in the two engines, despite the shared capacity.
The RS 6’s quattro drivetrain (it has an eight-speed automatic rather than the seven-speed S tronic of the S6) and adaptive air suspension are configured especially for the heroic performance of this model.
One of the most remarkable things about the RS 6 is that it stretches the performance and handling capabilities of the A6 base car into the stratosphere with minimal impact on ease-of-use and comfort.
It isn’t just that the RS 6 is a practical Avant. It’s an easy car to drive slowly, with a seemingly endless supply of torque and a smooth transmission.
Audi even seems to be getting the message about ride quality after years of rock-hard suspension on its sporty models. The RS 6 has 20-inch rims as standard but was surprisingly supple on German roads. Which, granted, are far smoother and quieter than those in New Zealand.
With more pace and less weight, the RS 6 manages to combine that truly outrageous acceleration with a surprising level of sheer entertainment in corners.
The dynamic steering adjusts steering ratio to vehicle speed, the car turns in with assurance (not always the case with all-wheel drive) and while you wouldn’t call it nimble, the sticky RS 6 chassis does respond readily to your wishes.
The sports exhaust sounds epic, although it clatters when the flaps open and close at low speed. Actually, I don’t mind that. It adds character, although it’s alarming the first few times it happens.
Audi’s RS models are sometimes criticised for their lack of passion but there is also an explicit acknowledgement of the brand’s heritage in every RS 6 that makes it a feel-good machine.
The continued focus on the Avant body style, those subtle styling cues that reference the original Quattro coupe – although it’s disappointing that this model eschews the retro squared-off wheel arches that have been an RS signature for so long (and remain on the RS 4 Avant).
Despite all of the RS 6’s low-speed comfort, practical packaging and driver-assistance technology, you still get that foreboding feeling when you prod the accelerator pedal.
The RS 6 might be a big four-wheel drive station wagon but there is always sufficient performance on tap to guarantee an embarrassing result if you exercise poor judgment as driver.
This is an extreme car that still inspires a little fear. That’s good. It proves that the RS brand is alive and well.
Your flight is open for check-in
On our final run in the RS 6 down the autobahn towards Munich, there was a quick dice with a BMW M6 gran coupe – a new model also being launched to the media in the area that week and no doubt driven by a jet-lagged journalist fuelled by espresso and adrenalin.
It was a ridiculous situation, the macho posturing stuff of the car magazines I used to read as a child: two German supercars battling for performance supremacy on unrestricted motorway space.
The story will be more exciting if I don’t tell you that I wasn’t actually driving at the time and the autobahn was quite busy. Regardless, our adventure did not last for long. We found our ausfahrt (exit) to MAC, while the M6 continued to another place entirely.
But it was enough to know that low flying can be admirably achieved in the RS 6.
QUATTRO WITH A LITTLE Q
How many RS models are too many? Before 2009, Audi would have said “two”. For 15 years, Audi was determined to produce only one RS model at a time, in strictly limited numbers.
Production of a new one would not start until the previous one had finished. RS versions were also usually introduced at the end of the model life of the donor car.
No longer. Since 2009, Audi has dramatically expanded the RS range. It will introduce four new RS models this year alone, making a total of eight – including its first crossover product, the RS Q3.
Audi has also pledged to launch RS versions earlier in the model cycle. The new RS 6, for example, comes just two years after the introduction of the A6 on which it is based.
Quattro GmbH, the Audi subsidiary that develops and builds most RS models, celebrates its 30th anniversary in October 2013.
It was formed to protect the quattro name after the success of the Ur-Quattro in world rallying and for many years existed only on paper. Its first road car was the 1990 S2 coupe; the first RS-branded was the 1994 RS 2 Avant.
The growth of quattro GmbH has been significant: from 2500 cars in 2000 to 11,500 in 2012. The company name is written with a lower case ‘q’, as are the model names of all Audi quattro variants – except for that very first Quattro coupe of 1980.