We're on a stretch of the Autobahn just a few miles outside Munich. It's a restricted two-lane section littered with trucks and taxis, but there are a few wide-open swathes with less traffic and no speed limits. A dawdling VW Golf pulls right and we give the accelerator a determined kick. The 2013 Audi RS 6 takes a gulp of air, summons its turbos and unleashes its 552-horsepower V8 on all four wheels.
Moments later, we're traveling on the high side of 150 mph, scything past traffic in a matte gray wagon with space for dogs. It's still pulling hard at 170 mph before a blind curve and an instinct for self-preservation call for a lift of the throttle. In just a few seconds, the RS 6 has demonstrated its brutal efficiency and why it has such a cult following in Europe.
In the U.S., of course, the 2013 Audi RS 6 is something of a pariah. The market's antipathy toward wagons of any description ensures it won't be offered in North America, but its engine, chassis and cockpit will be found in the new Audi RS 7 hatchback that arrives this fall.
Under the Hood
The third-generation Audi RS 6 might just signal the end of the horsepower race. The apparently inexorable rise from the 311-hp RS2 of 1994 to the previous-generation, 572-hp RS 6 is over. The latest RS 6 eschews the old car's 5.0-liter V10 in favor of a 4.0-liter V8. A pair of twin-scroll turbochargers, mounted with the intercooler in the "V" of the cylinder banks, develops a "mere" 552 hp from 5,700-6,700 rpm.
Peak torque is up, however, from 479 pound-feet to 516 lb-ft between 1,750 and 5,500 rpm. This is a clue to the RS 6's subtly revised character. While the old model was from a world in which bigger was always better, the latest RS 6 is a more considered high-performance tool.
It is, for example, up to 40 percent more efficient than the old model. As you'd expect, stop-start technology is one reason for this, but the biggest difference comes from using displacement-on-demand technology. The concept isn't new (Chrysler's been running such a system for years and Audi already offers it on the A1 and A3) but it's the first time it's been applied to an RS model. At low to intermediate loads and engine speeds, it shuts down the intake and exhaust valves of cylinders two, three, five and eight. Audi reckons it's good for a real-world fuel savings of between 5 and 10 percent.
The Audi RS 6 has always been about brutal, accessible performance. By Audi's own admission, many customers also own supercars, using this as their everyday ride. The RS 6 must be able to drop Grandma at lunch, then return in double-quick time.
This may be a wagon with 59.3 cubic feet of cargo space in back, but its performance is worthy of a genuine supercar. Its midrange thrust is nothing less than spectacular, and it's ably assisted by the eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Combined with standard Quattro all-wheel drive, the RS 6 gains momentum almost by stealth, riding a vast wave of torque that sucks you toward the horizon like a scene from a sci-fi movie.
Audi claims zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds which, to put into context, is the same time claimed by the Ferrari F40. Top speed is limited, according to your option pack, to either 155, 174 or 189 mph. Unfettered, this car would be capable of more than 200 mph, or so Audi says.
Harnessing the Power
Curiously, the 2013 Audi RS 6 is being offered with two different suspension systems. For the first time, Audi's performance division, Quattro GmbH, has developed a car with an air suspension, and oddly enough it's for those who want to use their RS 6 as a tow car. Silly Europeans.
For those who don't feel the need to go camping with their RS 6, Audi offers a steel spring sport suspension system. The latter will be an option in most European markets, but Quattro GmbH development boss Stephan Reil believes it's the better, more engaging option for the enthusiast.
In Audi-speak it's known as "sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control (DRC)" and features three-way adjustable dampers that are interconnected diagonally by oil lines and a central control valve, all in the name of minimizing body roll. Also on the options list is Dynamic steering, which allows you to play with the settings of the electromechanical power steering.
It all works in conjunction with a Quattro all-wheel-drive system that employs a self-locking center differential to vary the torque from front to rear. The default setting is 40/60 front to rear, but up to 85 percent of the torque can be sent to the rear in extremes. Audi's sport differential is also used on the rear axle, distributing force between the rear wheels.
Stopping power is provided by 15.4-inch front discs with six-piston calipers, although 16.5-inch carbon-fiber-ceramic discs are available as an option. They're housed in either 20-inch or 21-inch forged alloy rims. The latter wear 285/30R21 tires at each corner.
Driving the Beast
The 2013 Audi RS 6 is a giant bully of a car. Although Audi's claiming a 198-pound reduction compared to the old car, it still weighs 4,500 pounds by the time you add a driver. It's also the biggest car in the class, measuring 196 inches long by 76.2 inches wide (excluding mirrors). For all its sophistication, you never escape the impression there's a lot of car and a lot of inertia.
As a consequence, the Audi demands a textbook driving technique. Brake in a straight line, turn in smoothly, let the suspension take a set, then let the four-wheel-drive traction and vast reserves of torque drive the car out of the bend. Manage all that mass successfully and you have a car that can carry enormous speed in almost every condition.
The adjustable damping really does work. In its most extreme "Dynamic" setting it's so firm as to be borderline harsh, but at its most comfortable, it does a decent job of posing as an executive sedan. The old cliché "everyday supercar" has rarely seemed so appropriate.
A Noticeable Improvement
It's appreciably better than the old RS 6. Reil says the Quattro GmbH team was able to influence the design of the latest version of the A6 earlier in its development process, giving it a better baseline from which to work its magic.
The lighter engine also helps. The old car always felt heavy in the nose, a setup that also promoted understeer. The new model changes direction more fiercely and feels much better balanced, although the V8's roar never quite matches the sonorous cry of the V10, even if you opt for the sports exhaust.
So high are its physical limits that you're unlikely ever to properly explore them in the real world, which is a mixed blessing. Anyone expecting this giant wagon to do a neat impression of a 2013 Porsche 911 will be disappointed. It's not nearly as agile, and although the steering firms up nicely and is pleasingly direct, it's still lacking in ultimate feel. Rather like the latest 2013 BMW M5, the RS 6 is a deeply impressive performance tool, rather than a de facto sports car.
The 2013 Audi RS 6 is a classic high-performance Audi. The blistered wheel arches, understated yet purposeful styling and immaculate cabin are an oft-repeated recipe that has achieved a supersized fan base. It's not hard to understand the appeal.
It's difficult to think of another car at any price with such a combination of searing pace and real-world practicality. Only the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon comes close to matching the RS 6 as a consummate all-rounder.
All of this suggests that the RS 7 we'll actually get in the States will make quite an impression. Its role in life is slightly different, as it will go head-to-head with the BMW M5 and E63 sedans. There's no doubting that the Audi will have the pace to keep up with its compatriots, but whether it will have the finesse is still up for debate.
|Year Make Model:||2013 Audi RS 6 4.0T Quattro 4dr Wagon AWD (4.0L 8cyl. Turbo 8A)|
|Vehicle type:||AWD 4dr 5-passenger wagon|
|Configuration:||Longitudinal, front-engine, all-wheel drive|
|Engine type:||Twin-turbocharged V8, direct injection, gasoline with cylinder deactivation and auto stop-start|
|Valvetrain:||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, variable intake + exhaust-valve timing|
|Compression ratio (x:1):||10.1|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||552 @ 5,700|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm):||516 @ 1,750|
|Fuel type:||Premium unleaded (required)|
|Transmission type:||Eight-speed automatic|
|Suspension, front:||Independent multilink, stabilizer bar|
|Suspension, rear:||Independent multilink, stabilizer bar|
|Steering type:||Electric speed-proportional power steering|
|Brakes, front:||15.4-inch two-piece ventilated steel discs with six-piston fixed calipers|
|Brakes, rear:||15-inch two-piece ventilated steel discs with fixed calipers|
|0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.):||3.9|
|Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.):||19.8|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.):||4,500|
|Legroom, front (in.):||41.3|
|Legroom, rear (in.):||37.4|
|Headroom, front (in.):||37.2|
|Headroom, rear (in.):||37.8|
|Shoulder room, front (in.):||57.5|
|Shoulder room, rear (in.):||56.3|
|Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft):||59.3|
|Bumper-to-bumper:||4 years/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain:||4 years/50,000 miles|
|Corrosion:||12 years/Unlimited miles|
|Roadside assistance:||4 years/Unlimited miles|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.