In Europe, ultrafast wagons are an Audi specialty. It started with the Porsche-built RS2, continued through two generations of A4-based RS4s, and carried on to the previous, 450-hp RS6 Avant. At the Frankfurt motor show last fall, Audi unveiled its most awesome grocery getter yet, the second-generation, twin-turbocharged, V-10 RS6 Avant. Packing a massive 580 hp, Audi's latest superwagon can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph. Pay a little extra, and you get a computer chip that loosens the reins even more, allowing the RS6 to reach 174 mph.
Unfortunately, Audi's mad wagon won't be exported to the United States; nor will the RS6 sedan that is likely to be introduced next year. That's a shame, because this Audi combines sports car performance and family-car practicality with all-wheel-drive traction that neither the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon nor the Euro-only BMW M5 Touring offer.
The biggest complaint we had with the previous RS6 was the emotionless perfection of its chassis, which provided a full measure of grip and traction but skimped on driver feedback. The RS6's symmetrical torque split made the car feel numb and vague at the limit, where it would dish up a random mix of mild oversteer, pronounced understeer, and impromptu four-wheel slide. Although it never handles in the same overtly tail-happy way as its rivals from Munich and Stuttgart, the latest RS6 has learned better manners and new tricks. Thanks to the rear-biased 40/60 torque split, you now always know which end is going to break away first. The mechanical Torsen center differential can juggle up to 65 percent of the torque to the front axle and up to 85 percent to the rear wheels. With the available three-position, adjustable dampers set in comfort, the ride betters that of either of its rivals. The upgraded ESP system can be switched off in two stages; the first loosens the traction control for a bit of power oversteer in the bottom three gears, and the second turns it off completely. The automatic transmission's sport mode remaps the gearchange pattern to shift up at higher revs; even still, the car rips through the first two gears at lightning speed. If you're shifting for yourself, you'll need a quick finger on the upshift paddle.
The standard brakes and 255/40YR-19 tires provide plenty of rubber and stopping power for the daily commute, but on a challenging racetrack like Paul Ricard, one appreciates the optional 275/35YR-20 tires and the riveting ceramic brakes, which are 27 pounds lighter despite their larger front rotors. Like all RS models, this one boasts Dynamic Ride Control, Audi-speak for diagonally connected dampers that are designed to reduce roll and dive. The bad news is that the extremely flat cornering attitude makes it hard to decipher the limit, especially at very high speeds. On dry tarmac and when let loose on a circuit, the new RS6 is thus extremely fast but not sufficiently intuitive. It has been tuned for velocity, not for accessibility. Having said that, the car's wider track contributes to its tremendous roadholding, the quicker steering improves maneuverability, and the revised close-ratio six-speed Tiptronic cuts shift times in half.
As in the R8, the 5.0-liter, twin-turbo, direct-injection V-10 is equipped with dry-sump lubrication to keep the oil flow intact even at high-g loads. Redlined at 6700 rpm, the aluminum engine dishes up maximum torque of 479 lb-ft, and it's available between 1500 and6250 rpm. Average fuel consumption works out to an acceptable 17 mpg - that's less than five percent worse than the normally aspirated S6. If you make much use of those turbochargers, however, mileage plunges in a hurry, and the substantial 4465-pound curb weight doesn't help. Externally, the RS6 differs from lesser Avants with its unique wheels, fender flares, two oval tailpipes, and some minor go-faster cosmetics. Inside, this is basically an S6 with more chrome, leather, Alcantara, and carbon fiber, not to mention the additional boost gauge and a sport steering wheel with a squared-off bottom.
The Audi RS6 is teutonic efficiency at its best - plenty of ability served with a cold smile. This car accelerates, steers, and brakes with the accuracy of a robot. But it trades feedback for perfection, and it rates efficiency higher than charisma. This car is so good, so fast, and so stable that it takes a race circuit like Paul Ricard to secure a share of the action without immediately paying a penalty. In this protected environment, you relish the superhuman cornering grip, the ultrastrong brakes, and the instant-on turbinelike urge of that twin-turbo V-10.
In terms of outright speed and point-A-to-point-B ground-covering ability, there aren't many cars this side of a Bugatti Veyron that can keep up with this station wagon on steroids. But in terms of driver involvement, the RS6 still has something to learn. It needs to hone the finer nuances of going fast, relay the deeper tactile senses of the steering and the brakes, and unfold a broader spectrum of handling modularity. To meet these targets, Audi will have to apply more sustainable tools than power, weight, and equipment.