2009 Audi RS6November 13, 2009
We’ve got half a million dollars worth of cars here at our disposal with over 1100 angry horses between them and the weather is perfect. Thanks to the recent typhoon, all the smog that is indicative of Tokyo during a typical autumn day has been swept away, replaced by a more vivid shade of blue and refreshingly crisp winds. The elusively mercurial Mount Fuji is especially clear today plus the absence of humidity makes conditions all the more important when you consider that we also have 4 turbos to feed and 16 cylinders to fill with force injected air and fuel.
I’ve been handed the key to Audis most powerful production car ever made and have just taken the 2 tonnes of agro German bratwurst from a standstill to 100kph in a mere 4.5 seconds. Unleashing 650Nm is as simple as selecting the Sport shift mode and mashing the accelerator as hard as you can. There’s no need to hold on even. The car just blends with the horizon without even so much as the slightest protest, bellowing mightily on each up-shift, clearing its throat as if it were a male lion defending the pride. The truly towering might of the twin turbo V10 rearranges vital organs in a unique way, pinning you to the seat with a mountain of torque and power that is available almost instantly, ramping up at 1500rpm right through to 6250rpm. It’s not a car for the faint hearted when pushed, despite its elegant and understated design. It can quite easily terrorize unwitting passengers as well as it entertains them.
Out on the expressway though, I am totally unhurried in the Audi RS6, lazy even. I’m far more comfortable in here than in any first class bullet train I’ve ever ridden on or business class seat I’ve ever flown in. The only difference here being that the captain controlling the RS6’s 600bhp is yours truly. Co pilot for the day happens to be photographer and photo-shop guru, John Fry.
It’s comprehensively opulent inside the RS6; the shapely, supportive and multi adjustable seats wrapped in sumptuous satin Nappa leather, the headlining and pillars covered in a plush grey suede that feels like the fur of a 3 month old kitten. Neatly embossed RS6 logos on each seat are a constant reminder of what the car is, incase the unlikely happens and you forget what you’re driving. There are lashings of wet carbon fiber on the doors and center console, detail going further still with intricate black stitching on each of the seats. Passengers have acres of room inside the car and each individual traveling at warp speed has been given their own climate control system to make their journey through deep space a comfortable one. I now know how Captain Picard must have felt traveling between planets in the RS6 of the space galaxy, the Enterprise.
The central navigation system is well laid out and intuitive, leagues more user friendly than the cumbersome and fiddly i-Drive system of BMW pedigree. Audis interface doesn’t take very long to adjust to at all and everything is within easy reach. Audiophiles among us need look no further than the Bose 10 speaker, active surround sound system complete with iPod/iPhone interface. The MMI, or Multi Media Interface, is also easily accessible through the central dial. My only gripe being that my iPhone wasn’t being read by the MMI and for me to have access to my iTunes library Airplane mode needed to be switched on, disabling all phone functions.
Fry and I have pre arranged to make a brief stop at the Ebina service area on the Tomei expressway, en route to Hakone and as I round the entrance ramp, the familiar sight of Y and his jet black GTR come into view. It’s such an arresting design, the R35, belligerent and purposeful from any angle and under any light; every crease, fold and ripple designed specifically for the pursuit of cheating the laws of physics. This isn’t a thing of beauty in the traditional sense of the word. It looks like a juiced man with biceps 3 times the size of your own asking you to arm wrestle. The R35 is truly an intimidating menace to behold. Unlike the arm-wrestler, Y is in a good mood, happily showing me his new boots on a different, light grey set of 20” alloys. While the old Dunlop run-flats have now been resigned to a rubbery grave, the car has no doubt benefited from the new rubber along with a power boost from a Nizmo Spec V exhaust system.
Visually, the RS6 appears drab and uninteresting when parked along side the GTR. It’s not the most striking of designs by any means, Audi uninterested in a reputation for be-winged and preposterous extremism although the subtly flared arches at least give something away. Instead, restraint coupled with engineering brilliance is the prerequisite here. Combine all that carbon fiber and sumptuous leather, the maniacal engine plant, the interior appointments and pin point accurate engineering and you get a neatly contained and deliberately underplayed “iron fist in velvet glove”; an engineered elegance that belies the turmoil lurking beneath the elongated bonnet…all 600bhp of it.
Up here in Hakone, another off camber crest is rushing up rapidly and I can feel the GTR is there behind me. At this speed its hazardous to check but sure enough there it is, getting closer every corner. Up and right over the crest and the Audi lifts slightly, steering becoming vague and light, the front right wheel loses contact with terra firma, closely followed by the right rear. I counter the lift with a touch of lock the other way and we are coming back down, Audis effectively proportioned ESP system distributing more power to the front and rear left wheels to counter for the imbalance. It’s a hairy moment, reminding me yet again of the forces at play here, reminding me that yes this will hurt if I screw it up. If you ever do crash in the RS6, it will either be nothing or nothing short of spectacular. Even with this firmly in mind, this car is a real handful to drive quickly. That relaxed swagger back there on the expressway was a façade and I’ve been tricked into complacency. It’s physically demanding to muscle the car point to point and it’s protesting constantly; the fact that Y in the GTR is right on my six isn’t helping concentration levels. No matter what I do, I just can’t shake the Nissan off.
You really notice the weight in the Audi, especially at speed. I’m hammering along with the Dynamic Ride Control ( DRC ) system set to “sport”; its choppy, harsh damping coming at me like a crazed thief that’s trying to shake the loose change from my pockets. Ride aside, it’s still a lively and communicative chassis with a speed adjustable steering system that adds weight to the sensation when feeding in input or making corrections. The massive 275/35 20 inch Dunlop’s are crying out in protest, scrabbling for traction, the brakes chattering under the arrest of the ABS system, the onset of gradually fading brakes noticeably reducing my confidence with every hard stab at the pedal. The braking package is a solid combination for almost every other performance car in the world but it is not effective enough for the RS6. With front rotors measuring 390mm and rear rotors at 356mm, the 6 pot RS badged, Brembo monobloc calipers on the front do an admirable job of attempting to pull up the 2 ton behemoth time after time but they are severely handicapped by the tiny and inadequate single piston caliper on the rear; this exact caliper appearing identical to the one adorning the Audi TTS’ rear braking system. You look into the rear wheels of the RS6 and think, “Please tell me that’s the handbrake?” The rear needs at least another 35mm of diameter and 3 more pistons. Either that or you stump for the delectable carbon ceramic upgrade kit, provided you can live with the added embarrassment of brake squeal. Only available with the 20 inch wheel option, each one of these discs would give you a super sized 420mm of chomp at each corner. I would tick this option without hesitation.
The Audi RS6 is a confusing machine. Make no mistake; this is a man’s machine only under the surface. If the better half ever wanted to go shopping on a whim, a push of the button would be all that was needed to get her there and back easily, in supreme comfort and in record time. This realm in the real world is where the Audi suddenly becomes entirely practical. It dispatches mundane tasks with aplomb and implicit grandeur. It’s not likely to attract too much attention either, with its understated opulence firmly cloaking engineered aggression. This lack of attention is one reason a certain demographic among the population will not stump for the RS6. It just doesn’t “pull the birds”. Trust me, I tried. The shameful part being that in Shibuya later that weekend, the baby Audi TTS driven by Fry behind me was getting winks and appreciative coos from the ladies while I sat in the RS6 limp and perplexed. Shape is everything and to the opposite sex, the RS6 may as well have been a plate of sausages.
If you aim to avoid being “soft” in this particular way, you spend an equivalent amount of money and get the R8; its pumped, bulging and curvaceous body attracting not just females and males alike but anything with a heartbeat.
And that is the ultimate point for the RS6. Brakes and ride issues aside, it fills a particular market segment perfectly. Audi went balls out to create the fastest saloon in the world and ended up with their most powerful production car ever. The people who buy these cars want to travel in supreme comfort and need to get to places in a hurry. They’re too busy to pay attention to the alcoholic tendencies of the thirsty power plant and are unconcerned with attempts to impress. They need a Lear jet for the street, their own private bullet train, something that the whole family can also enjoy. It’s practical in this way, and makes complete sense from a day to day perspective. Keep in mind though, that this car has two distinct personalities and if you’re looking to really push it to the limits, a few “options” will need to be checked to really get 10/10ths out of the car. For the other 95% of owners who aren’t interested in this level of extremism, the Audi RS6 is definitely one of the best ways to travel by road.