Audi RS6 Performance

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The numbers might be impressive, but so are its manners

Six hundred horsepower. In an estate car. It’s like discovering a horde of marauding Vikings running the tombola at your local village fête. It’s neither one nor the other that’s memorable, but the sheer, magnificent incongruity of the two together.

And if that’s what you like, the Audi RS6 Performance is currently the only show in town. Mercedes-Benz’s all-new AMG E63 wagon will also use a twin-turbo 4-litre V8 to generate at least 600bhp, but we will have to wait probably until next year to see it, and BMW has not yet seen fit to produce an M5 estate.

The ‘Performance’ aspect of the RS6 refers to a rise in power output from 560 to 597bhp. On overboost there’s 553lb ft of torque deployed to all four wheels via new, massive 21in rims. A sports exhaust and a few styling accessories help justify a £7000 rise in list price.

I’ve read a lot of carping about this car elsewhere and – given that it’s a fast Audi, probably the most criticised breed of performance car on sale – perhaps that’s not too surprising. But it’s all nonsense: this is a two-tonne estate car and, given the forces it is charged with controlling, it is magnificent.

The engine, more powerful than in any of its guises when fitted to a Bentley, is a thundering colossus and proof that, when properly engineered, the V8 is one configuration that seems to lose none of its charm for being turbocharged. Lag is minimal, thrust from 2000rpm simply magnificent. I’m confident that 10 years ago the only Ferrari on sale that would have matched this pace would have been the flagship 599GTB.

And contrary to what you might read elsewhere, its chassis is very good. Not world-class, perhaps, nor without scope for improvement, but its grip is excellent and traction better even than that. Unlike so many other fast Audis of earlier eras, it’s properly damped, too, more softly sprung and therefore better riding than you’d expect, but sufficiently controlled to take crests and dips in its stride.

Most importantly, it’s not one of those cars that makes you feel obliged to thrash it all the time or risk wondering why you’re even on board. Turn the driving mode to its ‘comfort’ setting and it quietens down and smooths out beautifully. Only the fuel consumption provides a constant reality check, a gently driven 23mpg warning that using 600bhp to move two tonnes of metal is not the most frugal of activities.

Even so, according to the official figures it’s no more thirsty than a standard RS6; what this means is that the RS6 Performance takes what was already my favourite of all recent Audi RS models and adds more of what was good about it with no perceptible downside save that £7000 price rise. The new Mercedes E-class AMG estate will need to be on top form to beat it.

Factfile

Price £86,420

Engine 4.0 litres, 8 cylinders, twin turbochargers

Power [email protected]

Torque 553lb [email protected]

Transmission eight-speed paddle shift, four-wheel drive

Weight 1950kg  

Power to Weight 306bhp per tonne

0-62mph 3.7sec

Top speed 155mph  

Economy 29.4mpg

CO2 223g/km