Avant’s rings of power

Audi RS
Audi RS
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The concept of accelerating from zero to 62mph in less than four seconds takes a bit of bending your head around, but that’s the capability on offer from Audi’s latest RS6 Avant Quattro.

A top speed of up to 189mph and the potential for up to 28.8mpg are also delivered by this £80,000 leviathan. Overkill doesn’t come any more polished than this.

I think I’d have put money on Audi being the last of the big three German manufacturers to pull back from what seemed a futile power struggle and bring out a sporting car with less power than its predecessor but colour me pleasantly surprised here. An RS6, that famously excessive estate, wouldn’t have been the car I’d have fingered for suddenly going on a 100kg diet and shucking off a bit of power in the name of efficiency and response but that’s exactly what’s happened here. Though the new V8 4.0-litre twin turbo engine can’t hope to match the wailing 5.0-litre V10 for aural fireworks, the reality remains that while the old car is singing for its supper, the latest RS6 is marching off into the distance. It’ll sprint to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. If you also feel that 155mph is just inordinately tardy as a top speed, a Dynamic Pack will push the electronically limited top speed first to 174mph, and subsequently to 189mph.

Adaptive air suspension is a standard fit item for the first time on an RS6, although should you want a stiffer set up, you can choose steel springs from the options list. Audi’s all-wheel-drive system utilises a self-locking centre differential to split torque 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear. It’ll send as much as 85 per cent to the rear axle if required, where a sport differential decides which of the two back tyres are best set to deploy that torque to the tarmac.

The massive blistered wheel arches might have gone, replaced by a sleeker shape, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that this RS6 is no cooking A6 wagon. The most noticeable changes are the matte aluminium applications on the body, the matte black honeycomb radiator grille at the front of the car, the bumpers, the wings, the sill flares and the roof spoiler. At the rear of the car, the diffuser and the two large, elliptical exhaust tailpipes ensure that the back end looks as mean as the front.

The Audi RS6 needs to wriggle into a very well-defined genre, so you kind of know what you’re getting with this one. It’s crushingly rapid, faster indeed than the old V10-powered car, despite ceding a few brake horsepower. It’s better finished than ever before and is also usefully more economical, giving it better touring range.

While the numbers have improved, the car’s personality has changed. It’s now something that’s a good deal subtler than before, Audi being confident that wherever it’s sold, the RS6’s target customers increasingly understand its particular lingua franca. That’s a gamble but I think it’s one that has a reasonable chance of success. In being the first manufacturer to blink in the power arms race, Audi has also bought itself significant credit. Curiously, that may well be this car’s most significant legacy.