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Audi RS 6 quattro Avant

Click to view picture galleryThey say that Eskimos have 40-odd
words to describe snow. Get behind
  the wheel of the latest Audi RS 6
  estate and you quickly realise that
  a new English word is needed to
  accurately describe the kind of speed
  dished up by the 572bhp, four-wheel
  drive RS 6 Avant...”

BEFORE YOU RUSH DOWN TO YOUR LOCAL AUDI DEALER with £77,730 in a brown paper bag to buy one of the most powerful production Audis of all time the latest 572bhp Audi RS 6 Avant you should be aware that you're already too late. For this year, anyway. The entire first year's UK allocation of 600 of these superb cars is already spoken for. Oversubscribed, to be precise. The good news is that they're bringing in an extra 100 next year. Not that a wait even as long as a year will in any way deter keen drivers who have already enjoyed a stint behind the wheel of an RS 6. So what's the attraction?

Bald numbers don't even begin to explain the appeal of this amazing all-wheel drive über-estate from quattro GmbH — Audi's in-house equivalent of BMW's M and Mercedes' AMG high-performance divisions. For a start, there's the RS 6's 5.0-litre V10 engine from which twin turbochargers (one per bank of cylinders) wring out an awesome 572bhp backed by a equally substantial amount of torque — 479lb ft of it. Pub quiz enthusiasts might like to make a note that this is actually more punch than is packed under the bonnet of a Lamborghini Gallardo: 552bhp and 398lb ft.

The RS 6 is limited to a top speed of 155mph but, for another £1,350, Audi will raise the bar — to 174mph. Acceleration is yell-out-loud rapid, too; with 0-62mph taking 4.6 seconds and 0-124mph dispatched in a relentless 14.9 seconds. Effectively, the RS 6 is faster from 62mph to 124mph than most cars are from zero to 62mph. An indecently quick machine, then. Yes — but just to keep things in perspective, the Ferrari 599 recently tested by MotorBar has 612bhp and 448lb ft and needs just 3.7 seconds to reach 62mph from standstill, and it also runs to over 200mph. However, 599 prices start at £197,405.

What makes the RS 6 such an intriguing vehicle is the fact that, supercar-baiting point-to-point performance aside, it is also a fully functional, family-friendly everyday luxury estate car that anybody could step into and drive in even the worst weather without a second thought — apart from being made aware of the power under the bonnet.

Contributing to the RS 6's illusory air of ordinariness is the A6 bodyshell that, at a casual glance, makes it easy to mistake the RS 6 for a bog-standard A6 estate. But look closer and you'll see artfully-flared wheel arches at each corner that are stretched fluidly over striking-looking 20-inch alloy wheels wearing 275/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber. Tucked away behind the huge front alloys are massive brake callipers — six-pot at the front with 'RS' branding; finished not in showy look-at-me red but rather understated black. Walk around to the tail and you'll find two large oval-shaped tailpipes, one at each corner — another clue to the RS 6's well-cloaked ability.

Buy any Audi today and you know that you're getting some of the very best quality available anywhere. As the flagship RS 6 is one of the brand's 'halo' models (alongside the likes of the R8) you would expect the best. And you won't be disappointed — inside and out, everything about the RS 6 exhibits excellent fit, finish and Quality. The cabin not only looks fabulous but it feels it too, with polished aluminium, carbon-fibre and Valcona leather all used to maximum effect.

Plush, top-drawer materials and elegant design aside, the flawlessly 'crafted' cabin is very comprehensively equipped with just about everything you could wish for. The clearly arranged instrument cluster features classy, easily readable white-on-black dials. There's also a turbo boost pressure indicator, oil temperature gauge and lap timer; all accessed via the driver information system.

The three-spoke RS steering wheel incorporates multifunction controls for operating the navigation, audio and telephone systems. It's rim is the perfect diameter and it feels great in your hands. Deeply-contoured every-which-way adjustable Sports front seats with integrated head restraints upholstered in soft leather provide both hard-driving support and long-distance comfort — there's also power-adjustable lumbar support and manually-adjustable under-thigh support along with 6-stage seat heating for both the front and the two outer rear seats. And a memory function for the driver's seat.

Thoughtful touches include a drop-down glasses case in the overhead console, customisable tones for the front and rear parking sensors (our test car was fitted with the optional £375 advanced parking system which adds a rear-facing camera in the boot handle and provides a clear image and parking guidelines — really very useful — on the MMI screen), automatically opening and self-locking boot, individual remote lock-out switches for the left and right rear doors (especially handy if you have children) and out-of-sight drop-down storage bins built into the leading edge of both front seats.

The full kit is too numerous to list here but highlights include a Bose surround sound system, front and rear parking sensors with audio and visual feedback, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electromechanical parking brake, automatic lights and wipers, tyre pressure monitoring system, Audi's easy-to-use Multi Media Interface operating system with 7-inch high-res screen, built-in six-disc CD autochanger, DAB digital radio, 2Zone climate control, Bluetooth, four one-touch auto up/down windows, auto-dimming, heated and folding door mirrors, 3D SatNav, cruise control, drive away automatic central locking, adaptive front lights and an automatic self-opening/self-locking tailgate.

Refinement adds to the cabin's appeal. Despite the 20-inch tyres and high velocities at which four adults and their luggage can travel in first-rate comfort, the RS 6 is a cool place to be at any speed. For those interested, with the seats in place there's 565 litres of boot space; with them down, the load bay accommodates 1,660 litres.

Road and wind noise is kept to a very acceptable minimum, and even the muted hard-edged V10 snarl that accompanies full-bore acceleration doesn't spoil the ambience. This is all about all-out performance: bury the throttle in the carpet and, apart from the scenery flashing past, there's no blatant mechanical fireworks to announce the fact.

While crescendos of visceral sound is deliciously de rigueur for a Ferrari 430 Spider or Ascari KZ1, the startlingly fast, über-smooth Audi is best in stealthy 'seen but not heard' mode. Look at it this way — does Superman make any sound as, faster than a speeding bullet, he goes about his superhero business? In the same way, the RS 6 is a star.

As you admire the leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed race-car style steering wheel, you'll spot the perfectly positioned paddle-shifts on the rear of the horizontal spokes. Left takes you down the gears; right takes you up. Using them gives instant, satisfyingly precise control of gearshifts. Alternatively, the selector lever can be moved into the manual gate and used for fast, incredibly smooth up/down changes — even when you're hard on the power. Fingertips or palm (the selector knob is a perfect anatomical fit), it's your call.

Another core element of this second generation RS 6 is the three-stage Dynamic Ride Control system. The driver can select any one of the three modes — Comfort, Dynamic and Sport — via a quick twist of the MMI control knob on the centre tunnel just behind the sturdy selector lever. The Sport setting provides maximum chassis tightness but unless you're trackdaying, it's way too firm for everyday tarmac. Comfort does what it says while Dynamic is appropriate for press-on driving — as long as you've driving solo. Almost all passengers preferred Comfort.

Combine the huge torque that's on tap virtually right through the rev range (479lb ft from 1,500-6,250rpm) with the customisable damping with quattro permanent four-wheel drive that is continuously distributing power between the front and rear axles — depending on weather conditions, road surface and grip (it's factory-set for a sixty per cent rearward torque bias) — and you have all the essentials for a full-blooded driving machine. Stitching it all seamlessly together is the superb six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission.

The steering — rack-and-pinion with speed-dependent power assistance — is precise and the RS 6 steers fluently. Around town it is suitably light; on the open road it weights up noticeably — enough to make exploring the boundaries of the RS 6's awesome all-wheel drive performance something that can be done with easy confidence.

Snick the selector lever back to Sport and floor the throttle. You'll be catapulted towards the horizon with seemingly continuous velocity that pins you back into the sculpted RS Sports seat. The 4,991cc V10 revs cleanly and single-mindedly, right to the red-line before changing up. It feels unburstable. And the RS 6 can do this all day long, on wet roads or dry. Play fair with the RS 6 and it will play fair with you. It's easy to drive well with nothing to prove.

With more horsepower and torque than a Lambo at your disposal — squeeze the throttle and, regardless of the gear, there's an instant response — even ardent driving can be managed without sending the needle further than halfway round the rev-counter. In fact, you may even find yourself overtaking slower than you could so as not to make the other driver jump as you surge past. Unlike a Ferrari, they don't see an RS 6 coming. In their mirrors it appears to be a standard Audi wagon.

It takes only a short time after electrically tailoring yourself a perfect driving position to discover that the RS 6 is not only very rapid indeed but that speed isn't its only ace — far from it: it has a handful of them. It rides flat, has seemingly limitless grip and traction and unflappable composure. For spirited real-world point-to-point driving, only a handful of very fast cars can stay with it — and they'll need to be driven by better drivers than you.

Stopping the RS 6 is as easy as flexing your foot: massive drilled and ventilated steel discs with six-piston callipers are standard (ceramic brakes are a £6,250 option). And, as you'd expect, they are hugely effective at reining in the RS 6, offering progressive and easy to moderate braking with enormous bite.

Naturally the RS 6 comes with all the usual active and passive safety kit including, of course, the latest generation quattro four-wheel drive system and an Electronic Stability Programme that has been programmed to intervene as late as possible in order to maximise driving pleasure but without compromising safety (if required, the ESP can be completely deactivated). Six airbags (two front, two side and two curtain) are fitted along with Isofix child seat mountings and switch-deactivation of the front passenger airbag.

Another delight is the RS 6's throttle response — it's razor-sharp; no sooner have you thought about applying more power than it's done. The Tiptronic kicks down eagerly, although using the paddle-shifts is the better bet for the greatest control — and that's perfect for harmonising with the RS 6's easy driving style: go in fast; come out faster.

As entertaining as it is to drive at 7, 8, 9 or even 10 tenths, when you're not in a tarmac-blistering mood (or it isn't appropriate) you can dial up the Comfort setting for the adaptive dampers, slot the Tiptronic into Drive and just waft between destinations with more panache than you thought possible.

Audi gives fuel consumption figures as 13.8, 20.2 and 27.4mpg for, respectively, urban, combined and touring. Our test average over several hundred miles of mixed driving, including in London traffic, was 16.4mpg. But what the heck?! If you can afford to buy an RS 6, fuel economy will be the last thing on your mind.

The awesomely fast RS 6 is a must-drive for any performance car-lover with around £80,000 to spend. The RS 6 will, irrespective of the weather, cover ground as fast as any supercar — and it will manage it with aplomb, four-up and loaded with a family's luggage. Don't want five doors? You're in luck: you can now buy a four-door RS 6 saloon. In one word, would I spend my own money on one? Yes! — MotorBar

For more information on the 40+ Eskimo words for snow, Google 'Eskimo words for snow'.

Audi RS 6 quattro Avant
| £77,730
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 16.4mpg | Power: 572bhp | Torque: 479lb ft
CO2 333g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 20E