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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Driving the Gen 2 RS6

Chismillionaire was tempted to not even post this, but since the article states the US will get the next generation RS6( a much faster and lighter machine) I felt obliged to pass along to our readership.

Strictly speaking, the 2009 Audi RS6 sedan should be labeled "Audi Quattro RS6 sedan," since the building of all RS models happens in the Quattro facility in Neckarsulm near Stuttgart. Though Quattro GmbH isn't as widely known as BMW's M division or Mercedes-Benz's AMG subsidiary, the reputation of the Audi high-performance division is growing, and the performance credentials of cars like the RS6 (RS stands for RennSport, or race sport) is responsible.

Any adventure with this high-tech all-wheel-drive wonder car with its 571-horsepower twin-turbo V10 provokes saucer eyes and fresh dialects of body English from any driver who thinks he's got skills. In the most general of senses, the 2009 Audi RS6 sedan is one grunting, panting thug of a car.

So Much Oomph, So Much To Oomph
We first noticed the thuggish tendencies of the RS6 personality back in January 2008 while urging the 2008 Audi RS6 Avant around the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France. After a few hairy laps in that bellowing Sepang Blue wagon, we were smiling like The Joker. Of course, we were also wondering what business any car bearing the RennSport title has weighing as much as a young circus elephant — some 4,464 pounds according to Audi.

Had it been a special version of the closely related S6 Avant, then fine. Even the Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon is acceptable to us at 4,399 pounds, because, well, it's a Mercedes. But anything "RS" really has to be fantastically clever and really enlightening at the track, as sheer power falls only in the middle of the top 10 list of RS credentials as developed by Quattro. And the RS6 Avant just didn't meet the cleverness quotient.

On the other hand, this Misano Red RS6 we've just driven on the heavily policed roads around Dusseldorf, Germany, and over some good stretches of no-speed-limit autobahn, seems in every way dynamically more precise than the Avant, though technically quite identical. We guess that the 87 fewer pounds hanging off the back of the sedan versus the wagon helps minimize both chassis flex and body roll. And the optional 20-inch wheels with 275/35ZR20 Pirelli P Zero treads also make a big difference.

This 2009 Audi RS6 also carries the optional 16.5-inch ceramic brake discs with eight-piston calipers up front, as well as 14-inch ceramics in back with floating single-piston calipers. These brakes (available only with the 20-inch wheel option) arrest your forward progress as if you'd hit a wall of wet cement. Even better, these ceramic rotors help peel away a total of 26.9 pounds in unsprung weight from the RS6 sedan and are guaranteed a lifetime of 190,000 miles.

Engine Art
As in the RS6 Avant, the ingredient that begs to get most noticed is the 571-horsepower twin-turbo 5.0-liter version of the Audi V10 engine. Though the majority of the engine architecture is shared with the S6's high-revving naturally aspirated 429-hp 5.2-liter V10, RS6 project director Jens Koch tells us, "More or less 400 different parts in the RS6 engine are unique parts, there being usually no more than 400 separate parts to any engine." Pretty unique, then.

Maximum boost pressure calibrated into the software that manages the twin variable-geometry IHI turbochargers is 10.2 psi, and it's this steady prodding by the turbos that explains how the 4,337-pound RS6 sedan launches to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 4.5 seconds, or one whole tenth of a second quicker than the RS6 Avant. As project director Koch puts it, "These turbos can be programmed to assist the engine to a much higher degree, so you can imagine what the car could do if we let it."

Rumors abound that the 2009 Audi RS6 sedan has wiped its way around the Nürburgring in 8 minutes flat. Others tell us that unlimited prototypes routinely jumped above 200 mph. "Turbos are essential equipment for an RS car," adds Koch. "For one thing, it is a sure way to differentiate the Audi RS experience from the BMW M or Mercedes-AMG experience."

This is a throttle that almost obliges one to hammer it. There are 480 pound-feet of torque chugging the two axles forward all the way from 1,500 rpm to 6,250 rpm. Maximum power arrives exactly when the torque finally relents at 6,250 and then carries on to 6,700 rpm. As a result, forward thrust never lets up. And every second, the exhaust is rumbling and roaring through large twin oval exhaust tips in a way that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand right up.

The six-speed automatic transmission shifts relatively predictably via paddles on the steering wheel and proves a fine match for this engine, but we crave more crispness in both drivetrain response and shift action.

The bad part in all this is that the RS6 — for all its direct-injection wonderment and high technology — pollutes Mother Earth like a Greenpeace anathema. When conservatively driven, the RS6 sedan purportedly returns a combined average of 16.9 mpg, but we all know in our tree-hugging hearts that this number will be more like 12.5 mpg in real-world driving.

Best on Track Day
The 2009 Audi RS6 in either Avant or sedan guise is sought after by hot-foot executives in both Germany and the United Kingdom. In Britain, they grab an RS6 mainly for the luxo-prestige, since hurtling down the carriageways is not possible due to what always seems like a 1:1 ratio of motorists to policemen. In Germany, however, we can still haul as much ass as we like and frequently over sometimes long stretches of no-limit autobahn.

In these circumstances, we understand completely the reasons for the existence of the RS6. The sensation of speed is deeply physical and everything still feels absolutely under control while we're massaging the factory speed limiter at 155 mph. (Buyers can opt to extend the limiter to 174 mph if they really gotta make that appointment on time.)

Driven normally and around town, this second-generation RS6 is perfectly at home and we weren't wanting for comfort. With the optional Sport Suspension Plus tacked on top of the active suspension, the ride is optimized for any condition. Sport Suspension Plus is directed via the latest version of the Audi MMI onboard system by just pressing the "car" button on the center console and turning the MMI knob to either Comfort, Dynamic or Sport. In our seat-of-the-pants test, Comfort is Euro-cozy, Dynamic is typically Euro sturdy and Sport honestly gives the RS6 some unfortunate broncolike behavior over the blacktop.

Strong Looker
The design trick we love most is the creased fender blisters over all four wheel arches. This is a bit of hard-core heritage borrowed from the Audi Quattro S1 that dominated world rallying during 1985 in the amazingly capable hands of Walter Röhrl. These kinks in the RS6's armor also make room for the grippy set of 20-inch Pirellis.

Our red sedan was the first RS car ever entrusted to us fitted with the black optical pack, which means that all heavily chromed exterior bits turn black. Especially noticeable is the full-frame Audi grille looking like a fighting dog's muzzle. Add the optional-look Titanium-colored wheels and the darkness deepens. There is light, however, in the strip of 10 LEDs under the headlights (other Audis get only six).

The first thing we notice inside is the darker darkness. Between the carbon-fiber look adapted to the interior trim and the black optics here and there, we are feeling sucked into the space-time continuum. Fortunately, the seats are phenomenal support units for the whole back and shoulders, and the suede upholstery of steering wheel and shift knob keep you feeling in touch with the machine.

Just Wait Till Gen Three

North America reportedly will never get the 2009 Audi RS6 sedan, but we will be among the first clients for the third-generation RS6 variants in 2012. Director Koch insists that the next RS6 will be not only faster still, but also much lighter and (perforce) less polluting. "This will be a revolutionary car and much more RennSport at heart," he adds.

Full volume for the run of RS6 (Avant and sedan together) is 8,000 units, with 6,500 of these being Avants and just 1,500 taking sedan form. In Germany, the price starts at roughly $126,000 and Audi executives believe a price nearer $90,000 would be required for success in the U.S.

What with stock brokerages on Wall Street being swallowed whole left and right, the times clearly aren't right for this V10-powered thug to come to America.