Review and road test of the Audi RS6 [C7] (2013 - 2020)
ULTIMATE SIX MIX
By Jonathan Crouch
If you like things simple, it doesn't get much clearer than this. This third generation 'C7'-series Audi RS6 was in its production period (2013-2020) the world's fastest estate car. Up front, you get a 560PS twin turbocharged V8 sending drive to all four wheels in Audi's time-honoured quattro tradition with a ferocious punch that makes this car as quick to 62mph as a Lamborghini Gallardo. Yet there's space for five and 565-litres of luggage space in the back. Your Labrador may not like the result of this highly compelling technological package, but the driver in you certainly will.
5dr Estate (4.0 V8 petrol)
Does the luxury estate segment really need contenders offering the option of supercar performance? Audi thinks so. This third generation 'C7'-series RS6, launched in 2013, was the quickest model of its kind in its period - as all its predecessors had been. The RS 2 Avant of 1992 and the first generation RS 4 Avant of 2000 were based on the brand's more compact designs but with the first 'C5'-era RS 6 Avant series first seen in 2002, Ingolstadt stepped things up a gear, offering buyers in search of the ultimate station wagon a larger and more powerful choice.
That first 4.2-litre V8 version offered 450PS, while in 2008, its faintly frightening 5.0-litre V10-engined 'C6'-series successor upped the ante still further to 579PS. A pinnacle of power as it turned out for like its German rivals, Audi subsequently stepped back from the spiralling horsepower race by developing engines that worked smarter rather than harder. Proof of that came with the launch of this MK3 'C7'-series RS 6 in the Spring of 2013, complete with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 beneath the bonnet.
With 560PS, the power it delivered might have dropped slightly over what was on offer before, but it was also lighter and more efficient, so the car still managed to be faster than ever, as well as being significantly cheaper to run. In other words, there was no question of this RS 6 having gone a bit soft in its middle age. If you doubt that, then just three or four seconds behind the wheel of this astonishing machine is all you need to underline its credentials. There was a light facelift in 2015. And a faster 'Performance' version with 600PS was launched in 2016. It sold until a replacement 'C8'-series RS 6 model was launched in 2020.
What You Get
So what do you think? It's true that this RS 6 must walk a fine line when it comes to exterior design, subtle enough not to draw unwelcome attention but aggressive enough to please those in the know. Job done we'd say. To the uninformed, it looks like a big Audi estate with some shiny bits. True enthusiasts though, will spot the numerous RS-specific design details, like the matte black honeycomb radiator grille at the front with its matching matte-aluminium door mirror housings.
Moving round to the side, you get a set of handsome 20-inch seven-spoke forged alloys as standard, although there was also a 21-inch option that most ignored for the sake of ride quality. The subtly blistered wheel arches and side sill extensions give the car a planted, pugnacious stance, while the small roof spoiler is a nod to the RS 6's trademark high speed stability. The finishing flourish is a rear diffuser framed by a pair of oval tailpipes.
And inside? Well there are so many slick pieces of design here that it's hard to know where to start. Build quality from the Hungarian factory is faultless and everything hangs together without appearing cluttered or overly complicated. Certainly the view from the driver's seat is something quite special. You're gripped by delightful prominently side-bolstered monogrammed RS super sport Valcona leather seats, trimmed with a honeycomb quilted finish. They're heated and electrically adjustable for height, upper backrest position and lumbar support, as well as the usual back, forth and tilt functions.
Other highlights? Well we love the rubber and metal pedal set, the illuminated door sills, the fold-out 7-inch LCD display that pops from the dash and the meaty flat bottomed steering wheel that contains all the controls you need and none you don't. Through it, you glimpse a purposeful set of instruments with black faces, white dials and red needles. Buyers choose between carbon, matt-brushed aluminium or piano black interior inlays.
And for rear seat passengers? Well access isn't quite as good as it could be if the doors opened a little wider, but that's something you'll really only notice when lugging baby seats in and out. Once inside though, it feels very nice indeed, provided that you're not stuck on the hard central seat. Thanks to the wheelbase increase of this generation A6, owners of the previous generation 'C6'-series RS 6 will notice leg and headroom improvements that enable a couple of six-foot adults to stretch out in comfort.
As for the boot, well there's 565-litres on offer. If there is no substitute for sheer size, then pushing forward the split-folding rear bench frees up as much space as most will need, though because the backrest simply flops down upon the seat cushion, you do get a slightly uphill cargo bay, one reason why the 1,680-litre total isn't quite as much as you'll get in, say, a rival Mercedes E63 AMG Estate. But then that car doesn't quite have the interior feel-good factor of this one. And we're guessing that for most owners, that'll be crucial.
What to Look For
Mostly, this 'C7'-series RS 6 will cost you when it comes to tyres and fuel. Otherwise, the report card is pretty strong. There are, overall, only three main issues here. First, the brakes can sometimes warp, so there' the potential cost of replacing brake discs. Secondly, the coolant hose can sometimes split on the facelift (post-2015) cars, causing significant damage to the engine - we're advised this costs approx £4k to fix. Finally, there's the issue that the alloy wheels can buckle and crack under weight of the car - cost is approx £3.6k to fix out of warranty.
Want more detail on those issues? Well the standard 20-inch rims are forged, lighter and problem-free as far as forums suggest - but a lot of people prefer the look of the 21s. You can buy a set of 21s on eBay.de for around £2,500 with tyres. As for that coolant hose issue, well it's true that it can very rarely rub on a clip on the bulkhead in post-2015 cars, but it is a 10 sec preventative fix (you just move the clip - see RS246 forum [forum.rs246.com]). And the brakes? Well one owner we came across said he'd done 21k on original discs and pads and the stoppers were problem free and had plenty of life left. It depends how you drive of course - anyone can knacker discs and pads and these are heavy cars.
(approx based on a 2015 RS 6 560PS - Ex Vat) A pollen filter costs in the £18 to £34 bracket, an oil filter costs between £13-£29 and a rear lamp costs in the £238-£259 bracket. A Bi-Xenon headlamp is around £561. Brembo front brake pads sit in the £258 bracket for a set - or £130 for rears. A pair of wiper blades cost in the £31 bracket.
On the Road
That 'world's fastest estate car' billing kind of clues you in to what to expect from the Audi RS 6, but even knowing that fact ahead of driving it won't prepare you for quite how brutal and inexorable its power delivery is. Nothing can. Not even the aggressive body styling or subtle sporting cues like the flat-bottomed steering wheel and hip-hugging seats oversell this car's ability. If anything, this is a model that masks its performance somewhat; a supercar in disguise if you will.
Unless you choose a car fitted with the optional sports exhaust, there's not too much drama when you thumb the aluminium starter button down here on the centre console. The engine woofles into life and settles to an innocuous idle - as you might expect from much the same powerplant you get in the syrupy smooth Bentley Continental GT. Deep down though, you know that this is just a feature of this RS 6's dual personality. It can do mild-mannered if it needs to but you don't buy a car as expensive as this one for something meek and mild do you?
For instant and total immersion into the RS 6 experience, you need to do the following. Find yourself a clear space of road, disengage the stability system and select 'Sport' mode on the gearbox. Then apply left foot to the brake with right foot planted on the accelerator. The engine holds revs at about 3,000rpm and then you sidestep the brakes and let the launch control system hurl you up the road. Unlike many seriously quick performance models, you don't have to balance the car on the clutch or have any worries about traction. It just grips and goes. You'd never think that you were firing almost two tonnes of Audi towards the horizon, such is the power of that V8 engine. And of course with quattro all-wheel drive, it's barely any slower in the wet, conditions in which a rival rear-driven Mercedes E63 AMG estate would sit with its rear tyres spinning impotently. That's what defines this RS model. It asks so little of the driver yet delivers so consistently.
Under the bonnet, it was all change from what went before. Whereas the previous 'C6'-series RS 6 got an exotic 579PS 5.0-litre V10 similar to that plumbed into a Lamborghini Gallardo, this car instead got a 560PS twin turbo 4.2-litre V8. A retrograde step? Not at all. No it doesn't yowl like the old V10 version did, but that engine never felt particularly well suited to a big estate car. The reason? Torque - pulling power. Where the V10 could manage 650Nm of torque, this one packs 700Nm and it's delivered all the way from just 1,750rpm, so you get the punch low in the rev range, meaning that the engine is never caught off the boil. As soon as you poke the accelerator, you've got its full measure.
We've talked about how this Audi accelerates off the line. Well, if you've an autobahn, a race circuit or an airfield runway to play on, it'll keep going at that same ferocious rate until a spoilsport limiter cuts in at 155mph. Want more? Well, some original owners opted to increase this figure to 174mph by specifying the optional 'Dynamic' package - or they pushed the limit up even further to 189mph with the even pricier 'Dynamic plus' pack. Audi engineers quietly confided that with no electronic limiter, this car would sail through 200mph without any problem. Either way, you'll find that well into three-figure speeds, it's got the measure of some very fast machinery indeed, cars like the BMW M5 and even the Porsche 911 GT2.
This engine is so different in feel to its predecessor that it made the RS 6 feel an utterly changed proposition. Whereas the previous version was angry and shouty at times, this MK3 model goes about the job with far less fuss and to better effect. If you want a few more aural fireworks, you'll need a car fitted with the optional sports exhaust, but much of this car's appeal lies in the fact that there's something a little stealthy about it. Just about the best analogy we can think of for the RS 6's unrelenting performance is that it doesn't so much feel as if it's powering itself, more that it's been hooked up to a giant and hugely powerful winch. You just sit at the wheel and watch the horizon spool into fast forward.
Building a hugely powerful engine is just one aspect of making the world's most complete super estate car though. And remember, this engine is less powerful than the old V10 but the car is markedly quicker. How's that been achieved? A lot of it comes through weight saving. Around 100kgs was pared off the kerb weight and dropping from ten cylinders to eight up front meant that this car felt substantially less nose-heavy than before. The quattro 4WD system was revised as well, with a standard 40/60 front/rear torque split, but, after that, the clever centre differential can direct up to 70 per cent of torque forward or up to 85 per cent rearwards depending on which end is experiencing the first traces of wheel spin.
So what's it like to launch this automotive equivalent of a Titan missile through the twists and turns of a typical British B-road? Well, the RS 6 was the first Audi RS car to ride on air suspension, which we'd suggest is probably the right set-up for our lumpy British tarmac. Ingolstadt though, thought some enthusiasts would still want the sharper response of a steel-springed system. The 'RS sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control' set-up (optional to original owners) uses three-way adjustable shock absorbers that reduce body roll through the corners. Even with this firmer arrangement, the ride is better than RS 6s of old. Or at least it is provided that you don't get a car specified with the larger 21-inch alloy wheels.
On the move at speed around especially tight twisty roads, this car never shrinks around you when you're really driving it hard - you're always aware that this is a sizeable hunk of machinery. But you're also always in awe of the fact that it feels so completely unflappable, with an almost complete absence of roll, understeer and pitch when accelerating or braking, thanks mainly to a couple of things - one mechanical, one electronic. The mechanical bit is covered by a sport differential that through the bends, actively distributes torque between the rear wheels. Electronics meanwhile, furnish you with a torque vectoring system that acts on all four wheels, lightly braking any about to lose traction during cornering.
Less impressive is the electromechanical steering, something that to be honest, we never really gelled with in testing this car. Yes, there's weight but there's not a whole lot of feel. At first, we found this a little disconcerting, especially when trying to feel where the limits of the car's grip were. After a few days with this Audi though, we learned to trust the front end and just enjoy the accuracy you get at the helm. As for the gearbox, well you probably won't be surprised to hear that there was too much torque on offer here for Audi to be able to offer a manual option. A little more surprising is the fact that the eight-speed automatic provided wasn't Audi's twin-clutch S tronic unit but an older ZF tiptronic transmission which is apparently better able to cope with all that grunt. You can control it with wheel-mounted paddles should you wish. We tried doing that before getting hideously lost as to which of the eight gears we were in, and then realised that the software was doing a better job than us anyway, especially if you select the Sport mode. It's uncannily aware of exactly which ratio you need at any given time, shifting down on the way into corners and holding gears when it senses you're really pressing on. You control this via the 'drive select' system familiar from humbler Audi models, where, via 'comfort', 'efficiency', 'dynamic' or 'individual' modes, you can also tinker with steering weights, throttle and steering response and such like. You'll soon settle on a configuration that works for you. Or more likely, just select 'auto' and leave the software to do its thing.
As ballistic as the RS 6 is under full acceleration, it's perfectly civilised when you're not in the mood. There are lots of reasons for that, but we're just going to pick out one. The accelerator pedal calibration - a thing of rare beauty. The first third of its travel allows a gentle, limo-like step off the line, the urge building as you go further. Only at the very end of its travel does the RS 6 go really wild. As a result, it's very easy to control the Jekyll and Hyde personality of this car, a machine long portrayed as the flat-track bully of the autobahn. Here it evolved for the better - and in ways that aren't always obvious. There's real talent here and, yes, subtlety. That you might not expect.
This may not be the most powerful estate car in the world from its era but in every meaningful respect, it was the fastest, exactly as it was designed to be. Speed, it seems, is not directly relational to power and by shaving the weight, increasing the torque, improving aerodynamics and reducing friction in the engine, Audi managed to do more with less when it came to this 'C7'-series RS 6. Quite how much more only really becomes apparent when you exercise the throttle pedal with intent. This thing is quite jaw-droppingly fast - certainly quick enough to make its key AMG rival from Mercedes seem as if it's weighed anchor.
It's not perfect of course. Steering remains the most obvious area for improvement, while some will feel the car's personality only really emerges when the optional sports exhaust is fitted. And, despite the weight savings, it's still large and heavy enough to lose a little to Audi's smaller RS 4 Avant model on tight and really twisty roads. It feels churlish to grumble though. The engineers at quattro GmbH hit virtually all of their design objectives with this RS 6. It has a charisma of its own, an incredibly special interior and looks like a supercar's evil henchman from outside. Best of all, that devastating power never, ever loses its appeal. The result is an astonishing machine - and a monumental force to be reckoned with.
Audi RS6 [C7] (2013 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch