“These are exciting times to be a motoring enthusiast.” I am sure it was uttered way back in 1910 when Cadillac introduced the first ignition system. Or even further back, in 1903, when Mary Anderson patented a “window cleaning device” — windscreen wipers to you and me. But with all those foundational inventions out of the way, the world’s engineers have the scope to really push the envelope further than ever imagined. Nothing is impossible. The self-driving technology you can specify in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series or Volvo XC90 is good proof. These days, we have four-cylinder engines producing over 250kW and clean diesels that can easily take you from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a single tank.
Now, despite this endless quest for automotive perfection, it is also encouraging to see carmakers indulge in some good old frivolity. Take Audi, for example, which sought to build a supercar that could also serve as a true family-hauler with space for luggage and the family pet. In 2002, it launched the RS6, a steroid junkie in a business suit with the might to leave pricier and less practical exotics with a cracked septum. That same year, I got to sample the model… on Gran Turismo 3 for PlayStation2 and found that it trashed most of the other cars in the virtual wonderland. It did so in reality, too, with a 0-100km/h acceleration figure of 4.6 seconds.
If you want an idea of how far things have come since, reflect on the sprint time for the latest iteration. It will go from standstill to triple digits in 3.9 seconds. For some perspective, a standard Mercedes-AMG GT will dispatch the dash in four seconds. Our week with the monstrous wagon saw a number of bruised egos — and genuine curiosity from passers-by. In true Audi fashion, it is a bit of a sleeper. Only eagle-eyed car-watchers will spot the wider wheel arches and exhausts, which resemble cooling towers at a power station. At full throttle, the 4.0 TFSI engine will assault the tar with 412kW and 700Nm.
This mill takes an Eskom approach to efficiency as well. Load-shedding ensues in the engine bay when driving at a sedate pace, as four of the eight cylinders shut off. The RS6 wields some impressive performance credentials, but overall the car has an aura of quiet strength. Even with the taps fully open, the V8 does not roar with the same ferocity of an AMG. Nor does it belch and snort as boisterously as a BMW X5 M. The RS6 offers a pronounced whirr that reminds one of a propeller aircraft. Actually, that is a bit of a weak aviation metaphor, considering what this car is capable of. It is closer to a stealth bomber.
With its sleek paintwork, our tester sluiced through traffic covertly. The deserted back roads of Heidelberg offered a chance to open the taps a little more — you find that the driver is ready to back off the throttle well before the car is. An autobahn is what is needed to fully enjoy the incredibly rapid momentum of the RS6. Certainly, this car is no featherweight and you can feel that in the corners. But since it sits low and has the benefit of a sticky all-wheel drive system, the RS6 never feels unwieldy or cumbersome at pace. For the sake of practicality, the ride height can be increased, so that the fierce-looking front end does not sustain scuffs over speed humps or tricky driveways. We have said many times before that Audi makes the finest interiors in the business — and the RS6 is still right up there, considering that not much has changed in the cabin of the A6 since its launch in 2011. It really attests to the foresight the designers had when they crafted it all those years ago. Some points to get excited about are the carbon inlays and RS seats decorated with a honeycomb pattern. Such boy racer elements can appear garish in other cars, but it is tastefully executed here.
The RS6 Avant wears a sticker price of R1 509 000. That is a substantial amount, for sure. But considering those performance credentials and the fact that this is a vehicle you can use every day of the week, it can (almost) be deemed a value proposition. What we have here is a performance chariot for the well-heeled who refuse to drive around in a minivan.