Review and photos by Russell Purcell Audi’s "skunkworks special" finally slips across the 49th parallel Unlike many auto makers, the folks at Audi AG have never been ones to flaunt their successes in the world of motor sports (of which there have been many, in almost every professional classification) by merely slapping a special sticker package or badge on the back of one of their models in an effort to generate a little more interest from the enthusiast driver. Instead, the company has quietly offered small runs of performance-enhanced models such as the S4, S6 and S8 models of late, and legendary cars like the original Audi Quattro Coupe that took to the streets in all its all-wheel-drive, rally-bred glory in the nineteen-eighties. Decades of success on some of the world’s greatest race circuits have lead to enormous advancements in engineering that constantly trickle down into the company’s cars. This has lead Audi to achieve levels of performance, safety and drivability that make all other auto makers envious, as they should be. Their recent dominance in the world of endurance racing continues as the venerable R8 prototypes prepare to school the field yet again at Lemans in mid-June. Like arch rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW, who promote their factory ‘tuner’ cars via their respective AMG and M-Power labels, Audi’s skunk-works is known simply as quattro GmbH, obviously selected to honour the company’s all-wheel-drive system of the same name. The latest offering to benefit from track-born R&D is the Audi RS 6, a rocket of a car that is making its first appearance this side of the border for 2004, after making a successful 2003 introduction in the USA. What makes it so special? Our lucky American neighbours gobbled up their allocation of a mere nine-hundred RS 6 sedans when the models hit US showrooms as a 2003 model. For 2004, Audi Canada has been allocated ninety cars converted to full Canadian specifications, made available through a select number of ‘RS 6 Certified Dealers.’ Based on the A6, the limited production RS 6 models get their motivation from a twin-turbocharged version of Audi's aluminum, 4.2-litre, double overhead cam, 40-valve, V8 engine, which in naturally-aspirated trim resides in the engine bay of the new A8 models as well as in select A6 cars. There is no doubt that much of the engine's architecture was developed in the similarly powered R8 racecars which have proven ultra-reliable as well as virtually unbeatable since making their way onto the grid in 1999. Underneath the hood of this rare bird roam 450-horsepower and 415-lbs.-ft. of torque. This puts this rather inauspicious looking sedan in the same arena as cars like the Porsche Turbo X50, and Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG. These numbers make the RS 6 sedan and wagon (Avant) the most powerful production models ever offered by the Ingolstadt-based company. Performance The 4.2-litre, all-aluminum V8 engine has twin turbochargers, one for each cylinder bank, and twin intercoolers, blessing the car with loads of low-end torque as well as very little turbo lag. Generous use of the throttle will wind this car up to 100 km/h in a mere 4.6 seconds, making passing manoeuvers a joy. The RS 6’s engine is a technological marvel, with architecture that includes 90-degree cylinder banks, a lightweight aluminum block, light alloy cylinder heads, dual overhead camshafts (with variable intake and exhaust camshaft adjustment), roller cam followers and a direct ignition system. A Motronic ‘adaptive’ engine management system controls boost pressure, knock and exhaust-gas temperature for enhanced engine performance and efficiency. The dual-branch exhaust system with multiple mufflers, larger pipe sections and metal-base catalytic converters give the RS 6 added performance as well as a throaty sound. Unfortunately, a carbon fiber composite cover shrouds the engine, robbing viewers of this masterpiece of an engine, but it does give the car definite performance flair. At the Wheel The 5-speed automatic found in my test model was a surprise, as many lesser cars now offer six and even seven speed units. However, it performed flawlessly, and I never found myself wanting for more selections. The RS 6 driver can choose to keep the transmission in ‘drive’ and putter around like a responsible citizen or, by choosing the ‘sport’ setting - which bumps up the revs and optimizes shift points for performance rather than economy - better exercise the car’s 450 ponies. Flipper shift paddles reside behind the 3-spoke, thickly padded steering wheel. Wide enough for four fingers, these positive feeling controls feature ribs to grip on to while tossing the car in haste. The right hand gets up-shift duty while the left handles downshifts. Once you get used to the video-game feel their use becomes second nature, and they seem to operate much more efficiently than the simple steering-wheel mounted buttons that the company offers on lesser models. My only complaint would be that their placement could be a problem if you have very large hands or tend to wear gloves when driving, as they sit very close to the control stalks for the turn signals and windshield wipers. Even though they are attached to the wheel and the control stalks are mounted to the steering column, you still risk activating the wipers and signals with every turn of the wheel when utilizing the paddles. The highly communicative steering has a very positive feel, as it is free of too much power assist, a frightful condition that hinders a driver’s ability to get truly comfortable with many high-performance automobiles. The low sidewall tires and lightweight, 18-inch aluminum, 9-spoke alloy wheels contribute to the RS 6’s excellent handling response, while their wide footprint and gummy Z-rated tires help keep this monster from taking flight. Torque steer is not an issue, as the latest and greatest variant of Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system immediately reacts invisibly to the driver's dance with the throttle, sending power where it is needed and assisting traction where it is suspect. The sport-tuned suspension is so good that the car’s cornering attitude is virtually flat with only minimal body roll noticed when travelling at high speeds in long radius turns, or navigating a tight slalom. This is no doubt the result of Audi’s innovative new ‘active’ suspension system, Dynamic Ride Control (DRC), which utilizes diagonally connected, hydraulically dampened shock absorbers. By continually adjusting the hydraulic pressure at each shock absorber, DRC limits body roll and pitch during active driving. Cool. Safety First The RS 6 is outfitted with enormous composite brakes (14-inch front and 13-inch rear), with huge cross-drilled discs and gigantic Brembo calipers, the latter wearing RS 6 branding. If these brakes can’t stop your progression, you are in serious trouble. The RS 6 also benefits from an Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) with Brake Assist. This advanced system increases vehicle control by continually monitoring vehicle stability and intervening automatically (through selective braking) if there is any risk of a skid. Due to the extreme performance potential of the RS 6, the parameters of both the ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) systems have been specifically redefined to match the car’s ultimate abilities, as have the various components that make up the quattro all-wheel-drive. Safety is the top priority at Audi, and the RS 6 is very well equipped to protect its occupants. Next generation airbags deploy from the steering wheel and passenger-side dashboard, and side airbags units are mounted up front, but are available for the rear outboard seating positions as an option. Taking it one step further the RS 6 is equipped with “Sideguard” curtain airbags that deploy from the headliner and pillars ensuring that occupants are protected from a side impact, as well as glass and flying debris. A central locking system coupled with a remote anti-theft vehicle system (with immobilizer) should keep the car safe on the rare occasions that you are not situated behind the wheel, while the new Audi Telematics System provided by Onstar is ready to come to your assistance at the touch of a button. Exterior Styling Audis have long been some of the most aerodynamic automobiles on the road, and as the RS 6 is derived from the more subdued A6, the company wanted to add a little more flare, but not enough to make the car look like a boy-racer or to attract the wrong kind of attention (read: thieves and /or traffic enforcement officers). The body of the RS 6 features a high waistline with wrap-around corners and a gradually sloping roofline. The long passenger compartment is bordered by a raked windshield at the front and thick, tapered pillars at the rear. This is all basically standard A6 fare, as are the big taillights. Self-leveling, multi-lens, Xenon ‘Plus’ headlamps set it apart, and are supplemented by wide pattern, high-intensity, air dam-mounted driving lamps. A wide, egg-crate grille is joined by a similar unit below the front bumper (home to the intercooler ducting), the latter sandwiched between two smaller units that provide cool air to the brakes. All this grille work gives the car a look that is all-business, but not excessive, as it is cloaked in black. A subtle dose of brushed aluminum trim surrounds the twin grilles as well as the windows all around, encases the side mirrors, and also highlights the trunk edge. Very subtle RS 6 badges are affixed to the front grille and rear trunk lid, but the real clue to its identity remains the extended wheel flares at all four corners as well as a short lip spoiler at the edge of the trunk. A pair of beefy exhaust tips peeks out from beneath the extended rear bumper shroud. A shark-like dorsal fin sits at the rear of the roof panel and houses the GPS and cellular equipment required for the Audi Telematics (On Star) system, the latter a new offering on select 2004 Audi models. On the Inside The interior of the RS 6 is wrapped in sumptuous two-tone silver and black leather, thick wool carpeting, and rich wood trim and top-notch plastics. Carbon-fibre can be ordered in place of the wood pieces for an extra charge. All controls and switchgear are well placed and easy to use and feature soft-touch operation. All five seating positions are spacious, and heated seats and well-placed vents guarantee everyone will remain comfortable. The two front buckets offer exceptional lateral support, and 12-way adjustability, with full memory function for the driver. The RS 6 nomenclature appears on the bottom of the perforated, electrically adjustable, 3-spoke steering wheel, is embroidered into the front seats, printed on the large tachometer, and emblazoned on the sill guards. The gauge cluster is easy to read day or night, and features white illumination and red indicators with red digital readouts for items such as gear selection and data from the driver information computer. Audiophiles will applaud the choice of a Bose engineered Symphony II, 12-speaker sound system with subwoofer and 200-watts of clean power. A 6-disc CD changer ensures hours of listening enjoyment. Other standard luxury equipment includes a power glass sunroof with sunshade, and heating units for both front and rear seats. The Parktronic Acoustic Parking System is also part of the standard package, while items such as a voice recognition phone system and Audi’s DVD-based navigation are popular options. Sport-minded owners may spring for the aforementioned carbon-fibre interior trim as well as an available sound-enhancing exhaust system with black exhaust tips. My tester came equipped with a Warm Weather Package that includes a power rear window shade (and manual side rear window shades), but also a solar-powered sunroof that allows the car to vent warm air when you are away from the car, based on your preset temperature preferences. Cargo Space While classified as a 5-passenger sedan, the RS 6 is most comfortable when it is only asked to carry a quartet, as is the case with most cars of its size. Sure three adults can sit in the rear compartment and each seating position offers its own adjustable head restraint and three-point seatbelt, but larger adults may find it a bit confining. All four doors feature swing out storage bins that retract flush into the door panels at the lightest touch. An extra large glove box offers sufficient space for items like CDs, gloves, maps and ice scrapers. The front seats are separated by a sleek console that features an armrest, concealing small storage recesses under its leather skin, a shallow tray for items like change or glasses, and a bigger space for items like wallets or cell-phones. There are also map pockets on the backs of both front seats. The rear seats fold down to allow for larger items to be carried, and each side can be locked via a key operated mechanism on the rear panel behind each seat. A centre pass-through is also present, and comes with a ski bag as standard. The trunk lid is remote activated, and when lifted reveals a substantial space for cargo such as luggage and groceries. A pair of t-shaped bag hooks drop from the top to hang your shopping bags on, and a cargo net can be used to prevent gear from rolling around while underway. A large, carpeted box on the passenger side of the trunk robs the car of some capacity, and at first I thought it housed the spare tire. Boy was I surprised to find out it contains the car’s battery, as the massive engine and its extra plumbing pushed it out of the engine compartment. Conclusions If I, for one, had $109,000 burning a hole in my pocket I would run to my Audi dealer and beg him to put me behind the wheel of an RS 6. It is that special an automobile - a true four-season luxury sports sedan with room for five and enough performance to loosen your fillings. Add to this production numbers not to exceed double digits for the entire country, and you know you will have the only one on your block, if not your city. Technical Data: 2004 Audi RS 6 Base price $109,000 Options $1,525 (warm weather package) Freight $600 A/C tax $100 Price as tested $111,225 Type 4-Door, 5-passenger mid-size luxury sport sedan Layout longitudinal front engine/AWD quattro Engine 4.2-litre V8, bi-turbo, DOHC; 5 valves per cylinder Horsepower 450 @ 5700 - 6400 rpm Torque 415 lb-ft @ 1950 - 5600 rpm Transmission 5-Speed Automatic with Tiptronic and ‘Sport’ mode Curb weight 1840 kg (4,024 lb.) Wheelbase 2759 mm (108.6 in) Length 4858 mm (191.3 in) Width (with mirrors) 1992 mm (78.4 in) Height 1426 mm (56.1 in) Trunk space 425 litres (15.0 cu.-ft.) Fuel requirement Premium unleaded Fuel consumption N/A Warranty Four years or 80,000 kilometres plus 12-year limited warranty against corrosion perforation. Also includes Audi Advantage, which is no-charge scheduled maintenance for the same four years or 80,000 kilometres and Audi 24-hour Roadside Assistance.