Nobody would guess this innocuous-looking Audi station wagon, a car usually driven by cool dads and tenured professors, is packing one of the world’s most outrageous engines. But this isn’t any ordinary Audi wagon; this is the ultra-rare RS 6 Avant and crammed under its hood is a 5.0-litre, 10-cylinder, twin-turbocharged, 571-horsepower motor, which, if you’re counting, is more power than a Lamborghini Gallardo. There’s probably only two of these old RS 6s in Canada and we’re driving both of them, because the good people at Audi’s museum in Germany shipped these cars across the Atlantic to Banff, Alberta so the V10 engines could be given a workout.
Only 8,000 of these second-generation RS 6s were ever built between December 2007 to mid-2010. There were 6,500 Avant station wagons, and rest as sedans, but (sadly) none were sold in Canada for reasons we’ll explain later.
The team at Audi Sport, makers of the marque’s high-performance RS cars, knew even back in the early ‘00s that they’d only have one chance to shoehorn a twin-turbo V10 into a station wagon, says Stephan Reil, the Audi engineer who masterminded every RS car from 1998 to 2018. Fuel economy regulations were already becoming more stringent, putting an end to ever-larger engines. Indeed, the two-generations of RS 6s that followed (including the current model) downsized to V8 engines, which makes the V10 models bonafide modern-classic collectors’ items. In Europe, decent examples are worth anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000 euros.
Driving in the Rockies
Settling into the cabin of a Nimbus Grey 2010 RS 6 sedan, the first thing a driver will notice is the leather. It smells richer and feels softer than the hide you find in newer cars, which lends the old Audi a real sense of decadence. The white RS 6 Avant has cognac-colour leather racing buckets, stitched like a baseball glove. Apart from the dated infotainment system, the cabin still feels quite modern.
You expect fireworks when starting up the twin-turbo V10, but it simply purrs. Cruising down the road it’s low-drama, which is entirely in keeping with the car’s understated style and a reminder of what separates the RS 6 from its rivals at M and AMG.
“The focus is on combining track ability in a daily-driving car, an easy to drive car, a car that can really be used by everybody,” Stephan Reil explains.
The roads around Banff are smooth, but the suspension soaks up any ruts and bumps with ease. The ride is more comfortable than you’d imagine for such a high-performance machine, which Reil chalks up to the Audi’s clever Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) suspension system. The dampers are hydraulically linked, diagonally connected each wheel across the car in a big “X” shape. A valve in the middle of each link controls the flow of oil in such a way that the suspension is soft and compliant over bumps but resists body-roll in corners.
Despite the fact these cars are more than 10 years old, they’d still be perfectly suited to grocery runs, daily commutes, road trips. When a twisty piece of mountain road opens up, however, the old RS 6 is engaging enough to put a smirk on the face of even the most jaded of drivers.
With the accelerator pressed into the carpet, the 5.0-litre V10 delivers a strong initial kick of torque (479 lb-ft) from just 1,500 rpm that pushes a driver back into the seat. As the engine spins through the midrange it keeps you pressed into the seat, as you’d expect in a twin-turbo motor. (Reil said the engineers actually had to reduce the torque output of the V10, because it would’ve otherwise been too much for the six-speed automatic gearbox to handle.) The real surprise comes as the tachometer nears the redline. Many turbocharged engines feel like they run out of steam toward the end of the rev range, but not so with Audi’s V10, quite the opposite. It makes a shocking, manic lunge for the redline with a final burst of acceleration, which, to my surprise, punches me back into the seat even harder. The power seems endless and, frankly, there isn’t really space to use it all on public roads.
The engine is mechanically related to the V10 found in Lamborghini Gallardo, except the mad geniuses at Audi Sport added two turbochargers. Opening the hood of the RS 6, it’s completely jam-packed. There’s not an inch to spare; I’ve got no idea how you’d ever get a wrench in the engine bay to work on it.
RS 6 in Canada
Audi Sport never thought it could turn a profit selling the second-generation RS 6 in Canada or the U.S., so the car was never offered here. Reil explains the decision had to do with the fact the cars were low-volume and in production for only two or three years; the company just didn’t think it was worth the investment to crash-test and certify them for sale in North America, which is a shame.
This story does, however, have a happy ending. For one things, the 2008-2010 RS 6 sedan and Avant are nearly 15 years old, at which time they can be legally imported into Canada and registered. If you simply must have Audi’s twin-turbo V10 family car, there will soon be a way.
For another thing, Audi is now, at long last, selling its uber-wagon here in Canada for the first time. The 2023 Audi RS 6 Avant model starts at $126,500 and it makes an ideal chariot for parents with a need for speed.