Inflation is a funny thing. You don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, and then it sneaks up on you. Like when your jaw hits the floor after seeing someone on Twitter mention they’re driving a £134,000 Audi RS6. Granted, that particular C8 press car was an extreme example, but the chances are you’ll need to spend well over £100,000 to buy one of these cars if options are taken into account.
Sounds like a lot of money for a fast estate, but the Mercedes-AMG E63 S is now around that figure, and if you crunch the numbers, you’ll find the original C5 RS6 had a starting price of £95,000 in 2020 money - near enough the same as the new one.
The R8 quattro is also roughly where it should be in terms of price, but there’s a crucial difference - back when it was launched in 2009, there wasn’t a cut-price rear-drive version. Now there is, and unlike the RWS, the ‘R8 RWD‘ is a permanent part of the range. And at £111,000, it’s in RS6 territory.
I can’t imagine anyone choosing between a mid-engined, two-seater coupe and a 2.1-tonne estate car, of course. That wasn’t the point of getting these two together - we were merely intrigued as to which of these £100-and-a-bit-thousand Audi models can excite the most when driven on the same road.
This pairing emphasise just how silly fast the RS6 is now - with a 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds, this big wagon is the faster car to the benchmark time by a tenth. Meanwhile, the top speed for the R8 is 198mph. The RS6 would surely reach that figure too, were it not for a 155mph electronic speed limiter.
Despite the similar acceleration figures, they get to the benchmark figure in very different ways. The RS6 uses a twin-turbocharged V8 situated at the front and kicking out 592bhp at 6000rpm and 590lb ft of torque from just 2050rpm, while the R8’s mid-mounted, naturally-aspirated V10 needs to be wound all the way to 7900rpm to achieve peak power of 533bhp and 6400rpm to hit peak torque of 398lb ft.
The C8 really should feel like it has all the grace of a greased-up hippo after driving to our shoot location in the R8, but oddly, it doesn’t. It’s around half a tonne heavier, quite a bit larger and has a higher centre of gravity, but good lord, can you chuck it around.
Previous versions of the RS6 would quickly push on into understeer when anything other than moderate corner speeds were lobbed their way, but the C8’s front end refuses to give in. The body stays nicely stable throughout, and there’s a slight pivoting sensation in the middle which is largely the result of the rear-wheel steering doing its thing. The all-wheel drive system can theoretically send around 80 per cent of torque to the rear axle, but the setup here isn’t as playful as that of the Merc E63.
You have to contend with turbo lag in the RS6, of course, but there’s not all that much of it. And at over 3000rpm, the V8 explodes the RS6 down the road with terrifying force. It sounds good, too. But compared to a V10? Well, that’s where proceedings take an interesting turn.
10 cylinders that aren’t force-fed by turbos should be a near-unrivalled configuration when it comes to noise, but the R8 now has a pair of particulate filters in its exhaust system. Granted, you still get a better din than most cars out there, but from the inside, that howl at the top end which used to make your hairs stand on end has become noticeably muted. You’re right near one of the greatest gigs ever put on, but you’re standing outside the venue.
The RS6 has filters like these too, but the V8 doesn’t seem as hamstrung by them. And with one of the R8’s greatest attributes now compromised, you end up focusing more on the dynamics. This is an issue, as while the RS6 is up there with the best super estates, the R8 is far from the best-handling supercar.
The McLaren 570S is by far a better drivers’ car, and whether you go for a 911 Carrera S or a 911 Turbo, Porsche has a more dynamically satisfying car to suit. That’s not to say the R8 is bad to drive, of course - after being in the RS6, you can certainly feel the increased agility, and with those front driveshafts gone, the steering is a little sweeter than in a standard R8, albeit too light and still a bit vague.
Even though the front wheels are no longer driven, traction from the rear is rarely a problem in the dry. There’s usually only a hint of rotation in more demanding corners - if you want more of that, provocation is necessary. The R8 RWD allows a surprising amount of slip angle in its ESP Sport mode, but being a rear-driven, mid-engined car, you do need to be ready to catch slides quite quickly.
The R8’s Italian cousin, however, does this a whole lot better. The version of the 5.2-litre V10 in the Lamborghini Huracan Evo RWD is more powerful, responds more fiercely, and has a greater power output. Driving one of those not long before sampling this Audi has not done the latter any favours.
The big difference between the RS6 and the R8 is that the estate car exceeds your expectations, while the supercar only just about meets them. The R8 performs as it should - it’s satisfying to drive and exciting to a degree, but the RS6 provides the bigger thrills because it does things your brain tells you an estate car weighing over two tonnes simply shouldn’t.
All of which leads me to an unexpected conclusion: if I could choose only one to blast down a good road, I’d take the RS6.