For a long time, fast Audi estates were ballistic missiles that didn’t offer much in the way of involvement when the going got twisty. That has been changing, though, perhaps most obviously with the RS6.
Previous generation versions of the fantastically powerful wagon have been the sort of things you’d happily use to charge down the German autobahn, but probably be less interested in driving through the Eastern Alps at the other end.
The C8 RS6 took a huge step forward, though, providing a level of engagement RS6s of old simply haven’t. And now, the RS6 looks set to be better than ever thanks to the arrival of the new RS6 Performance.
Not that it really needed it, but there’s now an extra helping of power as well as more torque, rising by 21bhp and 37lb ft to give new totals of 621bhp and 627lb ft of torque. Factor in a gearbox software fiddle, and you’re now looking at a 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds, an improvement of two-tenths of a second.
The RS6 has also lost weight, to the tune of, erm, 8kg. That’s not a great deal for a car weighing more than two tonnes, but what interests us more is how that loss has been achieved - by ripping out some of the soundproofing, making the car’s magnificent V8 a bit more audible from the cabin. Fabulous.
Also new is a locking centre differential and updated software for the electronic rear diff. That matters a whole lot more than the power increase, as the RS6 Performance feels much more rear-biased. It’s not as tail-happy as the average fast, all-wheel-drive BMW, but the RS6 is more willing to kick the rear out a bit under power.
It’s enough of a pivot to make the RS6 feel livelier, without being scary, but it remains a car you can drive enthusiastically with confidence whether it’s bone dry or sopping wet. The rear-wheel steering system and active anti-roll bar setup, meanwhile, make for a car that hides its rather portly weight figure very well indeed.
Audi steering has never been particularly amazing, but this is one of the best setups to ever grace something with an RS badge. The weighting is decent (rather than overly light as has often been the case in the past), the speed is good, and there’s even - gasps - a bit of kickback from the wheel.
All the while, the RS6 rides superbly, and that’s regardless of how the air suspension is set. I’ve gotten bored of writing about turning all settings up in a car apart from the adaptive suspension, but here, you can go for the firmest, lowest-riding mode possible without the car angrily thumping over every crap bit of asphalt. The enormous 22-inch (optional) wheels don’t even seem to have compromised the comfort all that much.
It does, of course, feel spectacularly fast in a straight line, but then the RS6 always has done. You’d need to get the old and new versions back to back to really see if there’s much of a difference. It undoubtedly sounds better inside, though, thanks to that reduced soundproofing. The 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 isn’t quite as theatrical as Mercedes-AMG’s V8 of the same displacement, but it still makes the kind of burbly noises to make you feel all giddy inside. Turbo lag is very well contained, too.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox dutifully changes cogs, and generally does everything it should, except when you’re trying to pull away briskly. Like so many VW Group transmissions, there’s an irritating pause between applying the throttle and any forward momentum occurring. Unless, of course, you use launch control, but that’s not something we’d recommend deploying when emerging onto a roundabout.
In terms of other bad points, there’s not a great deal. The haptic feedback lower touchscreen used for things like climate control - a staple in more expensive Audi models - isn’t the nicest thing to use, but you quickly become accustomed to it. This generation of A6s is also starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, now.
Overall, the RS6 Performance is a triumph. And one that leaves me feeling a little glum. It looks likely that the RS6 will be hybrid, thus heavier still, and probably with fewer than eight cylinders. When we’ve already lost the V8 Mercedes-AMG E63 estate (the next one will probably use a similar inline-four hybrid deal to the new C63 and GLC 63), each thrilling drive in the RS6 is tinged with sadness.
Yes, at £111,570 the RS6 Perf is a staggeringly expensive car, but these things have never been cheap, and now it’s better than ever and also an endangered species, that seems a fair price.