Car of the Year 2004: Audi RS6

In our field of finalists, which includes ocean liners masquerading as automobiles, vehicles sporting shades of yellow that beg for the attention of speed-monitoring law officers, and machines designed with lines edgy enough to belong in a cutlery cabinet, the Audi RS6 appears relatively inconspicuous—which, for some drivers, is its most attractive attribute. One of Audi’s hallmarks is its emphasis on understatement (with the exception of the TT), and the RS6 exemplifies the company’s mission statement of operating under the radar. The ubiquitous gray suit is the best outfit to match the RS6’s unassuming exterior.

However, a turn of the key transforms what appears to be a sleepy family sedan into a rumbling racer, complete with a burble and a slight quiver that hint at its eagerness for launch. The RS6 is the first North American car tuned by Quattro GmbH, Audi’s in-house high-performance division, and this inaugural effort does not disappoint. A quick press on the gas provides the RS6’s driver with an instantaneous rush. 

The 450 hp machine does everything right on the road. Twin turbos give the 4,024-pounder enough kick to propel it into passing lanes and barrel into corners, while the vehicle’s Dynamic Ride Control system adjusts hydraulic pressure for each shock absorber, eliminating any hints of body roll during aggressive driving. Audi’s signature all-wheel-drive Quattro system makes the RS6, despite its kick-in-the-pants low-end power, an easy vehicle to pilot and one that can be driven year-round regardless of what region of the country you call home. The car’s Electronic Stabilization Program also monitors the performance of the RS6. By applying brakes to the appropriate wheels, it automatically corrects situations such as skids and oversteers.

Three characteristics of the RS6 merit particular commendation: interior, transmission, and styling. An unusual trim of gray poplar wood lines the dashboard, while leather and aluminum lend the cabin a cool, detached feel. Switches are large and clearly marked, and the steering wheel also features readily accessible buttons that control the radio, the navigation system, and other functions.

Such raw, high power can be difficult to temper, but the RS6’s 5-speed transmission does so without a hitch. Although it performs well in automatic mode, the car becomes even more dynamic in sport mode, where the revs hold higher. For the do-it-yourself driver, pulls on the wheel-mounted paddles or up-and-down snicks on the shifter hustle the RS6 through the gearbox. Enthusiasts might prefer a traditional manual system in this racer, but in sport, the transmission converts the power with more efficiency than a human could.

To this Yankee, the exterior sets the RS6 apart. Leave the flamboyant cars to uninhibited warm-weather drivers. This cold piece of German excellence serves my preference for anonymity. Consider the RS6 as a cloaked superhero: Even when Clark Kent is wearing a discreet suit, we know the S is still on his chest. 

“This is a Q-ship. I liked the interior a lot. If you owned this car, the one
thing you’d want to do is listen to the exhaust. It does a lot of good things. It’s like a 10mm Walther automatic. It’s a weapon.” —Herb Harris

“This car has superb performance and handling. There’s no consultant needed—just point and scoot.” —Bruce Hannay

“Compared to its performance, it has a lack of flash in the body style. But it has the ability to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Being one that roots for the underdog, this is the perfect car for me.” —Jon Tamiyasu

“It’s understatedly quick and nimble. It’s fun, and you can stay out of trouble. It could be a little more comfortable, and the downshift could be more responsive, but this is the car if you’re looking for fun with a low risk of recognition.” —Bill Harlan

Specifications
Engine 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8
Power 450 hp at 5,700 rpm
Torque 415 ft lbs at 1,950 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 4.6 seconds
Top speed 155 mph
Transmission 5-speed automatic Tiptronic
Wheelbase 108.6 inches
Curb weight 4,024 pounds
Base price $82,000

Return to Robb Report Car of the Year

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