This Audi so good it's almost wasted on NZ roads

AUDI RS6 AVANT: A top performer.
AUDI RS6 AVANT: A top performer.

Wouldn't you know it? Recently when we took advantage of an opportunity to spend a day behind the wheel of Audi's new V8-powered RS6 Avant, it poured down in the northern North Island.

We had planned to try out the car's 412 kilowatt performance potential by taking it on a run up and over the Coromandel Peninsula, but the rain was falling so heavily it washed that out of consideration.

So what could we do? The answer was to drive the RS6 to Raglan to buy a loaf of bread.

That's not as silly as it sounds. Not only does the route from Auckland to Raglan offer some great racer roads in and around such places as Rotowaru and Waingaro, but there's a business in Raglan that bakes what I reckon is the best sourdough bread in the country.

So off we went. As we splashed our way down Auckland's southern motorway the rain was so heavy we wondered what the day would bring.

But as we headed further south the weather began to ease and the roads got drier, which let us begin to experience just what this latest Audi is all about.

And that's all about luxury and performance. The new RS6 replaces a previous 5.0-litre V10 engine with a smaller-capacity - if you can call it that - 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8 that is a modified engine from the S8 and which boasts a peak output of 412kW, with torque of 700 Newton metres available from 1750 and 5500rpm.

It is an enormously capable vehicle. Able to accelerate to 100kmh in a best-in-segment 3.9 seconds, from that point on it is an incredibly muscular performer with huge mid-range torque and the handling balance that comes via quattro all-wheel drive.

It didn't seem that long before we motored into Raglan, the big V8 burbling away as we cruised down the seaside township's iconic Bow St with the phoenix palms down its middle.

In some respects it was a little ironic that we should arrive at Raglan in such a big-engined and high-powered burner of fossil fuel, because right now the little Waikato township is all upset that a big drillship is searching for oil 200km off its coastline.

The place is bristling with anti-oil drilling signs and messages, written alongside similar signs relating to other things that Raglan objects to such as ironsand mining and threats to the endangered Maui's dolphins.

So we found a place to have some lunch, took some photos of the Audi parked alongside the Raglan waterfront, and got out again - almost feeling that we should apologise for daring to drive there in such a vehicle.

But Raglan always has been a township with attitude, and quite prepared to fight for what it believes is right. For example, in the 1960s resident Connie Stephens chained herself to the Bow St phoenix palms to stop the local council from chopping them down. Many will also remember Eva Rickard's long fight to get land alongside Raglan harbour returned to Maori.

Mind you, protesting about the perceived environmental effects of a high-technology oil search way over the horizon may be a protest a little too far - especially since Raglan itself has its own environmental issues to deal with, not the least being how to stop its sewage treatment plant from dumping thousands of cubic metres of untreated waste into Raglan harbour, as it has done several times this year.

And talking about environmental effects, we could have comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the Audi RS6 is actually quite a fuel-efficient vehicle. Its official average consumption is 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres which is roughly 30 per cent less than the previous model.

Much of this has to do with the fact that when driven carefully, the V8 uses latest technology to run as a four-cylinder car by shutting down the intake and exhaust valves of cylinders 2, 3, 5 and 8.

It'll stay that way until the driver gives the accelerator pedal a fair old boot, at which stage things will change back to V8 power in just a few hundredths of a second and give the RS6 the ability to wind up to an electronically controlled top speed of 250kmh - and even to 305kmh if an optional Dynamic-Plus is used.

Last week it was a little disappointing to be aware that on our New Zealand roads the Audi is not allowed to be driven at more than just one-third of its true top speed. What a pity, because it meant that once we had zoomed to 100kmh in a flash, we then had to rein things back and content ourselves instead on having fun through the winding bits using the eight-speed tiptronic auto with its shortened shift times.

We also had fun using the car's Drive Select system which allows the driver to select Dynamic for enthusiastic driving, and Auto or even Comfort for the more sedate stuff. The selections change throttle and steering responsiveness and the auto's shift protocols, and they really do make a difference.

Handling potential is enormous. At the heart of it all is a quattro permanent all- wheel drive with torque vectoring, featuring a self-locking sports centre differential.

The RS6 is also the first RS model from Audi to come standard with a specifically tuned air suspension which can be lowered by 20mm if required.

Just as well then that the big Audi's interior is sporting in its design, featuring seats that are sufficiently form-fitting to help those aboard cope with high cornering forces.

But, impressively, the RS6 is also a capable vehicle when it comes to simply driving around town or cruising down a motorway. That's quite obviously how it will be used most of the time - and in that regard I have to say I envy those people in countries such as Germany where it is legal to rip down sections of autobahn at the uber-high speeds.

As for us - 100kmh down the southern motorway anyone? Bit of fun out along a country road somewhere? Or - and if you owned an RS6 you'd have to do it - some track time at one of our motorsport facilities.

The car's far too good not to do otherwise.

Taranaki Daily News