by Liz Turner
It’s not often you have to avoid gangs of fluffy cygnets or pedigree ponies on a new car test drive, but it was quite an obstacle course as I joined the automotive pack at the luxurious Cowarth Park Hotel near Ascot.
We’d be invited for the first UK drive of the Audi RS 6 Avant, a svelte estate with supercar performance. Audi folk do love to drop names, and Cowarth is the home of the Audi Challenge Cup polo tournament. Selected customers are invited along to the event, so they can enjoy the hospitality while rubbing shoulders with William, Harry and other royals.
Other famous-owner or driver names dropped on the day were Madonna, Kylie, Elton John and Darcey Bussell, but Celeb of the Day was Audi owner Gwyneth Paltrow (Sadly not in person). She recently signed the first new Audi RS 6 Avant to arrive in the UK, which was then auctioned in aid of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
The RS6 is an example of automotive haute couture and a showcase of advanced technology (Vorsprung durch Tecknik, as they like to remind us). Just as an Olympic sprinter needs to be strong and toned, but carrying the minimum of fat, a performance car needs to be light, but its body needs to be strong and stiff. Audi uses lightweight aluminium wherever possible, and superb grip is ensured by the famous all-wheel-drive quattro system.
Muscle is provided by a twin-turbo 4.0-ltre V8 engine. Cleverly, though, the engine’s computer will shut down four of the eight cylinders when they aren’t needed to keep fuel economy at a reasonable 28.8mpg (combined).
The Avant looks the business, long and low, with massive 20inch wheels and a dark titanium honeycomb grille. Inside, you feast your eyes on surfaces made of high-quality leather, metal and plastic, beautifully crafted and fitted. Naturally the sound system is by Bose, or a Bang & Olufsen number is optional, and there’s a sophisticated infotainment system called MMI.
The engine makes a lovely growl, and the eight (yes, eight)-speed automatic changes gear in the blink of an eye. You can change manually with a couple of paddles if you enjoy the feeling of connection with the car, but it’s a bit like trying to add up in your head when you have a calculator.
Sadly, the test drive brought me back to reality. Having got out of Cowarth Park without flattening any baby swans or polo players, I had to avoid trucks, bicycles, walkers and a man up a ladder repairing the thatch of a perfect picture-postcard cottage.
These days, if you want to really give a fast car some exercise you probably need to live in Scotland or Wales. I was lucky enough to find one or two stretches of undulating road without a delivery truck, a dawdling Volvo or a sign saying ‘Beware racehorses on road” (more horses!). For a few minutes, I was granted a brief and delicious taste of the phenomenal performance and exhilarating handling of this car. But such opportunities are increasingly rare.
Luckily the Audi is well mannered at slower speeds, too, but the reasons for buying one are complex. It’s a beautiful object; fans of technology will love it, and maybe just knowing you could sprint from 0 to 60mph in 3.9 seconds is enough. (The dogs in the back might be a bit startled.)
Maybe the main reason to buy one is to see the rope raised to a rather exclusive club.
Engine Twin-turbo 3993cc V8, 560 PS at 5,700 to 6,600rpm
0-60mph 3.9 seconds
Max speed 155mph (electronically limited, it could really do 189mph))
Fuel consumption 28.8mpg
Rivals: BMW M5, Jaguar XFR-S, Mercedes-Benz E63
Liz Turner was on staff at What Car? magazine for five years and has driven everything from a Smart car to the Rolls-Royce Phantom. www.liz-turner.com