Friday, 21 September 2007

Audi RS6

The concept of horsepower is one that we take for granted. Like most measurements, there’s no real thought process behind any given figure that you hear, you just relate it to another figure. If you were visiting a friend and you were told that they lived twenty miles away, you wouldn’t perform a quick spot of mental arithmetic to determine how long it will take you to cover the distance at a certain time, at a certain average speed and so forth given the exact length of the journey – you’d just think ‘right, that’ll probably take me x amount of time’ and move on with your life. This simplicity of thought saves us from misleading ourselves. If somebody were to say to you ‘my Micra has 55bhp’ and you assumed that it was exactly as powerful as fifty-five horses, you will become confused. Horses are quite powerful aren’t they? Fifty-five of them must be monstrous. Wow. That’s loads of power. Isn’t it?

The term itself was coined by James Watt, and relates to some spurious formulae he devised over horses turning mill wheels. He basically surmised that a horse could revolve a 12-foot wheel with a force of 180lbs at a rate of 144 revolutions an hour. Therefore, 1 horsepower is equal to 33,000ft.lbf/min.

You know what? Who cares. That’s even more confusing. If you want a real world lesson in horsepower you need look no further than the new Audi RS6. It’ll tell you all you need to know.
Ever since Audi co-developed the RS2 with Porsche in 1994, their RennSport line has been a relentless string of stealthy weaponry. Audi, keen to crush the Teutonic horsepower wars that have raged for some years now, have lifted their RS line out of cultdom and into the mainstream. This is a good thing. Why let BMW’s M-branded behemoths and Mercedes’ AMG Goliaths hog all the limelight? With the latest RS6 the fight has been well and truly brought to their doorsteps.

Of course, one of its primary weapons is innocuousness. It’s a Q-car. To the untrained eye it could be just another load-lugger on the school run; it takes a little insider knowledge to pick out the significance of the RS badge, the brutal box arches that evoke the spirit of the original ur Quattro, the frying-pan sized carbon-ceramic brake discs – it’s like a bodybuilder in a tuxedo. Looks smart, yes, but there’s something distinctly menacing there…

…the menacing thing that’s lurking within the RS6 is, almost implausibly, a 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged V10. Yes, you heard. That sensible-ish saloon in the pictures has a twin-turbo V10. So, with this in mind, what is this car going to teach us about horsepower?

I’ll tell you. It’s that the bigger the number, the more we should be afraid. The new RS6 has 572bhp.

Five hundred and seventy-two.

That’s rather a lot isn’t it? To give it some perspective, the Ferrari F40 made do with 470bhp. Scary eh? It’s also interesting to note that Audi’s new R8, an uber-futuristic coupe aimed firmly at the Porsche 911, churns out ‘just’ 414bhp from its mid-mounted V8; obviously the cars aren’t directly comparable, but it does make you think. Both at around the £75k mark, the RS6 and the R8 are entirely different dynamic propositions, but they both take just 4.6 seconds to get to the sixty mph benchmark. However, you won’t be able to get those new Habitat shelves home in the R8…

Personally, I see no contest in it at all. I’d take the RS6 every time. It may seem like a hell of a lot of cash to shell out for a family estate car, but it’s important to remember that that’s not really what it is. It’s a brutal bitumen-bitchslapping dragster with an absurdly advanced four-wheel-drive chassis. It just happens to look like a family estate car.
Fundamentally, your £75k buys you one significant thing: supercar horsepower. In the pub with your mates on a Saturday night you can all feel smug in the knowledge that, short of someone rolling up in a Veyron, you’ve got the most horsepower in the room. And that’s very important.

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