Here's a fun game: can you name the car that, in 2003, offered a combination of power, handling and technology so potent it was able to obliterate the BMW M5, the Jaguar S-Type R, and the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG?
A month ago I said the Audi TT was a future classic. Now let's talk about an Audi that deserves that title for actually being fast as well as great-looking.
You might be forgiven if you don't remember the 2003 Audi RS6 right away. After all, we Americans only got it for a single model year, and we only got around 1,200 of them. (If you think that's unfair, consider that our neighbor to the north only got 90 in 2004.)
While the RS6 may have been in limited supply, there was nothing limited about its performance. That's why it's the next great future classic.
To say that the RS6 was simply a hotted-up variant of the A6 sedan is to completely sell it short. Imported here starting in 2002 as 2003 model, the car was developed by Quattro GmbH, Audi's performance subsidiary, the same set of mad scientists who birthed the RS2 wagon with help from Porsche and other insanemobiles for speed-loving German oligarchs.
"RS" stands Renn Sport, or "racing sport" in English, and they meant it here. The RS6 packed a 4.2-liter DOHC V8 good for a whopping 450 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. That's an fabulous number today. But 10 years ago? 450 horses made the RS6 like some kind of Teutonic planet-destroying spaceship, a kind of all-wheel-drive Death Star, but better looking. At the time, it was the fastest and most powerful car Audi had ever built. (An Avant wagon version was offered in Europe; we did not get it.)
The secret to all that power is that Quattro bolted two turbochargers and two intercoolers to the already potent V8 that saw duty a variety of other Audis. This boosted V8 was only ever used on the RS6, making it even more special.
The acceleration it offered was nothing short of amazing by 2003 standards or modern ones. The RS6, according to Car and Driver, could rocket from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, which was supercar territory in its day. That made it a few tenths faster than the M5 and a full second faster than the 2002 E55 AMG.
Of course, a redesigned E-Class brought a new E55 in 2003, one with 469 horsepower. That car was actually a bit faster than Audi's beast, but according to a C&D comparison test, it still wasn't good enough. The RS6 was the whole enchilada, the magazine said:
Flat cornering, plus Super Glue adhesion, plus beautifully weighted steering, plus abundant power, plus monster brakes—the front calipers grip with eight pistons—make the RS 6 a supremely composed performer at high speeds. It inspires confidence that goes beyond its rivals'—an endearing trait in a car in this performance category.
Of course, this is an Audi, so plenty of toys were on tap. There was the five-speed Tiptronic gearbox with paddle shifters, implemented because Audi lacked a manual transmission that could handle so much power. It also debuted Audi's Dynamic Ride Control, a system that used hydraulics to control body roll, squat and dive. It kept the car remarkably flat during hard cornering, and coupled with Quattro all-wheel-drive, the car was a very potent handler in spite of its beefy 4,000 pound curb weight. Massive Brembos helped it stop, too.
It still looks great too. The design may not be as evolved as Audi's current stable of models, but it still looks bold and classy but also understated today. The RS6, and the A6, have aged rather well in that department.
Reviews from back were glowing and effusive. Automobile said is the power is "so effortless, so jetlike, that you quickly find yourself hurled into a realm where no one can hear you scream." Road & Track said it was like "driving a DTM car on the street." Robert Farago of TTAC said "It's quick, quicker, oh-my-God-we're-all-going-to-die-quick!"
Bascially, the RS6 is fast. Have you picked up on that yet?
And like that — like a vengeful ghost come back to wreak havoc on its enemies in life — the RS6 was gone. The über-Audi was around just for 2003 as a limited production special. After the U.S. ran out of our allotment, they were never seen again.
Don't get me wrong, there have been other RS6-es; the next generation famously had a twin-turbo V10. But they've never made it to our shores. In 2003, the RS6 came, it saw, it conquered, and then it peaced out.
That's why it's a future classic, in my humble opinion. The E39 M5 and E55 AMG are both amazing machines, and probably classics too on their own, but this car is even more special because it's so rare and so limited. M5s have come and go since then in America, but this is the only RS6.
Downsides? There are some. It's an Audi, so obviously, it has the potential to be a maintenance nightmare. The trick DRC system was known to be problematic. Also, it only ever had the Tiptronic gearbox, so sport sedan fans who like to shift their own gears will have to look elsewhere. And Quattro is extremely competent, but it tends to err on the side of understeer.
But this is an amazing car, and one that's not as well-recognized as it should be. A search on Cars.com shows that they go for anywhere between $15,000 and $40,000 depending on mileage, which is an amazing cut from their original $85,000 price tag.
We should hope we get to see the RS6 in the land of the free and the home of the brave once again someday. Until then, this future classic will have to tide us over.
This is Future Classics, a new, semi-regular feature where we identify amazing and unappreciated cars from the late 90s, 2000s, and today that could be highly coveted by future generations. You may want to pick one of these up while you still can!
Hat tip to reader MatthewHokie03!