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Fri 20 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Classic beauty

Has Audi shot itself in the foot with its new Audi RS6? Phill Tromans takes a spin around Doha's racetrack to find out.

Has Audi shot itself in the foot with its new Audi RS6? Phill Tromans takes a spin around Doha's racetrack to find out.

It's not much to look at. Sure, it's nice, in a traditional Audi kind of way. Classy. Stylish, even. Sexy? Not really. Aggressive? Nope. The RS6 is a classic stealth car. To the uninformed, it's just another large Audi saloon.

If they know what an A6 looks like, they may well mistake the RS for one. But those with the knowledge will be able to tell that beneath this mild-mannered exterior lurks the heart of the Incredible Hulk.

The demure exterior comprises the foundations set by the A6. Widen and lower the stance, add some signature RS silver wing mirrors, bigger air intakes and shove a flat-bottomed steering wheel in front of the driver's seat, and you're most of the way there. It isn't terribly intimidating, but it does look good.

What's important is what the RS6 packs underneath. The latest incarnation conceals a 5.0-litre V10, with twin turbos and a ridiculous 572bhp. Peak torque is 479lb ft and it's available from 1500rpm all the way up to 6250rpm.

All this muscle means the RS6 will hit 100kph from standing in 4.5 seconds and go on to an artificially limited 250kph.

I'd love to tell you what a joy it is to drive on the road, but so far Audi has only given us the opportunity to thrash one about a track, so I can't. What I can tell you, however, is that if I ever owned an RS6, I wouldn't take it to a race circuit. The RS6 isn't really a track car.

For a start, it's far too heavy to be truly nimble. The RS6 weighs more almost two tonnes, and although the chassis is very good, there's only so much expert engineers can do to battle against physics.

From standstill it's very quick, but where so many other cars tend to pin you back into the seat initially and then descend into humdrummery when accelerating at higher speeds, the RS6 has so much power and such a wide torque band that it'll always have plenty of beans to give.

It's not savage, not brutal, but very linear - a rapid gathering of pace that can catch you out if you're not paying attention.

Through the corners it's flat and very composed, even if you start stabbing the throttle mid-turn to provoke it - the four-wheel-drive system and a wonderfully engineered chassis means it's stable right up until the point when the sheer bulk of the thing takes over.

The steering is weighted nicely, but not outstanding when it comes to feeling what the front wheels are doing.

I wonder if Audi hasn't shot itself slightly in the foot here. The RS6 is a car that's immensely capable, with fantastic fit and finish and reservoirs of power. But it's just, a bit dull. It manages to summon fire and brimstone from its powerplant, and then protects you from it in a bunker of luxury. Why? If I buy a car with 572bhp, I want to feel it.

I concede that many will not share this vision. They'll want a luxury car with a bit of poke to crush M5s away from the lights and bait speed cameras on the highways. If that's their bag then I'm sure they'll be very pleased with what is a very impressive bit of kit.

But for the driving experience that one expects when strapping into a 572bhp, V10 powered car from the company with an enviable motorsport heritage, I just found myself wanting that little bit more drama and enjoyment.