Friday, 29 October 2010

The Yorkshire Dales

When I started this blog thing, it was my intention to limit myself to the subject of motor racing and although I have explored the edges of my subject occasionally, I have stuck pretty much to this objective. And I will continue so to do, I hope.

However, through this medium, and on the autobiographical theme, I am exposing myself in such a way that some of you may feel that you know me quite well, even if we have never met. That’s all well and good, and indeed to an extent my purpose for being here. No-one, after all, who puts themselves into the public domain, can expect their lives to remain totally private.

Bear with me, then, in order to reach the car theme of this post. And I am afraid it is only a car theme, not a racing theme; but there you are: complain at will.

Last weekend, I drove, with my family (Tatjana, my wife, Sophie, my twelve year old daughter and Robin, my nine year old son) to a cottage in Dentdale (actually just in Cumbria, but part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park). And - lucky me - I was given a car from the Audi press fleet in which to make the trip.

What car? An RS6 Avant, that’s what. If you’re not familiar with it, this is based on the A6 estate chassis, so it’s quite a big car. It quite happily took all the family luggage for a week away, along with various boxes full of food for the self-catered cottage that we were staying in, a cool-box, walking boots and umpteen jackets and coats. What makes the RS6 special though is not the luggage compartment; it is what’s under the bonnet. It has a 5 litre twin-turbocharged V10 engine, giving 572 bhp. That’s more than an R8, although by my reckoning, where the R8 Spyder gives you 305 BHP per tonne, the RS6 is ‘only’ 282. I am sure the performance figures are available elsewhere on the web for those who want to look, but the acceleration was quite simply awesome. As the car accelerated, there was absolutely no drop-off, it just kept on going faster and faster, with cars that were alongside at the traffic lights becoming smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.

The car comes with a 6-speed tiptronic gearbox as standard and this too was a new experience for me. At first, I simply left it in fully automated mode, but as I became used to it, I found it extremely easy to use. And it also served as a way to avoid the jerkiness caused by the kick-down facility. The trouble was, with all four of us in the car, it would sometimes decide that two downshifts were necessary to respond to my demands for acceleration. This resulted in a massive jerk as 50 mph cruising suddenly turned into 70mph (officer) and accelerating (causing my wife, who suffers from neck problems, to complain bitterly). However, with a little practice, I could lift off the throttle, tap the left hand (downshift) paddle to select the appropriate gear, and then gently squeeze the accelerator to give the same phenomenal effect, but without the strain on the neck, either upshifting manually or letting the automatic system take over.

The seats were perfectly comfortable (although I do not enjoy heated seats, my wife does, and found this a further luxury), every possible setting of height, rake and steering wheel position being available, which I also like to vary as I travel, to avoid travel cramps. And the steering wheel helpfully moves up away from your knees when you turn the ignition off, to assist entry and egress for the more ‘traditionally built’ driver. And a courtesy light, fitted under the wing mirrors provides a useful floodlit area outside the front doors when you arrive at the car in darkness. Believe me, the darkness in the Dales is very dark.

Such luxury touches abound on this car, to the extent that one struggles to find shortcomings. There’s the price tag of course – but in my opinion there are plenty of less-worthy cars costing £80,000 and more on the market these days. And the fuel consumption is predictably very, very high: I was getting between 15mpg and 20mpg, depending on the traffic conditions. But here is a car that does everything; it ticks all the boxes. It has high performance; it’s comfortable and practical; and as well it is easy to drive and to live with.

The Audi RS6 combines the performance of a Ferrari with the function of a Land Rover. The only real alternative is to go out and buy two cars, which suddenly makes the price look more affordable.

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