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Those used to fast front-engined Audis of old might be in for a surprise the first time they steer an RS6 towards a corner. At least, they might if the RS6 is fitted with the coil springs of our test car, which, even with optional winter tyres and standard four-wheel steering, was responsive. (We tested the car on both ‘summer’ and winter tyres but performance tested it solely on ‘summer’ ones.)

In the past, the way to make an Audi estate feel really agile would have been to buy an RS4 instead, but at last here’s a big Audi wagon with a keenness that takes it from its traditional positioning of being ‘fast if a bit inert and uninvolving’ to something you really can compare to an M5 or E63 S – although few people would claim that it handles quite as incisively as those rivals. Unlike either of those competitors, the RS6 can’t be placed into rear wheel-drive mode, nor is its four-wheel drive system as rear biased as those of its major rivals.

The carbonfibre look of the diffuser styling comes with Carbon Black trim (it’s gloss black on Vorsprung). Black tailpipes mark out the optional active exhaust.

It doesn’t do precisely what big fast Audis always used to do, which is to understeer a bit on the way in to a corner and then a lot on the way out. Instead, it grips very well on the way in and now can be cornered very neutrally on the way out, thanks to its RS-tuned active rear differential. We’re not talking about daft speeds to feel this, either. This is the kind of demeanour you can sense in everyday brisk driving, not track lunacy.

Here, the active rear steer is really nicely judged, too. It’s rare that a manufacturer tunes these systems to feel as natural and predictable as Audi has done. You don’t end up cornering as if navigating the rim of a 50 pence coin. Rather, you just turn the moderately weighted, slightly soft yet accurate steering and feel the RS6 want to point towards a corner.

Unless, that is, you’re on the open road, in which case the rear wheels assist high-speed stability – which, even on winter rubber with some squidge in its tread blocks, is as good as you’d hope for a car with a top speed as high as the Audi’s. On proper ‘summer’ performance rubber, it’s very good indeed.

One of the first things you appreciate on track in the RS6 is the reduced need to consider its width compared with fast road driving. But even without oncoming traffic to contend with, the Audi still feels really quite large on Millbrook’s Hill Route.

That said, its four-wheel steering gives it surprising agility through tighter corners such as T2, but this doesn’t come at the expense of perceived stability. Grip levels are tremendous and, although you’re aware of its mass during quick, twistier sections of track, body control remains steadfast. This affords the car the ability to carry impressive speed through corners, although you never really shake the feeling that it’s more precise, grippy and assured than out-and-out fun.

The RS6’s steering is mute but predictable and makes you comfortable quickly, its relatively sedate on-centre response sharpening up naturally as you wind on lock.

Comfort and isolation

Another trait of previous fast Audis was a certain brittleness to the ride, especially if you screwed up when choosing from the myriad suspension and wheel options. Well, even on a lowered, steel-sprung chassis with Dynamic Ride Control adaptive dampers and 22in wheels with 30-profile tyres, that’s not a criticism that we’d level at the latest RS6, which absorbs most bumps and surface lumps with admirable efficiency.

And because this particular car wasn’t air sprung, it also rode without the occasional hollow, echoey ‘sproing’ that can afflict cars that have a bag for a spring on each corner.

A good portion of our test took place on winter tyres, whose movement in the blocks, designed to find purchase in horrid conditions, undoubtedly gives the car a slightly softer edge than usual. Even on ‘summer’ performance rubber, though, the RS6 rides with surprising fluidity, dealing with more testing surfaces better than either of its performance rivals from BMW or Mercedes-AMG.

Noise isolation is also first class. It probably helps that Audi’s 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine is naturally more muted than any comparable AMG unit or even a BMW V8, but with low idle, cruising and revving noise, and with a fine-quality sound system, the RS6 is perhaps the easiest-going car in this class.