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Video | The 2003 Audi RS6 Is Amazing and Horribly Unreliable

If you’re looking for a rare, fast luxury sedan, the Audi RS6 is the one you’ll want. Everyone in the "fast luxury sedan" world has a BMW M5 or an AMG-powered Mercedes E-Class, but the RS6 is tremendously rare — it was sold in North America for just one model year, 2003, and it hasn’t returned since. It’s cool, it’s special, it’s awesome … and it’s truly horrible to own.

Here’s a basic overview of the RS6. For merely one year, 2003, Audi decided it wanted to truly compete with the big dogs — the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, the BMW M5, the best of the best. So Audi brought over the RS6 for the very tail end of production of the "C5" Audi A6, and Audi gave it a 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8. That’s a big deal, because it was one of the most powerful sedans on the planet at the time.

And, indeed, it was also in an amazing horse race for that title with Mercedes-Benz. The 2003 E55 AMG that came out the same year as the RS6 had a whopping 469 hp — a truly unbelievable figure for a sedan at that time. Then Audi came out with 450 horses, and it was just a standoff of amazing sedans. It was a nice time to be alive.

Unfortunately, things didn’t progress so well for the RS6. Audi withdrew the RS6 after the 2003 model year pending an all-new A6 model, but for some reason, the RS6 never returned. And in the years since that one single model year of RS6, its legend has grown as a monstrously, laughably unreliable vehicle, with many, many chronic issues — from active suspension to typical small Audi problems to a radically overmatched transmission.

All of this is a shame because the RS6 is wonderful to drive.

I borrowed an RS6 in fantastic shape in order to review it — just 65,000 miles, with many of the traditional problems addressed — and I found it to be a truly rewarding experience. The acceleration is one major reason: even though it’s been 15 years, this car still feels really, really fast — and although some people do manual swap conversions after their RS6 inevitably destroys its transmission, I really think it’s suited for the automatic. It’s a shame the automatic transmissions in this car were so radically unreliable, because I actually think it’s a good transmission for the car: just point it where you want to go, drop your foot, and shoot.

But it wasn’t just acceleration that made this car so exciting — I’m surprised to say it, but I actually enjoyed the steering and handling, too. The steering feel is nicely weighted, giving much more feedback than most modern cars, and it honestly made this relatively large sedan feel tighter and more maneuverable than I was expecting. I truly appreciated it, and I really think this is a shockingly good car to drive — far better than I had thought it would be. Naturally, of course, this was vastly overshadowed with the reliability problems that came later.

Another thing I love about the RS6, something I’ve always loved, is the subtlety of the styling. No massive wheels, no huge air intakes, no "RS6" badge every three feet in order to really jam into your mind that this is, in fact, an RS6. It was fast, but it didn’t have to tell everybody it was fast. It was cool, but it didn’t have to loudly shout that it was cool. It’s just an awesome car.

Unfortunately, it’s also a tremendously rare car, and — as discussed — a tremendously unreliable car, which will likely prevent it from ever really attaining the status of a desirable ultra-high performance sedan. But every time I see one of these on the road (which is increasingly rarely) I’m always impressed with how it looks — and now I can be impressed with the performance, too. Find an Audi RS6 for sale

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