It’s funny how some holiday plans can seemingly come out of nowhere. You start with an idea, which snowballs into other ideas that you want to explore, and the ancillary stuff like transport or accommodation tends to just work itself out as you go.
At least, that’s the experience we had on a recent European road trip that saw us borrow someone’s Audi RS6 from London, UK to Sardinia, Italy and back again.
Initially the plan had myself and a few friends flying from London to Italy to attend a number of summer automotive events, but a last minute change had us at the helm of a friend of a friend’s RS6 which took the entire trip from great to phenomenal.
It meant that the extra days spent driving through Europe would place pressure on an already tight schedule, but who’s going to pass up an opportunity to drive a car that was tailor-made for blasting about on European roads?
So with that in mind, we saddled up for a long-haul Melbourne to London flight and tried to get whatever sleep possible ahead of a 13-hour drive to our first stop at Lake Como, Italy.
Upon landing in London, we’re greeted by the Estoril Blue Audi RS6 that’ll be home for the next 10 days. Although a slightly older example, it still holds up in 2019 as one of the fastest touring wagons money can buy – soon to be superseded by the C8 generation car. Propelled by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, the RS6 eeks out 412kW and 700Nm and will run to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds.
Further to that, it has space for five people and luggage, complete with amenities like quad-zone climate control so everyone can get comfy, and a Bose audio system for the designated DJ.
Concerning, though, was the game of luggage Tetris that had to be played to fit four suitcases, as well as backpacks and camera gear in the boot before we set off. With some serious coercing, the 565-litre boot cavity was tediously and tightly packed before heading off toward the Eurotunnel, stopping for a quick post-flight dinner along the way.
We set course for the train at Folkestone, UK which would take 90 minutes of London’s motorways, whereupon we would slide the car into a train for a 30-minute ride underneath the English Channel, landing in Calais, France. From there, it was game on to drive through the night, arriving in Lake Como the next morning.
Making the drive from London to the Eurotunnel stressful was the constant stream of traffic, marred by average speed cameras and late night road works. Not exactly the experience you’d hope for after a 22-hour flight, ahead of a further 13-hour drive.
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Even so, we made it to our train in time, which in turn deposited us on the other side of the English Channel.
We didn’t waste any time in Calais, setting straight off through France bound for Switzerland. Extra care was taken to abide by French motorway speed limits and rules, after hearing that law enforcement can be particularly strict.
We took turns behind the wheel throughout the night. I got my first steer (after a powernap) just after we stopped for a sunrise photo in rural France.
It didn’t take much to get comfortable in the big wagon. Settling in for the first time only built excitement for the fact that we would get to pilot this for the next 10 days.
While this particular car was nearly six years old, it still pulls hard like few other wagons can today. There’s immense respect for a car that can haul itself plus passengers and luggage along a motorway for hours on end, all the while shooting a growly V8 soundtrack out the tailpipes.
It surely must have been ahead of its time, as much newer competitors like the Mercedes-AMG E63 S and Porsche Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo (which we meet later) have spent recent years catching up while the Audi RS6 can still hold its own, relatively speaking.
More than France, our journey through Switzerland was a cautious one, as the country is notoriously harsh for speeding and traffic offences. And despite some of the most stunning scenery on Earth, our trip through Switzerland was dispatched with haste.
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Now onto (one of) the main events. The reason we were stopping in Lake Como was for the annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este car show. The world’s longest running Concours d’Elegance, Villa d’Este features pristinely prepared classic cars on the banks of Italy’s idyllic Lake Como.
The roads following the lakeside were scarily narrow, making for precarious navigation of the Audi’s almost 2m wide nose around buildings and oncoming cars, but being in Italy meant we were at least able to let the big Bahn-storming RS6 off its leash somewhat.
Echoing off the quintessentially Italian brick buildings of Lake Como was that dirty, walloping V8 exhaust note that became so intoxicating, almost every stretch was performed at full-throttle. Punching the accelerator resulted in a thud in your back, as all 412 kilowatts are sent to all four wheels in traditional Audi quattro fashion.
Moving further south, our next mission involved tagging along on Pagani’s Italian rally – marking the 20th anniversary of the Zonda. This was being held in Sardinia, so we ventured to the portside town of Genoa to load ourselves and the car onto a 12-hour ferry ride.
As boring as it was, the water-based portion of our journey was completed overnight, allowing some much needed sleep ahead of a busy week in Sardinia.
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Pulling into port, we disembarked and immediately made a beeline for the hotel hosting the Paganis and their owners.
We were greeted by a 30-strong contingent from the Modena-based manufacturer, with cars being shipped in from around the globe for the Pagani Raduno.
Not wasting any time, we then gave chase to a group of Pagani owners who’d decided on a run east across the island, through sun-drenched hills ending up at the seaside town of Alghero. The sight of the haphazard organisation of Paganis took many of the locals by surprise, but everyone was encouraging and keen to see them all the same.
Generally, the Italian public are supercar-friendly and so too are the police. As long as you’re not being stupid, you can have a lot of fun.
A colleague who joined us for the Sardinian adventure had procured – ahem – a Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid Sport Turismo (ridiculous name) which allowed us to set the RS6 side by side with the latest and greatest. Apart from the Porsche having greatly updated technology, new-age hybrid boost tech and a good 90kW more, we were able to keep up in the Audi through winding country roads.
The remainder of our Sardinian adventure involved leapfrogging with the Pagani crew and taking pictures. We visited clear blue beaches and wound through countryside vineyards, the RS6 never skipping a beat in its duty of keeping up with the hypercar crew. We did need to top up the oil, which could have been checked in a pre-road trip vehicle check, and the 25,000km brake pads did start to get tired, but to only have those small problems... we were happy.
On return to London we’d decided to take the scenic route that snaked up through the remainder of Italy and into Switzerland before glancing across Germany with a night spent in Stuttgart, and finally cutting across The Netherlands, Belgium and France back to London.
It was sad to see Italian roads go, going from a very car-friendly country to that of Switzerland, a very unfriendly place for cars. Nevertheless, we were taken aback by the awe-inspiring mountain ranges, and sheer green-ness of Switzerland. A photo opportunity waiting to happen, we stopped off at what could only be described as the set of The Sound of Music, with lush rolling hills peppered with sunburst yellow flowers to snap some pics of the RS6.
Only minutes later we were accosted by an irate Swiss woman for stopping on her driveway. After an awkward English/Swiss exchange I explained about the photos and said sorry, only to have her double-down on her anger and chase us out of her village.
From then on, we made a point to get our hurry-on and passed by Lake Bodensee in Austria and into Germany which sparked unspoken excitement within the car. Autobahn.
Much to our surprise, we didn’t have to wait long to get our first stretch of unrestricted road and put the hammer down. The sensation of being able to legally max out your car is otherworldly and we got a scare passing by a police car only to then remember where we were. Despite the luggage, four-up passengers and moderate Sunday afternoon traffic, we managed to find a quiet stretch and reach 271km/h.
Later that night after some schnitzels, we retired early in Stuttgart ahead of another long day of driving back to London.
The following day we woke early to visit the Porsche museum, and made an on-the-fly decision to stop by the Nurburgring.
While it did push back our schedule a little, it was a public track day so the area was a hive of activity and every second car was something unique to look at.
Then onwards we went heading east out of Germany hitting a further three countries in the same day. It was a stretch to make our 10:30 train booking to cross the English Channel, but the Audi made great strides and we were back in the UK before we knew it.
Weary eyed and famished, we dropped the RS6 back to its garage and owner, expressing our extreme gratitude to the vehicle that’d allowed this trip to become something amazing.
While flights down to Italy would have been easier, cheaper and convenient, a road trip allowed for so much more exploration and opportunity. And the mighty Audi RS6 was the perfect touring companion.
Click on the image gallery at the top for more photos by Tom Fraser