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Four wheels better?

It sits on the apron of Dublin's Weston Aerodrome, intimidating all around it. The paint job is magma-red, the wheels a dark shade of cooled lava and the rumbling noises coming from under the bonnet seem to indicate that vast, tectonic activity is going on underneath. With 560hp and 700Nm of torque on tap, the Audi RS 6 Avant has enough latent energy to match an exploding volcano. Better not drive it near Pompeii - the locals will get nervous.

We're lined up on the runway to get a feel for what it's like when you unleash all that energy through all four wheels. The 4.0-litre TFSI V8 engine (shared with Bentley's Continental GT) may have cylinder deactivation in order to save fuel on light throttle openings, but here we're going to stretch the quattro four-wheel drive system (now 1.8kg lighter - every little helps - and with a trick differential that parcels out the grunt to individual rear wheels) to its operating limits.

Stefan is an instructor from the Audi Sport team and, thankfully, he seems calm before we set off, only warning me to not attempt to switch on the launch control as that means switching off the life-saving stability control. The Weston runway is wide and long, but it's also damp and bumpy so perhaps discretion is in this case better altogether than valour. With the flight line momentarily clear, the man with the walkie-talkie (always the man most in charge) waves us through and I stamp on the throttle.

There is no pause for breath, no lag, no waiting for the tyres to catch up with what's happening. The RS 6 simply bellows and streaks forward, quattro finding traction on the moist tarmac and that mighty V8 converting sound and fury into motion in a way few others can manage. Staggeringly, this large, comfy estate with a suite full of comfort options and space for the weekly shop and the Labrador can sprint from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds. That's deep into supercar territory and a level of performance that would utterly annihilate all but the most recent and most powerful Ferraris. To experience in full force from standstill feels akin to being unexpectedly lassoed by a passing express train. Your stomach wraps around the base of your spine, your head is pushed back firmly against the headrest and your eyes bulge with excitement, terror and joy all at the same time. And, if you're like me, you'll probably emit a high-pitched, girlish squeal of delight. It's quite an experience.

The little 300hp S3 hatchback (also bright red, incidentally) is barely any less impressive. OK, it can't distort the fabric of space/time in the manner of the RS 6, but it's still quick with a capital F. While the RS 6 rumbles and roars like a field full of angry bulls, the S3 snarls with a higher pitch - a marauding squadron of wasps giving those bulls a hard time.

Considering the mossy green layer that covers the braking zone at the far end of the runway, and the bumps and crevices that are mere minor irritants to a landing aircraft, but which become seriously difficult at the speeds the Audis are generating, the level of control on offer is close to unbelievable. Audi has taken a car with the power of a mid-engined exotic and, once you accustom to the incredible thrust, made it feel as controllable and friendly as any family diesel.

And that is actually the point of the exercise. After all, there is only ever going to be limited appeal in this small, wet, indebted island for a big German estate with warp-drive. The point Audi is making is that it is the quattro four-wheel drive system that can take that kind of oomph and make it controllable. If it can do that for an RS 6, imagine what it can do for your A4 diesel saloon.



Thankfully, that was also something we were allowed to investigate. Audi had lined up a pair of A4 2.0 TDIs, one quattro-equipped, one not, on a short oval 'racetrack.' Cunningly both cars had to make their starts on wet, slippery plastic pads, with the traction co-efficient of sheet ice. Predictably, it was the quattro car that made a far better getaway than the front-driver, but it's not only a traction advantage. You also have far better balance in corners, and the whole car just feels more reactive and responsive.

There will always be reluctance in Irish buyers to adopt four-wheel drive in a regular passenger car. While we seem to be happy to spend extra on buying a hulking SUV with front-wheel drive (an entirely nonsensical exercise) few of us are keen to take on the extra purchase price of quattro-or-similar and it attendant fuel consumption and CO2 emissions penalties (even if they are much reduced compared to times past). It may well be time to reassess that attitude. If the RS 6 can be made to feel accessible on that slippery runway, imagine what quattro could do for you on the typically wet, muddy, poorly surfaced roads of Ireland.

Have the Japanese brands found their mojo?

Hi, my name is Paul and I am a car-aholic. I love cars in all their weird shapes and forms and am as happy tootling around the shops in a 1976 Fiat 500 as I am trying to delaminate the tyres on an Audi S3 as it rapidly descends the Col de Braus. I have a problem though, and it is one that can be traced to my youth.

My journalism youth that is; my arrival in automotive journalism came via the tuning world, which means my head is full of chassis and engine codes for the most random collection…

My working week: Dave Humphreys

Monday November 25

Even though we are in the privileged position of getting to drive all the latest cars, every so often there's one that you really don't want to give back. This was certainly the case with the BMW 518d that I was testing last week. Even though the car wears a smaller number than most expect to see on a 5 Series it lacked none of the luxury. To compensate, I find myself collecting the latest Volkswagen Golf GTD in its place.

Tuesday November 26

My working week: Paul Healy

Monday November 11

As always on a Monday the first task of the day is to return the car I have been driving for the past few days. Today that's the Volvo V40 Polestar. You likely have not heard of Polestar cars as its marketing is not the highest priority for Volvo Ireland, but Polestar is the racing team that runs Volvo's World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) entrants and also acts as the in-house tuner for the Swedish brand. In the case of the V40, Polestar spices up the 1.6-litre T4 model by way of an ECU re-flash that gives…