I think it was around the time I wrote a piece for Autocar entitled 'why I hate the Audi TT' that my relationship with Audi deteriorated. They didn't agree with the piece and sent a strongly worded letter saying as much.
I've never quite clicked with Audi as a maker of fast cars. I admire everything it's done in the mainstream market, the brand has been expertly presented and managed and it appears to be good at winning Le Mans. But the showroom connection to this on-track success is mercurial as mercurial as, er, Jean Alesi.
Battleship grey seems entirely appropriate
In the beginning we had the Quattro, big 'Q' and major all-weather pace. Then the rather terrible S2, then a whole generation of 4WD, pretty, usable, fast machines that were about as much fun as colonic irrigation.
Then came the R8 and the B7 RS4. And suddenly Audi's RS brand became a serious rival to BMW's M, and pretty much all other makers of fast machinery. That should have ushered in an era of faultless fast cars, but instead we were offered the dog poo that was the original RS5 and then the latest RS4 which was just a bit average, and of course the last RS6 which weighed more than Ingolstadt itself.
Why this potted history? Audi has lent me an RS6 for a while. This is something of a leap of faith for them, given my presumed (and unfounded) anti-Audi stance, and equally an RS6 has traditionally been the large performance German that I didn't really want to live with.
I am very interested in how this relationship turns out, because the RS6 is perhaps the car that best defines the difference between a machine that can win a tester's heart in a day and one whose charms may be released more slowly over time. The S4 I've had for well over a year now is a cracking car, but the affection in which everyone who drives holds it is very much couched in terms of respect rather than exhilaration. For the money, if you didn't need the space, an E46 M3 would be more engaging. But this leads us to the thorny subject of all-wheel drive and its role in a fast car.
Debadge? Tick. Bravo Mr Harris
Do people buy RS6s to gas on about steering feel and agility and going sideways? Of course not. They buy them because they go like the clappers, don't get stuck in Chamonix come December and look bloomin' marvelous. All of those things are appealing, but I've always felt that if the accompanying downsides were tragic steering, a brake pedal more sensitive than my feelings around being branded a paid Porsche hand in the PH forums and the ride comfort of a cheap lawn tractor. Well, I'd rather just manage some RWD oversteer.
These new RS6s must be very popular because I completed the order form at the end of last year. The specification caused some consternation because I didn't want tinted glass and having seen some shots of an Australian press car in Nardo grey with all the brightwork painted black. It looked superbly sinister, but not gangster - a difficult trick to pull off.
Twist of the arm
Audi took some persuading on the colour, but gamely gave in after some resistance, however they said the satin-finish brightwork was too much of a pain to replace, so was left in place. I still think it looks stunning, but secretly wish it had the black window surrounds!
Ceramics, 21s, RS suspension ... and £10K+ on price
But what an impressive, imposing machine the RS6 is. The wide arches, big oval exhaust holes and optional 21-inch forged wheels give just the correct suggestion of don't effing mess with me. And the base A6 Avant shape is very pretty anyway.
My sidekick Neil nearly vomited when he saw the pin-stripe wood inside but, again, I think it's a welcome change from those dreary German cabins. I suspect there's a spreadsheet somewhere at Audi UK will track the residual value of this car with some interest.
This area of the marketplace is as much about personalising your car as just specifying the equipment level. I've really just gone for bits that enhance the performance (Dynamic Package Plus for a mere £10,725, sports exhaust for £1,000) and added a big hi-fi for £6,300. And just those three options are of greater cost the value of my entire 2009 S4.
I don't think I've ever seen a set of options for a normal production car that can drag its base price above six figures so easily. Anyone fancy 'Audi Exclusive design package in Valcona leather with honeycomb quilted design'? If you do, it's £9,200. And you can still drop another £2,700 on an Alcantara headlining. I kind of understand why Audi wanted me to stay calm on the spec!
Dabble in trims and you could add many £s still
The car arrived with 250 miles showing and the manual suggested taking it easy for the first 950 miles. This was duly done, and I was very careful bedding in the vast carbon ceramic discs and their pads. There are two reasons I ticked the Dynamic Package Plus box to get the crazy brakes. Firstly, I've driven one of these with steels and I cooked them quite easily. And my cars spend lots of time in airport car parks, and those open spokes mean lots of rust on mild steel discs.
I have just enjoyed my first few drives being able to use full power, and even after the FF it feels very brisk. This part-Bentley 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 is immense. The soundtrack is too obviously fake, but the combination of 516lb ft and the ZF eight-speed transmission is just about the perfect everyday companion. I'm seeing 26mpg on long runs, so the 70-litre tank gives a decent range.
I'm slightly unsure on the super unleaded debate. For the running in period I used the good stuff, thinking it might in some way be better for the engine. Which I suspect is complete bunkum. But it's just swilled a tank of 95 octane and still feels indecently fast, so what do I do. I've always wondered about this - does the slight power loss matter, or should there be a moral responsibility to ensure than one's 560hp is fully deployable at all times? I think I might just save the cash.
£100 extra for toasty cheeks is, well, cheeky
The top speed is pegged at 189mph, which is a little inconvenient, but I'll just have to live within such limitations. The suspension is the optional Dynamic Ride Control dampers and called RS Sports which should strike the fear of god into any civilised human who craves long wheel travel and suppleness. But you know what? It's very well judged for this country. Firm enough to give a sense of connection and very good at flattening ropey A-roads. In fact I think the suspension is impressing me as much as the powertrain. It feels like a completely different team of people worked on it than the ones who ruined the current RS4 chassis. That's because it was a different team of people.
And lumping down the M4 in a deluge and then having to make time on some back roads, well, then you do appreciate the four driven wheels. The front doesn't push at road speeds (with 285 sections on the front, you'd damn well hope so too) and the traction is, as you'd expect, phenomenal.
So, enough for now. This is a stunning car. And I'm a lucky sod to be loaned it for a while.
Car: 2014 Audi RS6 Avant
Run by: Chris Harris
On fleet since: August 2014
Mileage: Enough to start letting it off the leash now
List price new: £77,005 before options (£98,765 as tested comprising Dynamic Package Plus [includes RS Sports suspension and ceramic brakes] £10,725, 21-inch wheels £2,000, Sports Exhaust £1,000, debadge £0, rear window sunblinds £210, heated seats £100, aluminium 'Beaufort Black' inlays £1,250, B&O Advanced sound system £6,300 and 'mobile phone preparation low' £175)
Last month at a glance: First impressions count ... and they're favourable