Audi RS6 Avant Review: Why You NEED This Mercedes-Fighting 600-HP Wagon
The older I get, the more stock I put into the idea of the multiverse. It’s a theory that all things are possible, given a (possibly) infinite number of parallel universes. With enough reflection all of us find ourselves amazed that we’re alive, out of jail, and/or employed. Some things just should not be, and there’s probably an “alterverse” where our luck did, in fact, run out. A place where the obvious happened. Where you didn’t get lucky. Where the inevitable proved to be exactly that.
Case in point: Audi stopped selling its midsize wagon in the U.S. a decade ago. Even though the A6 Avant (Audi calls its wagons Avants) accounts for over 60 percent of all A6 sales worldwide, consumers in America and China seem to hate long-roofed cars. So, all the Avants (including the A4) got yanked.
Americans love SUVs, though, so the Q3, Q5, and Q7 were where it was at. If you wanted a wagon, call Mercedes. To Audi’s credit, the Ingolstadt-based brand limped back into the American wagon market with the A4 Allroad (I bought one), but it kept the good stuff away from us Yanks—specifically, the devilish RS4 as well as Beelzebub’s own family hauler, the mighty, drool-inducing RS6. When asked why, Audi simply stated that wagons are sales-proof in America. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, well, remember what I said about believing in the multiverse?
Meet the America-bound 2021 Audi RS6. Technically, it’s the RS6 Avant, but since there isn’t an RS6 sedan anymore, all you have to say is RS6. It’s fast, it’s fabulous, it’s packed with wonder, it’s gorgeous, and if you’re a fairly rich American you’ll be able to buy one around late summer of 2020.
Let’s start with the gorgeous, and why exactly the RS6 looks oh so good. The only body panels shared with a run-of-the-mill A6 Avant are the front doors, roof, and tailgate. Everything else—front fascia, hood, front and rear fenders, and rear doors—require unique stamping. To those of you not familiar with the dreary realities of stamping body panels, it ain’t cheap!
Now, Audi Sport GmbH—Audi’s Neckarsulm-based performance division similar to BMW’s M division and Mercedes-AMG—was not born yesterday. Meaning that the front panels on the RS6 are shared with the upcoming RS7.
Why so many new panels? First and foremost, the RS6’s snout looks approximately 70 times more aggressive than the standard A6’s. Better, too. Most important, the big, signature Audi grille is now frameless, matching the look of the brand’s range-topping halo vehicle, the just refreshed R8.
Drilling in, there’s also a gap between the grille and the hood just like there is on the R8. I believe this is crucial to understating the visual mass of the grille. The chipmunk-cheek and de rigueur lower intakes are radically reshaped and look pretty darn cyber (sorry, Tesla). The headlights now contain lasers, and the tailpipes are bigger and meant to look like those on the R8.
The most important reason for the new bodywork is the RS6’s wider track. Each fender swells by 40mm, making the RS6 3.2 inches wider than a standard A6. How else to fit the bigger, fatter tires (285/30/22 P Zeroes at all four corners, though 21s are standard)? Audi pointed out that the first ever RS product was the RS2, which was co-developed by Porsche. Also, Audi builds the R8 and owns Lamborghini. The design intent was to get all that across, and to my eyes, Audi absolutely nailed it. If the RS6 isn’t the best-looking wagon of all time, it’s close.
Under the hot-look sheetmetal sits the only V-8 in the A6 range. This one happens to be 4.0 liters, twin-turbocharged, good for 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, and sports a 48-volt mild hybrid system that handles duties like stop/start and allows the V-8 to shut down for 40 seconds while the car is coasting. The impressive motivator also features cylinder deactivation, allowing four of the cylinders to shut down when not needed.
The powerful engine is mated to ZF’s ubiquitous high-torque eight-speed automatic transmission, which routes power to all four wheels—because Quattro. The torque split is 40/60 front to rear. As much as 70 percent of the torque can hit the front wheels, and up to 85 percent can be sent to the rears. The rear axle has a sport differential that vectors torque left and right as needed; the front wheels have brake-based torque vectoring.
There’s launch control, too, and Audi claims 3.6 seconds to hit 62 mph, which my drive partner and I were able to achieve via the RS6’s built-in performance recorder (you can also measure the quarter mile and g forces). To be fair, we were pointed slightly downhill, though we did have two people in the car. Once Audi gets a car to the MotorTrend test team, I’d guess we’ll see 0–60 times in the (very) low 3-second range.
The RS6 sits 20mm lower than a normal A6 and can be had with two different suspensions. The standard is air springs at all four corners (which lowers the vehicle an additional 10mm at speed); the option is what Audi calls Dynamic Ride Control, which sports hydraulic, diagonally linked dampers. That means that the driver-side front damper is tied into the passenger-side rear damper, and vice versa.
One of my all-time favorite cars—the B7 Audi RS4—came with the same type of suspension. This hydraulic system helps reduce both pitch and roll. Audi smartly had both suspensions on hand for us to sample (I’ll get into which is better in a bit). All the RS6s present had the optional, huge carbon-ceramic brakes. They are the same rotors found on the Lamborghini Urus, 17.3 inches up front, 14.6 inches rear. Those front rotors are the largest in the world. You’re going to want to pay extra for the big carbon stoppers because aside from (probably) working better, they allow the RS6’s top speed to rise from 155 mph to 190 mph. Gotta have that. The RS6 also features the latest version of Audi’s Dynamic Steering.
Performance tweaks inside include the addition of an RS Mode button on the steering wheel. Push it once, and you enter the fully customizable RS1 mode. Push it again, and you switch to RS2 mode. Yes, BMW has had M1 and M2 modes for two generations. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. RS2 is meant to be the harder-core mode, because you can actually alter the ESC with the push (and really, double push—go lawyers) of a button.
Both RS modes are configurable via the large, central touchscreen and include engine mode, steering, suspension, exhaust level, and ESC. There’s also an informative screen that shows you the temperature of individual systems (oil, coolant, transmission fluid, differential fluid, and the brakes) that will make track days less surprising. Yes, I recommend you take your RS6 to the track. Keep reading.
How the RS6 Avant Drives
Traditionally, big Audis that aren’t the R8 have suffered from one single issue: understeer. Most Audis are built on the MLB Evo platform. That’s everything from the A4 to the RS Q8. MLB stands for modular longitudinal toolkit, and although the engine sits north-south within the chassis like a rear-wheel driver, the cars are front-wheel-drive based. Meaning that most of the engine sits forward of the front axle, emphasizing the unfortunate characteristic of understeer.
What’s understeer? It’s when you turn the steering wheel, but the car wants to remain in the trajectory it was headed in. You get less “steer” than you wanted. Anyhow, this big, fast Audi does not understeer. I believe it’s all due to the sport differential, but even on tight, twisty roads like the great ones around Malibu, the RS6 doesn’t plow. At one point I actually tried to induce understeer by applying throttle at the start of a turn, and nope, the rear outside wheel just popped the RS6 right around. Yay!
Speaking of steering, Audi’s Dynamic Steering has never particularly thrilled me. No matter the mode, the helm of big, sporty Audis with Dynamic Steering always felt vague. I find this issue particularly annoying because the exact same tech (though tuned differently) is found on Lamborghinis—except on the expensive Italians, it feels great. More good news with the RS6: Dynamic Steering now feels much better, in any mode.
The big question remains: Air suspension, or steel springs combined with the trick hydraulic, linked dampers? Usually in high-performance cars, air springs are not the right choice for limit handling—you just never have the control and quick bump dissipation you want. But the RS6 changes that answer. When pushed, the air suspension is about 95 percent as good as the Dynamic Ride Control. On extra tight, quick, curving roads, I thought the hydraulic system offered better body control, and although the ride was a tad flintier, I liked the way the diagonal dampers felt that same little bit better. The steering felt sharper, too.
However, one of the things I love so very much about wagons is their inherent versatility. I owned a first-year, 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon, and two of my most vivid memories are A) keeping up with a dude in a BMW E39 M5 who gave me the finger upon our parting, and B) hauling five kegs of beer, a two-tap jockey box, and my best friend’s wife to a party. What a Swiss Army knife!
Because of the variable ride height that comes with the RS6 Avant’s available air springs, loading is easier as the car can squat down—and very light off-roading is possible because the RS6 can be raised. I think the added versatility is worth giving up a nearly imperceptible difference in performance. Probably most important, when viewed from the side, the stance made possible from the load-in ride height and big 22-inch wheels can’t be beat.
What Could Be Improved (and the Possibility of a Hotter RS6 Model to Come)
The first thing I don’t like is no doubt a “me” problem, but … 591 horsepower just ain’t what it used to be. In the age of near-800 horsepower Hellcats, the RS6 feels quick, though perhaps merely adequate. Maybe I’m just impossibly spoiled.
I couldn’t get Audi to confirm it on the record, but there will be an RS6 Performance model a year or so after the wagon launches. In this day and age, there needs to be. An RS7 Performance, too. How do I know? Because there are S versions of AMG 63s and Competition models of M products. There’s no way to tell exactly how many more horsepower the Performance variant will gain, but last time the jump from “basic” to Performance was 560 hp to 605 hp, with torque rising from 516 lb-ft to 553 lb-ft. We know the Lamborghini Urus’ Porsche-fettled version of this engine just so happens to make 641 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque.
Moreover, I think Audi is going to need the Performance iteration, because the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon feels quicker and more aggressive. Whether that Mercedes actually is quicker is a matter for a future comparison test.
Part of what might not be flat-out thrilling me about the RS6’s thrust is the fact that we were driving European-spec cars that have quieter exhausts. Due to both tighter noise and emissions regs, EU cars have a gasoline particulate filter and are therefore less loud. American versions should scream more. I approve.
What I don’t approve of is the giant panoramic glass roofs that all U.S. bound RS6s will come with. All seven of the cars Audi had at the launch had steel roofs, which is the way it ought to be. Sunroofs eat into headroom and add unnecessary weight to the worst possible place on a car: right up top, where it raises the center of gravity.
When I brought these points up to Audi, they told me that you can’t sell cars to Americans without sunroofs. I widened my eyes and exclaimed, “You’re the same people who recently told me you can’t sell wagons to Americans!” They didn’t have much of a reply.
The last bad thing is the price, which ain’t gonna be low. Nothing official yet, though Audi did say to expect the RS6 to be priced like an RS7, another car with a price Audi hasn’t announced. My guess? $115,000, and that’s before you add the totally necessary largest brakes on earth, as well as the Black Optics package and all that other good stuff. Figure $135,000 for the RS6 I want.
Why is Audi suddenly bringing its superwagon to America? Long story short, premium wagon sales are up. As such, Audi is also bringing the A6 Allroad Avant, and economies of scale dictate that it’s easier to bring two than one. Final verdict: I love the thing (shocker!). High-performance wagons are my favorite sort of car, and based on the day I spent ripping around Malibu, I see no reason why the RS6 won’t take its rightful place in the pantheon of long-roofed greats, from the Audi’s own RS2 to Cadillac’s near-divine CTS-V Wagon.
Remember that, mechanically, the RS6 is nearly identical to the heavier, slower, uglier RS Q8. The RS6 is, however, exponentially cooler than any SUV. #BecauseWagon. Yes, the RS Q8 will have no trouble outselling the RS6, but buying one is following the herd. RS6 owners will be in a discerning, secret club. Trust me, you want in. Aren’t you glad you live in the part of the multiverse where this is happening?