Review: 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant
Natives of the German autobahns know that the left lane is basically just a gun barrel loaded with fast movers. No matter how quickly you go in the famous derestricted sections, some sleek projectile with nostrils flaring and headlights blazing is going to fly past with a whomp! of displaced air. And as often as not, that projectile is an Audi wagon, which are totally A Thing in Germany. VW’s luxury division has built many flavors of S- and RS-badged estates over the years for school-lane Schumachers who were craving a Porsche 911 but needed back seats and tailgate. That Porsche now sells many models with back seats and tailgates may have slowed Audi’s super-wagon business, but not stopped it.
Thus, hither comes (in the left lane) the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant, a 591-hp fire-breathing FedEx box that is sized like an SUV in every respect except height, is crammed full of more screens than the multiplex at the mall, and is endowed with the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that gets stuffed into the Audi RS 7, Lamborghini Urus SUV, and a host of other VW Group road-eaters. The price starts at $110,045, big dough for a wagon, a body style that all but extinct in the U.S. Indeed, except for a few RS Avants that have leaked out to connoisseurs in North America over the years, these have largely remained a local passion in Europe where SUVs haven’t completely taken over (yet) and big-bore wagons are still considered status symbols.
We said it’s big. The RS 6 has unique bodywork, including a lot of sporty bumper jazz and some giant grilles, that pulls it out about two inches wider than a regular Audi A6, no small thing itself. Indeed, the length and width put the RS 6 Avant within an inch or three of a Ford Explorer, which most people would not consider small, though the Audi is about ten inches lower so it’s definitely still a car. You feel the girth when you park it in a driveway next to a vehicle from the Before Times when cars weren’t gigantic—like, say, a mid-2000s Toyota pickup. The Audi is also heavy, weighing in just over 5000 pounds, what with the twin turbos and Quattro all-wheel drive and 16.5-inch cross-drilled front disc brakes and giant 285/30 Pirelli PZeros ($400 a tire, so drive carefully) mounted on 22-inch rims. It’s a mighty burden for an engine displacing a mere 244 cubic inches.
Ah, but this is an Audi in which 244 cubic inches combined with direct injection and launch control, plus a couple of intercooled turbos to squeeze in the air, is more than enough to deliver 60 mph in a little over three seconds. That’s legit supercar territory; to go faster on four wheels you’ll have to talk to Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren or, ahem, Tesla. The Corvette is in that conversation, too, but the C8 and mid-engine rides like it can’t also haul a pair of baby seats and a stroller.
There’s 590 pound-feet of torque to manage and the Quattro system does it transparently through the witchcraft of torque-vectoring technology, including an electronic limited-slip rear diff that varies torque side to side under command of the all-knowing computer(s). Audi’s four-wheel steering system makes the steering wheel even livelier, acting to cut precision arcs through corners at speeds that would horribly overcook the tires in most other cars.
Well, you need all that stuff if you’re going to square-dance with a 5000-pound partner. And the RS 6 Avant does hustle a twisty road with fearsome authority. For some reason it’s just so much more satisfying to charge a road in this than in any one of a number of sporty German SUVs that can do the job almost as well. When you go fast, you should sit low. That is how nature intended it and we don’t make the rules.
The RS 6’s cabin is Audi’s idea of tomorrow-tech, and almost all the tactile buttons have been swept away for high-res screens with ultra-fast core processors that can render 3-D maps as quickly as you can summon them. Do you need Google Earth in your car? Well, sure! There’s a 10.1-inch upper screen in the center and a 8.6-inch screen below, all touch-sensitive like so many iPads but equally distracting until you become an expert at working the menus with a blind hand. At least the steering-wheel buttons give you some authority over these screens to make simple tasks like changing the radio volume or seeking another station easier.
Being able to configure the all-digital gauge cluster with a road map or circular dials or an F1-style tachometer bar is neat stuff, but Audi could have given the driver more options than the three configurations offer. We’re talking some extra software code, which doesn’t add weight. Why shouldn’t the RS 6 Avant owner have a giant circular center tach if he or she desires, maybe flanked by readouts for torque production, catalyst temperature, and the stock price of Apple? Well, nobody at Audi thought of that, but the freedom afforded by digital instrumentation has yet to be fully realized by any car maker. You get only what they give you on a silicon wafer, for now, and it’s usually pretty limited.
The merging of organic and android themes is heavy inside, with swabs of polished metal accented by glossy black and carbon-weave panels (black or aluminum, take your pick). French top-stitching abounds, but in that precise, orderly way that Germans prefer, the rigid geometric pattern adorning our version of the seats evocative of ’80s techno. It’s fairly spacious both forward and in the rear, and the seats promise long-distance comfort if you like a firm bucket.
The RS6 has a variety of pre-set drive modes to suit your mood, but as in the past the car gives you a la carte control. Thus, if you want the eight-speed automatic to drop gears like two boxcars slamming together, but prefer lighter steering and a softer ride, you can order that up in the Individual mode. The auto mode is the S&P 500 index fund of Drive Select as it automatically clenches and unclenches the car depending on how you operate it, but it does mean the boost and transmission can be caught flat-footed if you suddenly decide to jump for a hole. Dynamic mode locks it in the sportier setting with extra roar and back-fire from the exhaust to suit, if you like that sort of thing all the time.
The RS 6 wants to run and its capabilities are far beyond what American law enforcement considers appropriate, so it wears a bullseye on its back. An even hundred in this thing offers no more white-knuckle drama than season 3 of Friends, so roadside chats with the cops are a distinct danger. Still, as all drivers of fast cars know, you find your moments, and they are sweet ones in the big Avant when the V-8 gets on steam and the scenery flashes past. If the transmission hasn’t pre-primed the engine then it can take half a heartbeat for the boost to build and the full fury to unleash, but if you first drop it a gear or two the Avant takes off.
The RS cars haven’t always been available to American buyers,. The sublime RS 4 disappeared years ago and the RS 6 was sold for one model year only (2003) as a sedan. The last RS 6 Avant supposedly had a crash-test issue with the rear-mounted battery, so it didn’t come over from Europe. There were always reasons—until now. It helps that Mercedes-Benz is importing the 603-hp AMG E 63 S wagon and Porsche sells the 550-hp Sport Turismo wagon version of its Panamera. Nothing rouses a German automaker like other German automakers taking the initiative. And the RS 6 Avant undercuts them both on price by a significant amount.
Here in what may well be the final decade or two of the internal combustion engine, the RS 6 seems a bit of a throwback as electrics achieve with one moving part what the Audi achieves with zillions. But we won’t fault Audi here for being atavistic; its EV plans are well known and aggressive. In the meantime, a lucky few (very few) will get to hog the left lanes of America in this machine. Keep an eye out for them.
2021 Audi RS 6 Avant
Price (base/as-tested): $110,045
Highs: Big-bore wagons are cool, gets you there PDQ, loads of luxury and tech.
Lows: Heavy and expensive, cop bait, sits low compared to an SUV (oh wait, that’s a high).
Summary: Rare in America, the new RS 6 Avant renders you an autobahn king in a land with no autobahns.