Whip-crack performance and staid practicality come together in a pumped-up wagon with something for the whole family.
The 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant is able to sprint from 0–100km/h in less time than it takes the Audi R8 supercar. That’s it. That’s all you need to know.
Alright, that’s a little unfair… The all-wheel-drive RS 6 is the fastest version of the A6 range, and with a 3.6-second 0–100km/h claim it’s actually quicker than the slowest rear-wheel-drive R8, which takes 3.8 seconds.
That’s still pretty tremendous. Under the bonnet there’s a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 441kW and 800Nm, and at the back it’s a wagon.
The R8, meanwhile, has a 5.2-litre V10 good for only 397kW and 540Nm, and there’s no room for a labrador in the back. What a world, hey?
Okay, R8 comparisons are a bit silly, but the performance and practicality offered by the RS 6 – from a starting price of $216,000 before on-road costs – is unmatched in Australia.
Audi has this niche all to itself, it seems. At least until such time as Alpina confirms the updated B5 Touring for Australia, which hasn't happened yet.
|2020 Audi RS 6 Avant|
|Engine||4.0-litre (3996cc) twin-turbo petrol V8|
|Power and torque||441kW at 6000–6250rpm, 800Nm at 2050–4500rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||11.7L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||17–18L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||565L / 1680L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||5-star (2019) based on A6/S6|
|Warranty (years / kilometres)||3 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||BMW M5, Mercedes-AMG E63|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$263,350|
On the inside, the family ties to the rest of the A6 range are pretty obvious.
There’s the same slickly designed, contemporary, pleasing design with a focus on high-tech, but none of the confrontational Vegas Strip lighting found in some rivals.
That’s where the family resemblance ends, however. The RS 6 Avant may not be as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as some other ballistically powered cars, but it’s hardly short on excitement – not something lesser A6s can claim.
There’s no quaking on start-up, the engine doesn’t thrash on its mounts, and from inside the cabin there’s only a muted V8 burble. It is all respectable and civil.
Technical sophistication takes precedence over brute force, making the RS 6 deceptively quick. There’s no scrambling for traction, no hint of drift-readiness in hard corners, and no RWD-only mode.
The 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine itself is something of a one-size-fits-all solution. As well as the RS 6, it stars in the RS Q8 and RS7, and drops 21kW to run in the S8.
Audi doesn’t affix a plate honouring the engine’s assembler the way AMG does. The engine itself is no worse for it either. Picking your preferred body style to go with the available grunt is likely the only hard part.
The engine is subtle from inside the cabin, and that can be a little disappointing if you’re after a German hot rod, but from outside there’s plenty of rich aural reward for passers-by to enjoy.
For the driver, the joy is in harnessing the available torque, which instead of inviting you to explore the upper reaches of the rev range, has you mapping maximum mid-range thrust.
Neutrality seems to be the name of the game for Audi. There are no staggered tyres and no rear-bias feel. Even with everything set to its sportiest, the RS 6 sticks and goes.
Audi is always keen to demonstrate the oversteer potential of its RS cars at drive-day events, and it is with stunning regularity that drivers fail to elicit exaggerated drift angles. Make no mistake – there’s power and control, but no boof-headed aggression here.
Backed up by an eight-speed 'Tiptronic' torque converter automatic, the transmission feels every bit as swift and smooth as Audi's dual-clutch automatics, and maybe even a shade crisper than the eight-speed auto BMW uses in the M5. No compromises here, it seems.
The RS 6’s attitude swells from mildly amusing at city speeds to much more grin-inducing at higher speeds. Tight, twisting roads aren’t a sweet spot, but wide, flowing coastal or mountain passes, if you can find them, are a hoot in something as brawny yet finely controlled as the big red wagon.
That rather subtle and circumspect attitude carries over to the steering and suspension, too.
Improvements have been made over the years, and each successive model is better than the last, yet the steering is still fairly uninvolving. Quick and direct in its effect on the front wheels, yes, but short on feel or feedback.
A four-wheel-steering system is standard. It’s a little hard to call out the dynamic benefits, though they're no doubt there, but it’s also handy for getting the rather broad Avant in and out of tighter parking spots.
Similarly, the suspension doesn't give wheel-at-each-corner feedback through the chassis, but it does keep a firm hand on ride and bump suppression. As an air suspension system, it can get flummoxed by high-frequency irregularities, and does occasionally thump through bigger dips.
For the most part it’s a near miracle that the suspension can disguise the thin licorice-strap sidewalls and 22-inch wheels as well as it does. In a car that should offer next to no cruise comfort, the RS 6 is pleasantly adept.
The fat rubber, 285mm at each corner (285/30R22 overall), isn’t as eerily silent on freeway surfaces as long-distance travellers might like it to be. Road noise is a bit of a feature depending on the tarmac underneath, and is the only real place the big Audi drops its guard in terms of refinement.
Otherwise, the cabin will house four adults comfortably, with quite a surprising amount of head, leg and foot space in the second row. Adding a fifth passenger might only work at a pinch, with rear-seat sculpting that works against full-time taxi work.
The front seats aren’t the relentlessly grippy, wing-backed, rock-hard sports seats of some Euro rivals either. They may not look as outlandish as a result, but allow some freedom of movement for the daily commute, which is certainly handy.
Given the RS 6 is as much about what’s under the tailgate as what’s under the bonnet, there’s a rather long but shallow boot. Officially, there’s 565L of space to the cargo blind (which conveniently auto-lifts with the tailgate), but the freedom to pack bigger, bulkier items to the roof.
A sliding rail for tie-down points, fastening nets, seat-fold levers in the boot, a pair of bag hooks and a 12V outlet mean you can set the RS 6 up to be as versatile, if not more so, as any other wagon. Performance aspirations be damned.
Standard equipment, as you’d expect for a package starting at $216,000 before options and on-road costs, is comprehensive. Valcona leather trim, electrically adjustable front seats and steering column, front seat heating and ventilation, digital instruments, a panoramic sunroof, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring are all part of the basic package.
There are also features like an exterior black pack for the grille, mirrors, roof rails and exhaust tips, LED ‘HD matrix’ headlights that can selectively dim the laser high beams around approaching traffic, adapt for corners, and run animated indicator sequences, and so much more.
The driver-assist package is polished and works well in most conditions with features like adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection from 5–85km/h and vehicle detection to 250km/h, assistance and monitoring for incoming traffic at intersections and junctions, front and rear cross-traffic assist, pre-collision preparation, evasive steering assist, 360-degree cameras, and more. On test, the system behaved with no false alarms, and smooth, easy to live with adaptive cruise and steer assist functions.
Audi’s now default large-car infotainment goes all out on screens. Along with the 12.3-inch instruments and a colour head-up display, there's a 10.1-inch main display high on the dash and a secondary 8.6-inch display for climate control, handwriting recognition and more.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto are baked in, along with inbuilt navigation, pumped through a standard 16-speaker/750W Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Audi’s native infotainment system is a good one, and the press-to-click haptic feedback through the screen becomes second nature in no time. Unfortunately (as it is in almost every other application), wireless CarPlay is absolute garbage – slow, laggy, jittery, and quick to run your battery flat.
If used with the wireless charge pad, 10 minutes is enough to send a phone into temp-protecting shutdown. It’s a brochure-filling feature and nothing more – Audi’s own system is the better bet in this case.
Delve into the options and the price can quickly rocket up. $11K packs together even more premium 19-speaker, 1820W B&O audio, Alcantara headlining, heated rear seats and side window sunshades.
For $8.7K you can add carbon sill and bumper inserts to go with the external black pack, while $2.9K adds an RS Design pack with Alcantara for the steering wheel rim, gear selector, and console sides, door armrests in nappa leather, red-striped seatbelts and red contrast stitching. The carbon twill dash is a $1700 upgrade, and getting the exterior badges blacked out is a puzzling $700 (nope, not a typo).
The car you see here stops the tape at $263,350, and for the way it looks inside and out, it’s hard to argue against any of the optional equipment.
The one item that might be overkill for anything other than track use is the $19,500 RS Dynamic package, which adds 440mm front and 370mm rear carbon-ceramic brakes (for a claimed 34kg weight saving on a 2150kg car) and raises the speed limit from 280km/h to 305km/h. Makes more sense to keep that money in your pocket in Australia, I think.
Use it instead to offset the fuel bill. Audi claims 11.7L/100km is possible. Consider that laughably optimistic. In urban-only driving, figures north of 25L/100km were commonplace, and in mixed driving 17–18L/100km was commonplace. Given that performance potential and size of the RS 6 that's not outlandish, but the factory figure might be the more absurd one here.
Good to know there’s a 48-volt mild-hybrid system at work to keep fuel use down. Use it in Efficiency mode and it’s possible to get fuel consumption down to the 15L/100km mark, and you really notice the electric assistance shutting the engine down earlier, and for longer, with no real impact on around-town performance.
Audi still sticks to the slim side of customer care with just three years of warranty coverage (with no distance cap), while most brands have switched to five years. At least pre-paid servicing is solid value for something so high-performance at $3910 for five years inclusive of standard servicing, plus scheduled filters and fluids, spark plugs, and serpentine belt replacement.
In some ways, the RS 6 comes across as a vehicle that can’t beat or join an AMG E63 or M5, and has gone its own way with a high-performance car that’s looking for a solid long-term relationship, and not a torrid whirlwind affair.
The RS 6 is delightful to drive and every bit as capable of plastering a grin on your face as its German rivals. It’s also more measured about how it delivers its phenomenal performance, and at no stage forgetting that practicality is as essential to its appeal as sheer brute strength.