Perhaps more than any other car in the lineup, the new, finally-for-America 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant embodies the classic Audi approach to performance. Yeah, the RS 3 has the magic number of cylinders (five) and the R8 delivers genuine supercar chops, but the RS 6 trounces both with a swaggering, confident incongruence.
(Full disclosure: Audi wanted me to drive the RS 6 Avant so bad they invited me to a hotel in Malibu, CA by the ocean, served a rooftop breakfast overlooking the ocean, and treated me to a swank dinner next to the ocean.)
The 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant absolutely lives up to the hype, to the legend, and finally answers the question Americans have been asking for years: When can we get a performance wagon?
Do yourself the biggest favor, right now: call your friendly Audi dealer, secure a place in line, then return to this browser tab. You’ll thank me in about seven months—the first RS 6 Avants hit these shores summer 2020.
I’m sure this point is made clear by now, but if not: the “Avant” in RS 6 Avant translates to wagon, while “RS 6” means what the hell just passed me? The ultimate allure of the RS 6 Avant, naturally, lies in its inherent paradox: this is supercar-level capability dressed up in a practical package. A wagon that can outpace a superbike? You’d better believe it.
Audi has been perfecting this formula well before steroid-infused SUVs were a glimmer in a product planner’s eye, starting with the bonkers Porsche-built RS 2 Avant in the mid-’90s. In 2003, Audi upped the ante with the larger RS 6 Avant—but like the RS 2 Avant, it never made it to American shores.
While Mercedes may have been late to the beastly longroof game with the E55 AMG wagon in 2005, at least it had the decency to bring it to the US market. Now that the RS 6 Avant is finally here, the E63 AMG is no longer in a class by itself. On paper, it may look like an apples-to-apples comparison, but the E63 is much more of a brute, and the perfect choice for people who love to cut in line, kick sand in your face and wake the neighborhood by doing smoky burnouts in drift mode.
In contrast, the Audi’s phenomenal performance is delivered in a more civilized and refined fashion. There’s no reason why someone wouldn’t cross-shop the RS 6 Avant with a Porsche 911 as well as the E63 AMG.
The 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant is powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 which shoves out a claimed 592 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. That’s connected to an eight-speed automatic and driving all four wheels. It’s similar to the mill found underneath the hood of the Lamborghini Urus and just-announced RS Q8. Light it up and it sounds properly menacing.
While it’s based on Audi’s A6, that’s pretty much where the similarities stop, at least on the outside. Up front, a straked hood closes down over three prominent air inlets and brackets laser headlight clusters pilfered from the A7. The flared fenders add 3.2 inches of overall width and give the RS 6 a beefy, aggressive front stance. The rear doors are also embiggened, flowing into distinctly wider flanks. Audi says that only the front doors, roof, and rear hatch carry over from the A6 Avant.
That increased width enables Audi to stuff massive 275/35-21 tires under each corner as standard issue. If you hate the idea of having sidewalls, you can opt for even larger 22-inch wheels with 285/30-22s all around. Those 22-inchers are the only way to get the carbon-ceramic brakes, whose rotors measure a gargantuan 440mm in diameter up front. That figure translates to an extra-large pizza-sized 17.3 inches. By comparison, the 2003 RS 6 sedan came to the US with 18-inch wheels. Think about that for a second.
Inside, you’ll find Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and dual-screen infotainment system in the console, albeit with some RS-specific touches. There’s the Car Temperature page, which features an animation of the powertrain, along with readings for engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake discs and the optional sport differential.
Temps are measured on a five-point scale, ranging from Unavailable to Overheated. On the steering wheel, you’ll find a button labeled “RS” which enables you to cycle through two pre-set driving programs labeled RS1 and RS2. Choose from a smattering of settings like exhaust volume, throttle response, and suspension stiffness to create your ideal driving experience.
As befits a German wagon, practicality is king. The firmly bolstered sport seats are now ventilated as well as heated. Space-wise, there’s room for up to five passengers—as well as their luggage, since there’s 20 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Fold the rear seats and the big Audi will swallow up to 59.2 cubic feet of whatever you can cram into it. Still need to transport more? Put that shared roof panel to use with a rack system and throw two mountain bikes up top.
I’ve actually transported bikes in this fashion, and it turns out that at speeds over 90 mph, they start to slide back on their tracks. Why is this important?
Because the RS6 Avant can travel much, much faster than that.
Straight-line acceleration is nothing short of phenomenal. Give it the boot and 0-60 streaks by in a mere 3.6 seconds. But really, the RS 6 is just getting started.
Keep your foot in it, and it’ll snatch 124 mph just 8.4 seconds after that, with a top speed of 155 waiting just around the corner. Did you opt for the Dynamic package? Good. 174 mph is yours. If, for some reason, you own a private island (or, better yet, a congressman in Montana), the Dynamic Plus package unlocks the ultimate achievement of nearly 190 mph.
And this is what’s truly sensational about the RS 6—even at triple-digit speeds, the car hustles down the pavement with absolutely zero drama. This is a vehicle thoroughly designed for traveling at a heightened velocity for hours on end. Some cars seem to shrink the faster you drive them. Not so the RS 6 Avant. At times it feels every ounce of its approximately 4,700 pounds, and I mean that as a genuine compliment.
Credit goes to the standard air suspension, which deftly absorbs any road imperfections, even when the suspension is on its firmest setting. But if “air firm” isn’t firm enough, the RS 6 Avant is available with optional steel springs featuring Dynamic Ride Control. It’s a system in which all four adjustable dampers are diagonally connected to a central valve by two oil lines. During cornering, the valve pushes and pulls oil through the lines, altering the volume reduces damping on one corner while simultaneously enhancing it at the opposite corner, effectively reducing roll and pitch and keeping the RS 6 Avant flatter than a Midwest vowel in a turn. Dynamic Plus is geared towards drivers who insist on driving at nine-tenths most of the time. My advice is to go for the air suspension, as it’s ideally suited to the character of the car.
With either suspension, tossing the RS 6 Avant into a series of switchbacks is like performing a barrel roll in a 747—once your passengers stop screaming, they’ll be amazed at what the machine is capable of. And in return, the RS 6 Avant is relatively nonplussed.
When it comes to styling, the RS6 is anything but subtle—a big departure from practically every RS Avant model before it. Not too long ago, Audi design was celebrated for being beautifully restrained and elegant. Even the RS models managed to communicate their pavement-stomping performance chops without resorting to look-at-me theatrics. These designs stand the test of time because there was a confidence behind them: form and function working harmoniously with one another to produce a shape that’s as cohesive as it is emotional. Besides, it’s tremendously satisfying to spank unsuspecting sports cars with a wagon.
Very little of that stealth factor exists here, as does cohesion. It seems that Audi has been more concerned with chasing industry styling trends lately than focusing on its own design language. Thankfully, it’s pretty difficult to muck up a wagon too badly, which means the side profile is deliciously long, low and taut, leaving the busywork to clutter the ends of the otherwise flowing silhouette.
Perhaps the most polarizing design element for me on the RS 6 Avant is the rear diffuser accent piece, which for some reason I want to name Carl. The way that it meanders up over the exhaust and below the diffuser makes it look like a chrome mustache that’s ripe for twirling.
In explaining this (and other overt styling cues), Audi exterior designer Andreas Koglin said the mission was to push the overall design of the RS 6 Avant closer to sports cars like the R8 and even Lamborghini. In particular, that accent in back (you know, Carl) is to emphasize the width of the car, as well as the size of the diffuser itself.
But the comparison to Lamborghini is telling. Think about the design of the original Countach, and where it ended up 25 years later. One of them has a simple yet exciting elegance, and the other one is a spoiler-festooned caricature of itself. At the end of the day, some prefer that kind of over-the-top decoration. I’m just not one of them.
Presciently, Audi is aware that not everyone digs the bling. In addition to matte aluminum, buyers can choose from either a carbon fiber or gloss black package which covers the front valance wings and horizontal blade, sill inserts, roof rails, window trim and—thankfully—the rear diffuser trim.
Choosing gloss black, however, presents the opposite issue up front. Over the years, Audi’s “singleframe” grille has been pulled and tweaked to such an extreme that it barely resembles the clean drama of the original. The RS 6 Avant exacerbates this effect by squishing the grille down even further to again emphasize width. So if you also spec out the iconic four rings in gloss black, the front of the RS 6 suffers from a weird kind of aggressive anonymity. Or is it anonymous aggression?
There is a solution, and Audi offers some mix-and-match leeway on the trim. My ideal spec: brightwork up front and on the sides, blackout badges and diffuser trim out back. Problem solved.
Look, the Audi RS 6 Avant isn’t for everyone, but for a specific few, it’s the only choice. “I have gotten more emails about this car than any other launch in recent history,” said Mark Dahncke, Audi USA’s director of communications. And Mark gets a lot of emails.
It’s incredible to think that there would be such pent-up demand for—of all things—a station wagon, but reducing the RS 6 Avant to those parameters simply doesn’t do it any justice. After all, this is the car whose launch crashed the Audi U.S. press site. Pricing hasn’t yet been announced, but my sources say that the RS 6 Avant will be priced a few grand below the RS 7. Figure about $115,000 or so to get started.
Will the hype translate to sales? Here’s hoping. In finally bringing the RS 6 Avant to the U.S., Audi has held up its end of the bargain. Now it’s your turn.