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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant First Drive | A German fairy tale come true

Finally. A 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant sits at the curb. It’s in Nardo Grey, arguably Audi’s best shade of grey (of which there are many). Year after year has gone by without a proper Audi sports wagon being sold in the United States. We’ve always had to longingly look across the ocean with one eye on the 25-year clock for import status. For those counting, the RS2 is now available. 

Most of 2020 has been downright dreadful, but Audi has done its best to cheer us up with Avants back on this continent. We’ve already driven the standard A6 Allroad, but now it’s time to put the enthusiast darling RS 6 Avant to the test.

“How long do we need to wait to afford one of these?” my girlfriend asks as the laser light unlock animation plays in the headlights.

“Maybe … 10-15 years,” I say chuckling, genuinely wondering what kind of depreciation this six-figure German superwagon will suffer from.

Wagon devotees across the nation are likely wondering the same thing. A boatload of enthusiasts want a midsize wagon with 591 horsepower, but the percentage of that group with bank accounts to afford such a vehicle is not conducive to high sales volumes. Therefore, just like the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon and Volvo V90, the only way for Audi to justify the costs of bringing the RS 6 Avant here is to make it order-only. Fine, now every owner can get exactly what they want.

But is the new RS 6 Avant a wagon that you want?

The answer is a resounding hell yes if you’re judging it by exterior design. Only the front doors, roof and rear hatch are the same as a standard A6 Avant, which is now the only A6 wagon model not sold here. Every other body panel is unique to the RS 6, which gave designers huge amounts of freedom to make this wagon look the part. Mean, threatening and fast are three words that instantly come to mind when taking the wagon in from head-to-toe. Its massive, frameless grille, huge 22-inch wheels, super low side skirts and oval RS tailpipes only represent a fraction of things to love. Flared arches show off the extra 1.6 inches of width on each side (3.2 inches wider total versus an A6 Avant), and our tester’s Black Optic package just makes this wagon even more sinister.

But the RS 6 Avant is not beautiful or elegant in any traditional sense. It’s far too brutal of a design to bandy those words about. In that way, this wagon’s design matches its utterly animalistic and brutal performance capabilities. Under the hood is Audi’s flavor of the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that is so kindly shared about the Volkswagen Group. In this tune it makes 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to send your whole family into orbit and/or sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds using launch control. The venerable ZF 8-speed automatic sends power to all four wheels, with a maximum of 85% going to the rear axle (read: it slides!), or 70% to the front if traction losses necessitate it.

A fat Pirelli P-Zero summer tire setup — 285-section-width — sits at all four corners wrapping the 22-inch wheels, but 21-inch wheels with 275-section-width tires are standard. These tires have daringly little sidewall on them; however, Audi stresses the importance of the wheel-to-body ratio as one of the key aesthetic elements that makes this wagon look so good. Making up for some of the natural impact harshness we generally associate with oversized wheels is Audi’s adaptive air suspension. Europeans are given the option of a fixed suspension with coil springs and adaptive dampers for a slightly more aggressive character.

To enhance the handling of this 4,960-pound beast, Audi has implemented an all-wheel-steering system for greater maneuverability at low speeds and enhanced stability at higher speeds. The quattro sport differential on the rear axle can split torque at the rear, sending as much as 100% of the available torque to a single rear wheel. And a brake-based torque vectoring system is used up front to further aid handling.

The seriousness of this vehicle becomes evident after the first full throttle application. Those 591 twin-turbocharged horses propel this wagon forward at rates of speed that’ll have seasoned enthusiasts white knuckling the steering wheel. Its launch control feature is less chest punch and more jet takeoff. You whoosh away with nary the scratch of a tire, and the speed builds instantly to the point of being unable to lift your neck from the seatback. It feels a few tenths quicker than 3.5 seconds, and the sensation of acceleration has no letup as speeds climb higher. It’s a shame we’re driving this wagon in Michigan and not the autobahn, because the 190-mph top speed feels like it’d arrive quickly. And do note that you’ll need the $8,500 carbon ceramic brake package to hit 190 mph, because the standard brakes saddle you with a 155-mph speed limiter.

Acceleration is obviously relentless, but the sound coming from the RS 6 Avant is a tale of two stories. It’s a bassy, baritone trumpet from the inside, but from the rear bumper, the optional Sport Exhaust sounds like a heavy metal death jam. The gravelly, munching sound it makes is gnarly times 10. We only wish we could hear it chopping away from the cabin. Thanks, sound deadening. Downshifts are met with light crackling and popping, but it flies under the radar unless you’re really listening for it.

Being blow-your-head-off-fast is something Audi has done well for years, though. Handling has been a different story, especially in past A6-based RS models. On paper, the RS 6 Avant’s 55/45 front-to-rear weight distribution sounds like Audi has goofed once again by shoving that big V8 too far forward of the front axle. In practice, this wagon doesn’t have a whiff of understeer or feeling of front-heaviness on winding country roads. Turn-in is quick, as the all-wheel-steering system and a quick rack mask the wagon’s 4,960-pound weight (it’s nearly 500 pounds more than the A6 Allroad). 

Smooth roads showcase the RS 6’s handling abilities best, as it carves through corners with superb body control with the suspension fully stiffened up. The air suspension shows a few flaws on less pleasant surfaces, as there’s a level of bounciness and incoordination that creeps in no matter the damper setting. It never fully settles into the road, causing a level of discomfort and bouncing around for the driver. Tighter-hugging bucket seats could help quell this to a degree, but we’ll chalk the harshness and less-than-stellar damping control up to the big 22-inch wheels and air springs. 

In situations with fewer Gs, the air suspension is a godsend. Anybody could daily this wagon in full comfort mode every day and never complain. We didn’t have an A6 Allroad to drive alongside this RS 6, but it’s hard to believe the non-performance wagon would be much more relaxing and pleasant to pop around town in. The quiet V8 rumble all but fades away into the background if you keep the revs low, and it fully disappears when coasting up to lights and when stopped with the 48-volt mild-hybrid technology switching the engine off. Audi’s priorities are in the right place, as folks who buy the RS 6 Avant almost certainly have real wagon needs. Setting fast laps at a track day can immediately be followed up with a long highway slog home wherein your kid sleeps the whole way back. If a one-car solution is what you’re after, the RS 6 Avant is exactly what the chef is serving.

Everything inside is fairly standard Audi. It’s full-on screen-ageddon for the infotainment and climate controls. Neat RS-specific features like the RS Monitor (allows you to watch temperatures of all vital powertrain components and even the tires) and RS Modes (two customizable drive mode settings) elevate it that little bit higher. The beautiful, quilted leather seats could have more aggressive or adjustable bolstering, and the tall dash hurts visibility by being just a touch too high. Backseat passengers have plenty of room to spread out, and they even get their own climate controls. Essentially, if the luxury can be had in other non-Audi Sport models, you can enjoy the same here. All that adds weight, but for the RS 6 Avant’s price, leaving a feature out would be cause for pitchforks.

Before options, the RS 6 Avant starts at $110,045. Our heavily optioned test car rang in at $131,645 but it still wasn’t not maxed out. Items like the driver assistance package and sport exhaust are must-buys, but you can save plenty of cash by skipping the carbon ceramic brakes and expensive carbon/black appearance packages.

This wagon only has one true, direct competitor in the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon. These two match right up on paper, and the Mercedes is just a few thousand dollars more. Deciding between them won’t be easy, but for the first time in a while, at least you actually have a choice to make. For now, those who have an RS 6 Avant on order can rest easy knowing their superwagon is mighty super indeed. And for those still on the fence, consider the Mercedes, then buy one of them. It really is impossible to go wrong.

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