Never before has a super wagon comparison test between Mercedes-Benz and Audi been possible in the United States. Mercedes has sold a hell-raising estate car here for nearly two decades, but Audi has frequently declined to bring its spiciest wagons here, citing silly things like “sales” and “financial sense.” That’s no longer the case, thanks to the 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant.
It’s the latest in a long line of beautiful, asphalt-demolishing Audi Sport wagons, and Americans are finally getting a taste of a vehicle intended to be the ultimate one-car solution for car enthusiasts. It promises to not only demolish race tracks and be as quick as supercars from a decade ago, but also eat up highway miles in comfort and ferry an entire family and its luggage. You know, the very thing Mercedes’ AMG wagon has been for years. And for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon, those mad lads in Stuttgart have greeted the Audi’s arrival with an update of its benchmark uber wagon. What a rude welcome.
Both longroofs are propelled by 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engines aided by 48-volt mild-hybrid electric systems. But don’t be fooled. There is nothing green about either of them. The AMG E 63 S manages to eke out more power with final output landing at 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Audi trails shortly behind at 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. According to manufacturer estimates, the sprint to 60 mph requires 3.4 seconds in the Mercedes, and 3.5 in the Audi. On paper, the two engines may seem a bit copy-paste, but they’re anything but that from behind the wheel.
A low, bassy grumble steadily increases in volume inside the Audi up to redline, whereas the Mercedes’ revs zing upward with a pretty, mechanical-sounding trumpet of V8 nastiness. The noise is just the first hint that the AMG wagon is rawer than the Audi. Mercedes transmits every pound-foot of torque through your bones with the right pedal pinned. Active engine mounts stiffen up at the twist of the mode dial, giving the AMG an even greater sense of immediacy. Each throttle input is met with an instant response, beckoning to your will so quickly that it masks the turbocharged nature of this engine. It quickly begins to feel like an extension of the driver.
The Audi is numb and distant in comparison. It’s covering the same amount of ground at the same speeds, but it’s doing so with a filter. Where the Mercedes’ engine is alive and dancing, the Audi’s V8 just feels like it’s going through the motions. Yes, our heads are pinned to the headrest, but we feel further away from the wagon’s beating heart. Responses aren’t are sharp, either. There’s a split-second more turbo lag and shifts aren’t quite as crispy or scintillating.
Using the ZF eight-speed transmission, as the Audi does, is normally a foolproof way to bring both performance and refinement to a powertrain (even BMW M cars use it these days), but Mercedes’ nine-speed multi-clutch transmission is a superior partner in spirited driving. Each upshift is met with a firecracker bang, and every downshift is invigorating, encouraging you to keep pulling the down paddle while braking into corners to hear the guttural (and slightly childish) pops and bangs. The Audi shifts are stupid-quick in a vacuum, but its responses seem dulled when driven back-to-back with the Mercedes. Not to mention that the Audi has tiny, hard-to-reach paddles with middling action versus Mercedes’ large, clicky shift paddles. Ultimately, the Mercedes is far more entertaining to shift yourself, but both are perfectly smart and capable of putting you in the right gear in automatic mode on a country road.
But can they go left and right, too?
Of course. Similar to the engine story, though, the E 63 S has the edge. Both these wagons are fitted with air suspensions that are fully adjustable from pillow-soft to racetrack-stiff. Fiddling with the settings returns different results and opinions each time we swing around to the same stretch of pavement. But no matter what combination the Audi is set to, it still can’t touch the brilliant chassis tuning on display in the Mercedes.
It’s hardly believable that the AMG wagon is riding on an air suspension, because it exhibits none of the typical springiness or bounce. It’s pinned to the pavement, forgiving and stable on poor road surfaces, but scissors through smooth roads like a bayonet through fabric. The steering is just right in Sport+ mode, providing a natural level of feedback and proper weighting to instill confidence in the chassis. It’s a natural athlete, springing from corner-to-corner with spunkiness and capability we tend to associate with Porsche. After two straight hours of dancing around our favorite roads in the Mercedes, we’re left wondering, what more can you want?
Audi surely knew it would be difficult to best the AMG’s handling, but engineers sure did try. With zero hint of understeer, the RS 6 Avant eats up corners. It turns in quicker than the Mercedes (thank the all-wheel steering system) and has a quicker, lighter steering rack in general. All that’s perfectly fine for scything through the local roundabouts, but it’s a step behind the E 63 S everywhere else. There’s no hiding the air suspension underneath here, as the RS 6 Avant struggles to retain its composure over rough stretches of road that were simply shrugged off by the Mercedes. You move around in the seat more as the huge 22-inch wheels skip and bounce through road undulations. Similar to the engine situation, the Audi is fundamentally capable beyond anyone’s road needs, but it speaks back through a thick layer of insulated glass. Remove it, punch up the atmosphere, and you get the Mercedes. AMG made its wagon more fun to drive than Audi Sport. Period.