Review: The $120,000 Audi RS 6 Avant wagon is the capable performance SUV you want, but better in every way

Kristen Lee
·12 min read
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
  • The 2021 RS 6 Avant is the first performance RS station wagon that Audi's sold in the US.

  • In the 10 days I spent with it, I found it was just as sporty and practical as any performance SUV.

  • Prices start at $109,000. After options, my loaner came out to $119,840 MSRP.

  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

To any Audi fan, station wagon enthusiast, and car aficionado, the idea of the RS 6 Avant ever arriving on US shores has always existed in the mythical plane somewhere between "maybe in a thousand million years, you dirtbag American" and "lmao get bent."

But after much begging - and furious letter writing - Audi finally relented. In August 2019, the automaker officially announced the mighty RS 6 Avant's arrival with a press release jubilantly titled "COMING TO AMERICA!!!" It marked the first time the wagon had ever been imported stateside in the 25-year history of Audi RS cars.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Fast-forward five months past the arrival of the first customer orders and I finally got my own go in the thing. It is fast. It is powerful. And - in the case of my loaner - very, very red.

It was every bit worth the wait.

The 2021 RS 6 Avant: The name

Let's first break down the name.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The RS 6 is the highest-trim version of Audi's A6 model, which is available as either a sedan or a station wagon. In Audi-ese, Avant means station wagon. This is the only body style the RS 6 comes in.

RS stands for "Rennsport" and is German for "racing sport." Exclusive, powerful, and expensive, those wearing the famed RS badge represent the most performance-oriented cars in Audi's lineup.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Here in the US, we didn't always get all the RS models Audi presented in Europe. Yet, by some stroke of luck (though more likely a strong desire for money), Audi now offers six RS models to its American buyers.

Details and safety ratings: Superwagon

The RS 6 Avant uses a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 that produces a claimed 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends that power to all four wheels via Audi's Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Its 0-to-60-mph sprint happens in an estimated 3.5 seconds. Stopping power comes from the massive 16.5-inch brake rotors found up front and the 14.6-inch rotors found in the rear.

The RS 6's length comes to 16 feet and total curb weight tips the scale at a hefty 4,960 pounds. With the second row of seats upright, total cargo space comes to 30 cubic feet.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The RS 6 Avant also uses the 48-volt mild-hybrid system present in other Audis such as the A8 and Q8. Unlike in purely hybrid cars, the mild-hybrid system is not here to add to the engine's existing power or anything like that. It does not drive the wheels, nor is there an EV-only driving mode.

Rather, it's to help with fuel economy, allowing for a smoother startup during the car's stop/start function, according to an Audi spokesperson. (For a detailed explainer on how 48-volt mild-hybrid systems work, you can read this excellent Jalopnik piece.)

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The RS 6 comes with two suspension choices. The first, which is what my loaner was equipped with, is a standard adaptive air suspension that can lower or raise the car depending on your preferences. The second is the optional RS sport suspension that supposedly makes the big wagon feel like a track car when taking a corner.

In terms of mileage, the EPA estimates the RS 6 to return 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg combined.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

At the time of this writing, the RS 6 Avant has not yet been tested for crashworthiness by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What stands out: Beast in disguise

The very best thing about having a wagon with nearly 600 horsepower is it's your very own dirty little secret, a beast hiding in plain sight. To the untrained eye, it's just another station wagon.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Only those in the know will notice the musculature - the blacked-out grille, the giant intake cutouts in the fascia, the massive 21-inch wheels, the huge dual-exhaust pipes, the widened fenders, the brake discs the size of a large pizza - and recognize what they're looking at. But if the RS 6 Avant's subtly aggressive design won't give it away, its sharp V8 snap on startup will.

There are different ways to articulate power. For example, a little 400-horsepower Lotus that weighs as much as a bag of fruit and is rear-driven will whip-crack through its gears and fling itself, flea-like, through a corner. It moves through time and space with a kind of thrummy grittiness that's only a few steps below driving a live animal.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The Audi's 591 horsepower, however, is held in check by its all-wheel drive system, automatic transmission, curb weight equal to nearly two Honda Civics - truly, where is all that weight coming from? - and various other onboard electronic traction control systems.

This is not to say the car isn't fast, because it very much is. But it's a manageable 591 horsepower. It'll just as happily cruise around town at 25 mph as it would merging onto highways with the ferocity of leaving its own paint behind. But you, sitting in the driver's seat, are more or less sheltered from that. Things aren't as loud and never rattly. It's smooth like an A380 Airbus taking flight.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Adding to the RS 6 Avant's clout as a brilliant daily driver is its tight and responsive steering, pillowy air suspension, and rear-axle steering. You'll be able to make the sharpest turns and sit on the highway for hours on end with zero complaint.

What falls short: Beefy boi

I tried, very much, to like Audi's MMI interface system and stacked center touchscreen console. The screens' haptic feedback helped somewhat, but in the end, I still wished for some physical switchgear.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi

I spent the days I had with the RS 6 Avant trying to figure out where all the weight was coming from. At 4,960 pounds, it's anywhere between 480 to 850 pounds heavier than the Kia Telluride, a vastly larger midsize, three-row SUV.

The wagon is not particularly wide nor long; it fits five people reasonably well and has a deep trunk. But it's not outlandishly big in any unusual ways. The weight must be coming from everything packed inside - all the safety tech, comfort and convenience features, electronics, and mild-hybrid system.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi

Certainly, this weight affected the RS 6's gas mileage. It admittedly isn't stellar even with the cylinder deactivation system, which turns off four of the eight cylinders when little is being demanded of the engine.

It's possible that Audi just phoned this one in because it knows the RS 6 Avant is the last of its kind. The German automaker already offers a couple of EVs and has plans to up that number to a total of 20 by 2025. The space for purely gas-driven cars is dwindling, especially if it concerns an inefficient superwagon.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi

The next RS 6 we see could quite well be all-electric - or hybridized, at the very least. Either way, the RS 6 Avant, awesome as it is now, cannot be sustainable in Audi's electrified future push.

How it stacks up to its competitors: Dreams do come true

This one's easy. Alexa, how many automakers build 600-horsepower wagons and actually sell them in the US? Answer: Three. Aside from Audi, there's Mercedes-AMG and Porsche. That's it!

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The 2021 RS 6 Avant starts at $109,000. My loaner was loaded up with options such as Tango Red metallic paint ($595), the Executive Package ($2,500), the Black Optic Package ($2,450), the Driver Assistance Package ($2,250), sport exhaust ($1,000), carbon twill structure inlay ($500), red brake calipers ($500), and the destination charge ($1,045).

The final damage? A total of $119,840 MSRP. But when you look at the competition, the Audi is actually the cheapest one.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

The Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon starts at $112,450 and produces a claimed 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. The Porsche Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo, with a claimed 620 horsepower, starts at $181,700 and will be available in early 2021.

Recent Audis have lagged behind Mercedes-AMG in terms of interior luxury and quality and Porsche in terms of overall driving feedback. But I think the RS 6 Avant looks the best of the three - all of my loaner's blacked-out badging did it wonderful favors - and I simply can't shake that special feeling that this is the RS 6 Avant, man!

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

This

is the superwagon we all drooled over while reading European car magazines and cursing out Audi for delivering yet another slice of forbidden fruit. But now it's here! Never mind that Porsche and Mercedes have already beaten Audi in bringing powerful wagons stateside. Dreams do come true!

Perhaps only behind the heroically blue C8 Corvette I had last summer, the RS 6 Avant was by far the biggest fan favorite among passersby while I had the car. It's possible that Audis hit different up in Vermont, but I had fans coming up the driveway to have a look, an RS 3 owner whipping around the Best Buy lot to park next to me and chat for a bit, and two teenagers rolling by in their modified Scion TC where one yelled to the other, "Dude! Do you know how rare those are?"

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

To the unsuspecting, the RS 6 Avant is just another Audi station wagon. This fly-below-the-radar, German-sleeper-superwagon attitude has always been the point, ever since the first RS 6 Avant was introduced in 2002.

But to the indoctrinated, 2021 RS 6 Avant represents the blessed end of a miserable 19-year slog of wanting what we couldn't have.

Our impressions: The antidote

Station wagons might suffer from some image issues, but it's misplaced. Anyone who still thinks wagons are the epitome of suburban, wood-paneled, parent-mobile needs to wake up because it's not the 1980s anymore.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Thanks to Porsche, Mercedes, and now Audi, wagon ownership in the US is no longer what it once was. SUVs are the errand-runners now. They're the normies. Hardly anyone has a wagon anymore.

But to those thinking about 500- or 600-horsepower SUVs from Range Rover, Maserati, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Bentley, or Lamborghini, I have a few reminders for you.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi

These performance SUVs are fast, but so much goes into countering their physics alone: suspension that's been uncomfortably stiffened to prevent inherent lean and body roll, and to mimic the ride quality of a sports car. Sure, these massive SUVs come with headline-grabbing power figures and big brakes, but most realistically, they're to contend with the unavoidable extra weight. This doesn't need to be necessary!

Rather than buy something with a ton of onboard, physics-defying witchcraft that tries to force it into driving like something lower and sportier, just buy the thing that's already lower and sportier. A performance wagon's center of gravity is not only innately lower, leading to better handling and aerodynamics, but you'll also stand out from the crowd.

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

In the 10 days that I spent with the RS 6 Avant, I found it just as capable as any high-horsepower SUV that I've driven. It fit just as much cargo, was just as fast, and was easier to see out of. The air suspension provided a dreamlike ride on long highway stints. By the end of my loan, the red paint was coated in snow and slush like a proper Nordic sleigh.

If you're sick and tired of looking around at our roads and seeing that they're choked with SUVs and other big cars taking up more space than they have to, a solution exists. The solution, my friends, is wagons.

Get them while they're still here, because they can disappear as suddenly as they came.

♦♦♦

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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Audi
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee
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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. Kristen Lee

Read the original article on Business Insider