Payne: Audi RS6 Avant, station wagon from the gods

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

I grew up in the back of a blue 1960s Buick station wagon. Bench rear seats. Steering column-mounted shifter. Rear-wheel drive. Turned like a cruise ship.

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant is not that wagon.

On Hankerd Road south of Hell, Michigan, I initiated launch control. Then I released the 591-hp, 590-torque twin-turbo V-8 Kraken. With its 8-speed transmission firing off rifle-quick shifts and the all-wheel-drive system electronically managing torque to all four corners, the wagon gulped asphalt at an astonishing rate. The speedo blew by (censored to preserve my license) mph, yet the car felt stable as a rock — its 4.0-liter mill begging for more throttle.

Cul-de-sacs were the natural habitat of my mom’s Buick. My scarlet RS6 tester was at home on Hell’s twisted roads. Devil in a red suit. Swollen fenders like a muscle shirt over huge 22-inch wheels. Brooding headlight signature. Push the Avant’s start button and it awakens like a tiger that hasn’t eaten in a week. RRRROWR.

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant is the Avant wagon's top shelf performance version with a twin-turbo V-8, eight-speed tranny, rear-wheel steer and other goodies.

Avant’s gotta’ eat, and Hell’s rural roads are the best feeding ground in state.

RS is German for Rennsport — which translates to English as Racing Sport. I think Rocket Ship is more appropriate. With radical modifications to the suspension and drivetrain, the RS is Audi’s pinnacle badge — transforming luxury vehicles like the Allroad into snarling performance deviants that itch to get on track (not just drive the family to it).

Case in point, my Avant (more German: Avant means “wagon”) is based on the  $66,895 A6 Allroad wagon I tested last summer. On my I-96 trip west to Hell, RS6 exhibited all the civilized qualities of that housebroken tourer: roomy interior, panoramic roof, twin console screens for infotainment/climate, driver-assist and Google Earth-enhanced navigation. A word about the latter two features.

Audi has made great strides since the first A8L I drove back in 2015 with erratic drive assist that would have smacked into the Lodge M-10’s concrete walls were it not for driver intervention. The RS6, by contrast, navigated westbound 96 beautifully. I took curves hands free, the wagon staying centered in the lane rather than pinballing from one side to the other.

With twin touch screens for infotainment and climate, the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant gets tight for console space.

Smartphone-based Google apps are the best nav systems on the planet, but I’m a sucker for the Audi’s gorgeous Google Earth displays — even if it often takes multiple attempts for the voice recognition system to understand me.

Me: Navigate to Hell, Michigan.

Audi: Hale?

Me: No, Hell.

Audi: Hell Ranch?

Me: Close enough.

Stunning, richly colored vistas of the countryside then splash across the instrument and infotainment displays with turn-by-turn overlays. It’s worth the voice-recog hassle. I cruised comfortably to the U.S. 23 South/Brighton exit, U2 X-Radio filling the cabin.

My luxurious ride was interrupted by a cloverleaf that the RS6 attacked like Lewis Hamilton entering the Parabolica sweeper at the Monza Grand Prix. That is to say, very fast.

Behold the furnace. The 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 under the hood of the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant puts out 591 horsepower.

With its V-8 boat anchor up front, the RS6 should push like, well, a wagon around a 360-degree turn — but this is no ordinary car. Audi has blessed the RS6 not only with torque-vectoring AWD, but with Porsche Turbo-like all-wheel steer. The 5,000-pound beast rotated into the cloverleaf on a dime, then begged for more right foot.

Sticking like hot wax on a 32-degree day, the Avant tenaciously hugged the long cloverleaf apex — g-loads straining my neck. By the exit, I finally got some squall from the huge 11-inch-wide tires, and even a wee bit of controlled oversteer as rear-wheel steer did its thing.

I exploded onto Route 23, V-8 drowning out U2.

So exhilarating is this experience that I instantly sought out the opposite cloverleaf going north on 23. Let’s do that again! I was alone this day, but I can understand how the Avant’s Jekyll and Hyde nature might drive a family nuts. Be sure to warn the backseat passengers: cloverleaf ahead.

Arriving in Hell, I stopped for a few photographs and noted how much I prefer the design of the RS6 over sister Allroad. Part of that is attributed to stunning wheels, power-dome hood, red brake calipers, bazooka-sized rear tailpipes and widened stance (2.5 inches wider than standard A6).

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant

But the fascia is the charm. The Allroad grille is overdone, a vain actor that spent too much time in the makeup chair. The all-black Avant mug, by contrast, is not only tidier but also provides the right amount of menace as you loom in someone’s rear mirrors. You won’t be in their mirrors for long.

In this Age of Ute, the RS badge has been added to Audi SUVs just as BMW M-badge and AMG-badged Mercs have proliferated in their sport utility lineups. But with inherently flawed high-centered bods, the SUVs struggle to be pure performance machines.

With their more intuitive physics — yet similar hatchback cargo utility — European wagons are king of family performance. A couple of months back, I brought a 350-horse Audi SQ5 SUV to Hell. It can’t hold a candle to the Avant.

Alas, the RS6’s insane capabilities make me think of what might have been for Detroit brands. In particular the Cadillac CT5 Wagon, one of the most wicked wagons ever conceived. If Caddy hadn’t abandoned it seven years ago, CT5 Wagon (with the current CT5-V Blackwing’s supercharged 650-horse V-8 under the hood) could have been a match for the RS6. Woulda coulda shoulda.

Only a few will able to afford the RS6 Avant’s prodigious talent. The beast starts at $110,045, and my tester rung the cash register at over 119 grand.

If one likes, the driver can monitor the status of the nuclear power plant under the hood of the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant.

For all that dough, Audi could make a better console. The shifter is too close to the driver, meaning my 6’5” frame’s right leg consistently knocked it over into “Manual” position. The twin screens rob the console of needed storage space.

More pleasing is the head-up display — a must-have on the Avant. Similar to Caddy’s V-mode, the Avant locates an “RS” button on the steering wheel so that — with a single press — the driver can instantly transform Jekyll into Hyde with pre-configured performance modes when twisty roads loom.

Corresponding to the RS button, the head-up display turns into a digital RPM and mph indicator so you never have to take your eyes off the road as you devour traffic.

All hail the performance family wagon. You’ve come a long way, baby.

2021 Audi RS6 Avant

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger station wagon

Price: $110,045, including $995 destination fee ($119,840 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8

Power: 591 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 156 mph

Weight: 4,960 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/22 highway/17 combined

Report card

Highs: Ferocious acceleration; all-wheel-steer handling

Lows: Poorly organized console; six-figure price tag

Overall: 4 stars

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