These days, building a car to excel at a singular purpose is an incredibly challenging prospect that takes armies of talented people, astonishing computing power, and a lot of money.
To create a multi-faceted car that excels in so many areas must be damn-near impossible, then. And yet the 2021 Audi RS 6 is just as suitable for shuttling important clients to a business lunch as it is taking the kids and dog to the ski chalet in the middle of winter. It’s also capable of bullying supercars that dare cross its path. This is an automotive triathlete, and it’s finally arrived in North America.
591 hp in a family wagon may seem a tad excessive — and it is, just as 590 lb-ft of torque is also gratuitous. But those are the numbers that Audi’s 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 dispenses that allow mom, dad, the kids, and their golden retriever to reach 100 km/h in 3.5 seconds. For some reason, my son was early for school every day during the week I tested this monster.
The RS 6’s engine might be familiar to enthusiasts. It’s the same one found in other Volkswagen Group products like the Porsche Panamera Turbo and the Lamborghini Urus. In those other fast family haulers, the tuning has been wicked up well north of 600 hp, but their respective costs have been ratcheted up to match.
It’s a spectacular display of engineering, that engine, and it can make occupants lose their breath, their lunch, or their patience with the driver’s shenanigans. Following the right series of button pushes and missile-launch sequences in the drive mode settings, a launch-mode acceleration run is truly dizzying.
Unsurprisingly, passing power is also colossal. If the eight-speed automatic transmission is caught a cog or two taller than the desired thrust requires, there’ll be a brief hesitation as the transmission, turbos, and engine all sort themselves and conspire to rocket the wagon at the horizon. There’s enough oomph here to propel the RS 6 to triple the local speed limits, though I can’t say I put that to the test. It’s probably just as well, anyway, as keeping my driver’s licence seems more important.
Fuel Economy: 4/10
I found myself starting up the RS 6 in my garage with the driver’s door open, just so I could hear the exhaust bellow as the beast awakened. Inside the car, there is far less drama than expected for such a fearsome monster, and the dynamic drive mode (friskier throttle response, louder exhaust note, more aggressive shifting) and sport setting for the transmission became my de facto setup to avoid the car actually feeling too subdued.
Of course, this behaviour caused my credit card to heat up as premium fuel was consumed at an average rate of nearly 13.0 L/100 km despite a significant amount of highway driving.
Audi fits a small 48-volt hybrid system that, along with an aggressive auto stop/start, is meant to help minimize the RS 6’s fuel-swilling ways, but its use is only optimized when the driver has more self-control than I possess.
Officially, the RS 6 is rated at 10.7 L/100 km on the highway, 13.7 combined, and a cringe-worthy 16.1 in the city. Audi’s closest RS 6 competitor, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 and its 4.0L V8, averages about 1.0 L/100 km better while employing a larger fuel tank for greater range.
Driving Feel: 9/10
The RS 6 is much more than a straight-line stormer — it’s got serious moves. too. This blend of skills makes it like a triathlete following her swim with a choreographed gymnastics routine instead of a bike ride.
Audi’s engineers have done an awesome job of harnessing the RS 6’s astonishing capabilities and keeping the car manageable for drivers without superhuman skill. Despite a bulk of 2,250 kg (4,960 lb), roughly 100 kg (220 lb) more than the E 63 wagon, the RS 6 feels smaller the harder it’s driven. The steering is very quick, resulting in directional changes that are almost telepathic in their immediacy, yet the car never feels flighty or unsettled. Part of this can be attributed to the $3,000 Dynamic package fitted to my tester that features the quattro sport rear differential, plus all-wheel steering.
Even at elevated speeds, the RS 6’s composure is remarkable. In a moment of shameful impatience, I briefly forgot the brute power available and mashed the accelerator in the process of changing lanes around a convoy of dawdling transport trucks. Summoning that much thrust without the wheels pointed straight could’ve easily resulted in an embarrassing pirouette, but the Audi’s composure welcomed my exuberance, and the trucks were quickly — and safely — left behind.
Accomplished performance makes for a safer car as responsiveness can equate to crash avoidance. Add in mind-bending braking from the RS 6’s 16.5-inch front and 14.6-inch rear brakes, and all-wheel traction, and this car gives the tools to help a driver keep out of harm’s way.
Of course, the Avant’s prodigious power can also help get into trouble, too, but using the car’s litany of sensors and cameras, it can predict problems and brake autonomously, if required. My test car also featured the optional $2,400 Driver Assistant package that includes various aids that proved to intervene in a startling way if the car drifted toward the lane edge. Frustratingly, despite a deep dive into the systems and menus, I never could seem to completely switch this feature off, and it quickly became my biggest gripe with the RS 6.
With modern electronics, engineers can build in varying personalities to cars, but none are as polarizing as the RS 6, which can go from supple cruiser Jekyll to fire-snorting Hyde with the press of a button on the steering wheel. Yet even in its most aggressive setting, there is a level of compliance to the suspension that makes it surprisingly supple, even over bad pavement.
The multilink front and rear suspension is damped by an adaptive air ride that balances the car dynamically, without the harshness normally required to stay flat and composed. In the comfort drive setting, the RS 6 embraces its luxury role with aplomb, even managing to keep the giant 22-inch wheels from crashing over road irregularities.
Despite their aggressive bolstering, the front seats aren’t constricting, nor overly challenging to climb into, and even the outboard pair of rear seats are scooped out enough to hold their occupants during spirited manoeuvres. Still, Audi hasn’t provided as much adjustability to the RS 6’s standard seats as both Mercedes-Benz and BMW do with their sport thrones, and the padding is quite firm. For $3,600 extra, optional massaging seats are available.
That one can have this much performance and still bring four friends along and a whole pile of luggage should be astonishing, but there’s no shortage of premium SUVs that are incredibly fast, and have room for five passengers and their cargo.
Like those sport utes, the RS 6 offers all-season capability, and more performance and nearly the space of Audi’s RS Q8 SUV (which also shares the same drivetrain), but without the awkward tall proportions. And while the Avant’s cargo hold isn’t as spacious as the E 63 wagon’s, the Audi does offer more rear legroom.
The RS 6 Avant is a luxury car that costs six figures and it’s accordingly well-appointed. There’s a dual-pane sunroof, soft-close doors, and a four-zone climate control system to ensure occupants are well-coddled. It’s even got frickin’ lasers for headlights. The 16-speaker audio system sounds sensational, too, and there’s wireless phone charging and connectivity. But Audi’s advanced assistance features that help the RS 6 manage much of its own driving on the highway or in stop-and-go traffic, are part of an optional package.
One cool — if gimmicky — trick: the series of external cameras can assemble a 3-D, fly-around view of the car to show it within its surroundings, as if from a drone’s perspective.
User Friendliness: 9/10
Technology features are in abundance here. Audi’s latest infotainment system is wildly complex, yet cleverly packaged for user interface. At first glance, the stacked touch screens on the centre dash (10.6-inch up top, and 8.6-inch below) seem like frivolous form over function, with the lower screen operating climate controls. But the lower screen doubles as a data input tablet for the upper screen, enabling the user to scribble handwritten commands like navigation addresses, even on the fly. While I prefer traditional knobs for basic functions like radio tuning or climate adjustment, Audi’s system does work intuitively.
Where a gauge pod typically resides, there’s yet another 12-inch screen that can be configured in a number of different ways. Add on the standard head-up display and it’s a bit of an information overload, but at least allows the driver to lay it all out and prioritize it as they see fit.
A rolling display of technology like this coupled with the Audi’s tremendous performance is never going to be cheap, but even at a starting price of $120,000, the RS 6 represents a decent value. Typical of German car companies, the option list features several costly packages, but without superfluous goodies like the $6,350 Carbon Optics pack seen here, this RS 6 would tally less than $130,000 before freight and tax. Given both the level of luxury and performance, it’s a veritable bargain — especially considering Audi’s alternative, the RS Q8, costs more, as does the E 63 wagon. Then there’s the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo that can easily stretch an extra six figures.
Apart from blending luxury and astonishing performance so well, the most compelling argument for choosing an RS 6 over the other hyper wagons (and high-performance SUVs) is its appearance. Despite the subdued Nardo Gray paint worn by this tester, nothing I’ve driven apart from a candy-hued exotic has generated anywhere near the attention of this wagon. A trucker stopped midway through an intersection to roll down his window and give me a thumb’s up. A guy in a very loud A4 wagon paced me for kilometres on the highway to take photos, and the mouth-agape stares from legions of driving enthusiasts everywhere I went only reinforced just how special this Audi is.
The RS 6’s fenders bulge 40 mm (1.6 in) wider each side around cartoonish 22-inch wheels, and the oval tailpipes could double as road culverts. The stance is low and tense, and where the E 63 wagon keeps its ferocity hidden beneath a subdued body, the RS 6’s potential is unmistakable even to non-enthusiasts.
It is a monstrous machine and it looks magnificent inside, too, continuing Audi’s tradition of beautifully styled interiors, that blend a look that’s both serious and sensual, decorated with top-quality materials. The woven carbon-fibre trim stretched across the dash is a visual treat.
Amazingly, there’s no shortage of high-performance cars on the market that can do double duty for back-road strafing and family-hauling chores, with most of them being sport utility vehicles. And while the Mercedes-AMG E 63 wagon may better the 2021 Audi RS 6 in power and excitement, the Audi outshines all of the alternatives — even ones costing much more — with its style. Such a combination of luxury, practicality, and performance is rare, but looking this good while doing it is unheard of. The RS 6 is the world’s sexiest triathlete machine.
|Engine Cylinders||Twin-Turbo V8|
|Peak Horsepower||591 hp @ 6,250 rpm|
|Peak Torque||590 lb-ft @ 2,050 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||16.1 / 10.7 / 13.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||850 L|
|Model Tested||2021 Audi RS 6 Avant|
|Price as Tested||$136,895|
$14,100 – Dynamic Package, $2,950; Red Painted Steel Brake Calipers, $500; Driver Assistance Package, $2,400; RS 6 Design Package, $1,900; Carbon Optics Package, $6,350