2020 Audi RS6 Avant First Drive Review: Wagon Über Alles
The RS6 Avant is out to prove wagons do it better. Will America finally listen?
We can gnash our teeth over the way Americans ignore fast wagons, but it'll do nothing to change the lukewarm receptions given to these machines time and again while crossovers keep storming the country's driveways. Domestic entries like the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 and Cadillac CTS-V couldn’t scrape together enough buyers to last longer than a single generation, and while Mercedes-AMG will sell you a superfast E63 estate, the fact that each one is built to order for the U.S. market is telling.
But ask any baby: Wail long enough and something is bound to happen. Earlier this year, Audi stuck a 591-horsepower binkie in the mouths of American enthusiasts when it announced it would bring the five-door RS6 Avant to North America for the first time ever. It's a car that stateside speed freaks have long admired from afar and mainly experienced through video games. And lucky for us, the 2020 Audi RS6 Avant is the fastest and most capable iteration of the iconic wagon yet.
Still, just because something is good doesn't mean we Americans will buy it. In fact, it usually means the opposite. But consigning the all-new RS6 Avant to the same fate as every other fast station wagon presupposes two things; one, that the RS6 Avant is in fact everything you hoped it would be, and two, that it's still not good enough to break through the haze of "practical performance" CUVs and convince people to give it a shot. Are both those true? We spent a day skipping across the hilltops of Malibu on a proper high-speed fact finding mission to bring you the answer. Yes. And no. Well, it's complicated.
2020 Audi RS6 Avant, By The Numbers
- Price: Not announced
- Powertrain: Twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 | 591 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque | eight-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- 0-60: 3.6 seconds
- Top Speed: 190 mph
- Curb Weight: 4,575 lbs
- Cargo Capacity: 20 cubic feet (rear seats up) | 59 cubic feet (rear seats down)
- Quick Take: Useful, luxurious, comely, and fast as hell, the Audi RS6 Avant will give hi-po CUV buyers pangs of regret.
The Pragmatist’s Luxury Hot Rod
Derived from the fifth generation A6, the front doors, roof, and tailgate carry over from the standard wagon variant (not sold here). That's it—every other panel is fresh for the RS6 Avant, including aero-focused and RS-specific front and rear fascia treatments. It's 3.1 inches wider due to the flared wheel arches and sits 1.2 inches lower with the standard sport-tuned air suspension in its most aggressive setting. Audi clearly has made no attempt to disguise the RS6 Avant’s performance mission. Forget the "good for a wagon" qualifier—the result is a vehicle that looks lovely for an automobile, period.
Of course, all that visual pomp and circumstance wouldn’t be worth much if the RS6 Avant’s hardware couldn’t back it up, so Audi stuffed its twin-turbo 4.0-liter TFSI V8 under the hood. As in its RS7 stablemate, the boosted engine delivers 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. That's just under the 603 hp/627 tq on tap in the Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon but more than the 550 hp/567 lb-ft in the $157,000 Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo. The RS6 Avant's V8 is also given cylinder-on-demand technology and a 48-volt mild hybrid system to boost efficiency when the engine's not on boil.
As you'd expect from a fast Audi, power is routed to all four corners through an eight-speed automatic and the company's Quattro all-wheel drive system, while brake-based torque vectoring and an optional Quattro sport differential adds the nuance of controlling power at each individual wheel. Corners are cut up by standard all-wheel steering and a sport-tuned air suspension. But wait, there's more: Audi also offers Dynamic Ride Control as an optional upgrade, a system which teams up steel springs with three-way adjustable dampers. Working in diagonally opposed pairs, the dampers are linked by a valve system that moves hydraulic fluid where it’s needed in a curve to minimize reduce pitch and roll, not unlike the setup you’d find outfitted to a McLaren 720S. Except this is, you know, a wagon.
Inside, the RS6 Avant is equipped with RS sport seats to keep you in place when things get lively, while Audi’s latest MMI touchscreen infotainment system and expansive Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster are at hand. And of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you of how much stuff you can effortlessly haul around in this thing—there’s twenty cubic feet of cargo space available with the rear seats up, which expands to a crossover-like 59.3 cubic-feet when they’re folded down. The tailgate and luggage compartment cover are power-assisted as standard, and a hands-free gesture control system is optional. Convenient.
Driving the 2020 Audi RS6 Avant
While it doesn’t have quite the same sense of occasion as the exterior, the cabin of the RS6 Avant is undoubtedly a nice place to be. Audi does minimalism with more conviction than anyone else in the industry and it's on full display here. Awash in leather and Alcantara, it looks purposeful and uncluttered rather than austere, with the pair of screens that comprise the MMI system dominating the center stack. There’s not much in the way of switchgear on the console aside from the ignition button and volume knob. Hard buttons have been largely relegated to the steering wheel. Tactility fans will complain; we think it's worth the sleek design.
The V8 springs to life with a menacing growl that quickly settles into a subdued burble. Audi tells us that our European-spec test cars are outfitted with exhaust systems that are designed to comply with stricter overseas regulations. U.S.-spec cars will be notably louder. Score another one for the Yanks.
We set off from home base near Pacific Coast Highway for Latigo Canyon Road, a technical stretch of tarmac that connects up with many of Malibu’s greatest-hits canyons. The jaunt down crumbling PCH gives us a chance to get to know the RS6 Avant during a casual drive at speed, pretty much its natural environment. Audi provided stints in air suspension and DRC-equipped wagons, both of which yielded grand touring levels of comfort on this less-than-perfect road surface.
In the hills, the first great truth about this car was revealed. It's explosively good irregardless of setup or options. Power is available everywhere, and it’s blissfully free of turbo lag. With peak torque coming in at just over 2,000 RPM and all-wheel-drive dividing the output like spirit of John Nash himself is at work, the RS6 Avant effortlessly launches out of slow corners and piles on speed faster than it has any right to. Dive into the next curve with more velocity and you'll find the air suspension set in Dynamic mode is actually a better time than the more-expensive Dynamic Ride Control system, yielding just as little in perceptible body roll while better absorbing mid-corner hiccups. DRC likely provides better performance on a faster, smoother road and a quicker lap time on a track, but out there in the muck of the real world, the RS6 Avant seems happier being tossed around on the standard airbags.
And then there’s the car’s eagerness to change direction. The rear-axle steering deserves a lot of the credit here, but a nod must be given to the sport differential as well, which is less distracting and ultimately a more effective system than the ones we’ve experienced in other recent RS models. As you’d expect, the Pirelli P Zero rubber will eventually give up if you ask for more pace and steering angle than it has to give, yielding very predictable and easily collected understeer, but those occasions are rare and do little to hinder the overall experience.
The madness with which it claws at the road ahead makes us especially appreciative of the gnarly optional brake package: a carbon ceramic setup with massive 17.3 inch discs and ten-piston calipers up front. As we’ve seen with some other recent carbon ceramic systems, it seems to have a dead zone at the top of the pedal stroke that can make it tricky to zero in on the right amount of pressure for a given situation. At speed that occasionally results in overzealous braking when it isn’t really needed, but we get the sense that this is something that one would acclimate to with more seat time. Too-strong brakes isn't the worst problem to have in a 4,600-pound bruiser.
By the time we returned back to headquarters, we found ourselves grasping at straws for things to complain about: The paddle shifters are a little small, and the transmission could be more aggressive about downshifting and holding gears in Dynamic mode. Both are far from being deal breakers. And let's be real—to the vociferous few who actually have the means and the desire to go out and buy one of those, nothing we've said here matters in the slightest. But to those with simply the means and a passing curiosity en route to their next BMW X5 M? Well...
Put Up Or Shut Up
So the 2020 Audi RS6 Avant is here in America—and it is extremely good. Your hopes haven't been for naught. But it's also not the station wagon savior, and you get the sense that Audi doesn't expect it to be. This feels more like fan service at its finest. The automaker is being tight-lipped on how many they plan to bring to America and whether or not they'll follow Mercedes' route and build the longroofs to order, though it's been reported the RS6 Avant won't be limited to a specific production count. Either way, the die-hards will be thrilled.
"I will say that in my time with Audi, I’ve never had more people contact me about a car," Audi Communications Director Mark Dahncke. "People have been begging us to bring this over for a while, and we were finally able to make it work in conjunction with the Allroad, in terms of costs."
For motorists who want a fast, do-it-all machine, few vehicles do the trick like this one. It's just a damn shame that line works for fast crossovers too. Let's hope the 2020 Audi RS6 Avant does the impossible and convinces us that we're wrong.