The Audi RS6 has always felt like the Audi Sport flagship. The RS6’s bonkers past most famously includes a V10 engine and has amusingly mixed supercar-baiting performance with practicality over four generations now.
You’ll recognise plenty about this new RS6 from its RS7 sibling, and we’ve come to the US to test it because, surprisingly, it’s the first time the RS6 has been sold here.
Even by Californian standards, the styling is no shrinking violet and quite a change over the classy A6 Avant. Only the roof, front doors and tailgate are carried over, with every part sculpted to look more aggressive, most notably the flared wheelarches (housing wider tracks and bigger alloys), bonnet, rear spoiler, and front and rear bumpers. It looks more like a GT3 car than an estate with some of the addenda – and, to these eyes, it’s brilliant.
Whereas the RS4 has switched to a V6, a V8 is retained in the RS6 – and significantly upgraded with a larger turbo and increased boost pressure. The twin-turbo 4.0-litre produces a colossal 441kW at 6000rpm and 800Nm from 2050-4500rpm and is hooked up to an eight-speed tiptronic auto and a proper Torsen differential-based permanent four-wheel drive. There’s also a torque-vectoring diff at the rear.
The engine itself is now a mild hybrid, mated to a 48V system to boost energy recuperation. It works for efficiency reasons only rather than performance, not that the RS6 is wanting in the performance stakes: 0-100km/h takes a claimed 3.6sec, traction off the line aided by a new launch control system.
Height-adjustable adaptive air suspension is standard, the car sitting 20mm lower than the A6 Avant. Steel coils with an interconnected hydraulic damping system is included on the range-topping version. Active all-wheel steering from the RS7 features, as does the option of ceramic brakes.
There are fewer changes inside, and less added aggression. The seats (very comfortable and supportive) are new, as is the steering wheel, which has larger shift paddles, but the capaciousness of the standard A6 Avant remains. Fido should be kept happy by the 565-litre boot, rising to 1680 litres with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded flat.
Two customisable driving modes (RS1 and RS2) allow you to pick out the best bits of the standard Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Efficiency modes that tweak all major dynamic components. In the RS2 mode, you can also now turn off the electronic chassis control systems for the first time in an Audi RS model.
With such an extensive and complex specification – there are more than 40 ECUs talking to one another – it’s surprising that it is so relaxing, comfortable and easygoing as you roll down the road for the first time. You’re almost left wondering if you’re driving the same aggressive-looking car you stepped into, such is its refined manner, which leans more towards comfort than sporty.
On air suspension, the ride is reasonably quiet and cushioned, and even with large 22in alloys it manages all but the largest road scars and abrasions well, those firmer abrasions causing the body to rock.
The sports exhaust, even in the Dynamic mode, is fairly quiet and certainly doesn’t scream 600 horsepower – until you really squeeze the throttle and the RS6’s considerable straight-line pace is revealed. It’s not sledgehammer in its delivery in the way that a Mercedes-AMG is, nor raucous in the way of an Italian or British V8, but it’s supremely fast nonetheless.
The refinement at low speeds isn’t lost when you push on either. The engine is extremely flexible and happy to be revved all the way to the redline, and on a wide-open throttle finally exhibits aural charm, albeit not at the levels of an AMG V8. It’s your eyes rather than your ears that let you know how brisk your progress really is.
On tighter roads, you can happily use just second and third gear, such is the wide spread of torque and drivability, but gearshifts, whether manual or automatically controlled, aren’t the event they could be, even in the crispest shift mode. The quiet, efficient shift is a good metaphor for the drivetrain as a whole: the RS6 is a machine that likes to make progress in a rapid but ultimately fuss-free way.
It’s much the same for the chassis, which is improved over the previous RS6. It turns in more keenly and feels a good deal nimbler, the four-wheel steering at work here. Yet its sheer size and weight mean it never feels fully at home in slow corners and twisty roads in the way it does in faster, flowing ones. Nor does it ever really exhibit much feel through your hands or backside.
That sense of feel is improved with steel coils, but lacked the air’s suppleness and ride comfort. Whatever the version, there’s a lingering doubt that the RS6 may just be just too big and too complex to get anywhere near the limit of its abilities.
Still, the RS6 is probably the most usable all-round performance car on the market, especially when it’s wet and cold. There aren’t many things with this much power that you’d rather use in those conditions.
When you floor the throttle midway through a corner towards the exit, the diff tucks the rear end in, which adds to the confidence and trust you feel to get on the power early and for the car to find traction, albeit without that involvement. You’d have to be really pushing it to see the RS6’s playful side and even then it’s not a car that eggs you on to do so or really involves you in the process.
The RS6 is a car that impresses rather than excites you, and its key calling card is its sheer breadth of abilities, not just performance ones. Remember, this is a vast wagon that weighs more than two tonnes but has mighty yet undramatic straight-line and point-to-point pace, as well as space for all your stuff and brilliant, relaxed road manners for the 95 per cent of drives when you just want to blend in and get where you’re going.
Direct rivals – like the BMW M5, Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate and Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo – feel more engaging and have greater driver appeal, yet the RS6 feels more usable for more of the time and as such arguably makes for the more compelling ownership proposition. Which Audi would probably take, not only for the RS6 but also for all the new era of Audi Sport models to follow.
Testing the mettle of the latest metal on MOTOR reviews
2020 AUDI RS6 AVANT SPECS
Engine: 3993cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin turbos, mild hybrid system
Power: 441kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 800Nm @2050-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 3.6sec (claimed)
Like: Practicality of a wagon; useable performance; wild looks; quality ride with air suspension
Dislike: Weight and sheer size compromise poise; lack of feel and driver appeal
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate
4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, RWD, 375kW/700Nm, 0-100km/h 4.0sec, 1725kg, $163,070
Gives away some useability points with its smaller cargo area, but remains the choice for those wanting to carry a load without compromising performance.