Words: Sammy Chan
Photography: Sammy Chan
Published: April 26, 2021
Being a Canadian car enthusiast has its merits. We aren’t taxed heavily for high displacement motors, we have access to most worldwide car brands including exclusive North American ones like Acura, and our cars are relatively cheap compared to some countries that charge over 120% on foreign sales tax alone. Yes, there’s an incoming luxury car tax on vehicles costing over $100,000 in Ontario, but just have a gander at what China charges for a base Porsche Panamera, and you will begin to appreciate our Canadian market.
That being said, there are still a handful of forbidden fruits that we do not have access to. The Alpina B3 and B5 don’t swim across the sea, neither do the German Opels and French Renaults, and diesels just aren't well accepted in Canada. Also uncommon here are station wagons. I’m talking about the Subaru Levorg (basically a WRX wagon), Volkswagen Passat Wagon, and the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. When it comes to sport wagons, we are even more deprived from blessed beings like the BMW M3 Touring, Volkswagen Golf R Estate (yes, it exists), and Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Wagon. But Audi decided to take the gamble, give one of their sportiest wagons a pair of flippers, and send it off on a boat to North America. Fortunately, the RS 6 Avant made it past the tidal wave of defendant bean counters and naysayers, and landed safely on our shores. Good thing, as the RS 6 Avant is not only one of the best road cars we have driven all year, but it is one of the most well-rounded.
Deprive a child of chocolate for a year, and the next chocolate they eat will be the best they’ve ever had, even if it is just an expired, melted blob of Lindt. Are we going into this RS 6 Avant review with the same kind of bias? Not exactly. While our wagon fix never seems to be quenched, we did have three sport wagons to keep us content. The Volvo V60 Polestar was an instant success in 2015 with its wicked inline-six and a riot of an exhaust, but has recently morphed into a heavy plug-in hybrid without the same kind of fizz. The second is the Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, a pricey but competent family hauler infused with that juicy 911 DNA, and the third is from Mercedes-Benz. For years, the E 63 Wagon has been the only game in town. Boasting sleeper looks, ample cargo space, and a nuclear V8 with a thunderous exhaust, it gave the term family wagon a new meaning. We even thrashed it around an ice racetrack in Winnipeg for good measure.
Can the RS 6 match that? On paper it seems to have what it takes, and Audi didn’t send their special envoy unprepared. Packed in its suitcase is the versatile 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that is also used in the Porsche Panamera Turbo and Lamborghini Urus. In the RS 6, it produces a healthy 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, sending it to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. It will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 3.6 seconds, just one-tenths of a second slower than the E 63 S Wagon. Also in its arsenal is a quattro sport differential, 48-volt mild hybrid system like in the A7, optional carbon ceramic brakes, and an adaptive air suspension.
The RS 6 Avant is remarkably satisfying to drive. Quick-revving and full of character, the muscular V8 is all torque and feels perfectly matched to the 8-speed gearbox that provides snappy but smooth shifts. At home no matter the road condition, the RS 6 produces dizzying thrust but also matches it with sure-footed traction and a tremendous amount of lateral grip and high-speed stability.
Many are quick to lay blame on Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system for its inherent understeer and the front end’s unwillingness to turn, but the RS 6 Avant never exhibits that kind of behaviour. The nose is eager and agile with barely a whiff of understeer thanks to the Dynamic Steering system, which is optional and part of the Dynamic Package ($2,950). It changes the steering ratio depending on the speed and power load, so during sportier driving, only a minor swing of the wheel will get the front end rotated. While that does make the RS 6 feel livelier, the steering can be somewhat inconsistent, as we could never settle into how much rotation we actually needed to apply. At times, we were entirely caught off guard by its newfound agility considering how a small degree of steering could affect so much, and never developed that overarching sense of confidence to push it to its limits. There are three steering modes to choose from (Comfortable, Balanced, Sport), but neither of them remedied the slightly unnatural and artificial behaviour of the darty front end.
The RS 6 makes use of rear-wheel steering, which rotates the rear wheels a few degrees to tighten up the turning circle and ensure better high-speed stability. But even when all the settings are set to their most extreme, the RS 6 lacks that visceral, raw, and aggressive attitude where it's dancing on razor-thin margins like in the AMG. Rather, the RS 6 feels safe, hunkered down, and never jumps the queue for a quick shot of adrenaline. It is so competent that it feels almost blasé in its ability to dismiss corners, no matter the entry speed. The comparison between their exhaust notes sums it up better.
The RS 6’s vocals are more subdued, mature, and professional than the E 63, the latter of which sounds like it's towing its own thunderstorm. By V8 standards, the exhaust is average, though we know what this engine is capable of via the raucous Lamborghini Urus - calling Akrapovič and ABT. You can think of the RS 6 like an E 63 that has grown up, got a job, and has a mortgage - it still bellows like an eight-cylinder war drum but it’s never childishly loud or abrasive with pops and bangs on throttle overrun. With three levels of sound adjustment, the RS 6 is neighbourhood friendly too. So no, the Audi is not as sonically or as dynamically stimulating as the AMG, but something tells me that the wagon-loving clientele will find the RS 6’s maturity rather comforting.
Because when it’s time to slow things down, the RS 6 exhibits a supple ride that makes leaps and bounds over the AMG. Audi has fine-tuned their air suspension to deliver a soft yet dynamic ride without the AMG’s underlying firmness that jitters the spine. There are three modes of adjustment but we actually prefer our cars softly sprung, and the Comfort setting effectively minimizes both body roll and vertical motions, even while wearing 22-inch shoes with slim sidewalls. Despite being heavier, the RS 6 Avant is the better daily driver.
It’s the better looking wagon as well. Even though the new E 63 has finally adopted AMG’s vertical-slat Panamericana front grill, its lines grew soft, its silhouette less aggressive, and it just doesn’t carry the same amount of road presence as the Audi. With the RS 6, the front end is purposefully shaped like the R8 sports car to confirm its combativeness, the shoulders are broad and accentuated by deep curves, the exhaust pipes are typical RS-large, and when dressed in a jaw-dropping shade of Nardo Grey, it is a guaranteed showstopper.
Audi tends to piece together minimalistic, aeronautical-inspired, and ergonomically sound interiors, and this RS 6 Avant is no different. The optional Alcantara steering wheel is thin but feels wonderful to grasp, and Audi has replaced the programmable shortcut button with an RS button that works just like the M buttons on the BMW M5, and it’s nicely integrated rather than sticking out like the sport dials on Porsche and Mercedes wheels. With it, you can customizable specific driving modes to cater towards your driving style - ours had a soft suspension setting coupled with a sporty engine tune, loud exhaust, and relaxed steering.
Unlike BMW and Mercedes that utilize both touch-input and a rotary dial or trackpad, Audi has stuck to touchscreens, and in the RS 6 there are two of them stacked on top of each other. The top screen controls the majority of functions, while the bottom screen is dedicated to HVAC. There are no actual hard buttons except for a volume dial, but Audi’s touchscreens work exceptionally well thanks to their strong audio and haptic feedback. Adjustable in strength, the screen will trigger a vibration to your finger as it recognizes your input, offering better confirmation and leaving less ambiguity on the table as to whether the systems have recognized it or not. It still doesn’t remedy the concern of taking your eyes off the road, but Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is so high-definition, so complete, and so customizable, then it renders those arguments moot.
A station wagon isn’t just advantageous for its low seating position or superior handling over a high-riding SUV, but also for cargo space. Boasting ample rear seat head- and legroom for six-foot adults, we had no trouble getting cozy for a lengthy road trip. Nor did we have any issues loading up the trunk with a fair amount of groceries. With either the rear seats up or down, the RS 6 Avant harbours more cargo volume than the Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, but less than the E 63 Wagon. Read all this way and still aren’t a fan of the long roof? Audi will happily sell you an RS 7 instead.
Like a multi-faceted Swiss Army knife, the RS 6 Avant delivers all the comfort and cargo space you'd expect from an SUV, but with the gorgeous silhouette and engaging V8 of a sports car. The RS 6 doesn’t have the most power, the loudest exhaust, nor is it the quickest wagon on the lot, but it will effectively satisfy drivers from all walks of life, us included. We’re just glad that Audi taught it how to swim.
Model: 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant
Paint Type: Nardo Grey
Base Price: $120,400
Price as Tested: $134,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,995 / 1,951 / 1,460
Unladen weight (kg): 2,250
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 591 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 2,050 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 16.1 / 10.7 / 13.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.9
Tires: 22-inch wheels