2021 Audi RS6 Avant: First Drive Review

By most cold hard metrics, this stylish shooting brake outperforms a Ferrari Enzo.

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Back in the 1980s, “Vorsprung Durch Tecnik” burst onto the European automotive scene with fierce Group B rally cars fueling a renaissance for Audi as the brand catapulted through the trees on a trajectory towards today. A lucky kid at my high school had a 1986 Audi Quattro Sport, derived from this rally pedigree. His favorite trick was offering rides to poor unassuming souls who had yet to experience the phenomenon of Audi’s proprietary “Quattro” 4wd system.

Most of his victims fell prey to a twisty country lane just wide enough for two small European cars. At about the one-mile post it took a fearsome 100-degree left turn. Technically the speed limit was 30 mph, but at this corner there was an Armco with enormous painted chevrons and a massive round sign circling “15 mph” in blood red paint. The people living in the house behind must have lived in fear for their lives.

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The kid would run straight down this twisty country lane somewhere between two and three times the speed limit, and enter the corner at speeds which would have equaled life with no parole at Shawshank had this been the USA. The uninitiated would cackle, cry, screech, pray, and lose control of their bowels as their eyes popped out of their heads, hair stood on end, and teeth ground to dust. They’d tear their fingernails out on the seat piping.

It was dangerous, reckless, stupid, and…hysterically funny to witness. An enormous chasm opening between perceived expectation and result. It was Stranger Things. The Audi Quattro Sport possessed mind-bending, limpet-like, levels of grip triple-jumping anything else that existed. So after time slowed, and your belief that you were about to die in a ball of flames and crushed metal passed, you shot out the other side of the corner like Han Solo punching his way through hyperspace on the Kessel run; pumping fists and wailing like a dervish at the fact you were alive.

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It was that good.

Thirty-five years later, when the Audi RS6 Avant finally arrives in the USA, I get my paws on one. The sky is thick with gnarly black clouds in a low blanket stretching to the horizon. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is playing at full tilt on the impressive Bang & Olufsen sound system. And a tempest of fat, hard rain is thwacking the windscreen. A windscreen who’s wipers are gasping for air amidst the torrent, limiting my speed to a relative crawl as I can’t see into the void more than a few feet.

I say ‘relative’ as even in weather from the end of days I am pushing the speed limit. To some extent this is a relief, and I wonder if the gasping windscreen wipers are a deliberate fail-safe preventing me from misleading lesser machines into the abyss. Finally there is something holding back the blitzkrieg. This thing could conquer continents without breaking a sweat. And on way less fuel than you’d imagine thanks to its crafty 48v mild hybrid electrical system and other wizardry. If a surprise attack across enemy lines were your goal I’m not sure what greater weapon you could find.

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The RS6 Avant is perhaps not as stealthy as the original iterations whose origins lie on the sketchpad of a mad scientist at Audi’s 1990s skunkwerks. It is hard to go unnoticed bedecked in flared wheel arches, 22-inch alloy wheels, enormous Brembo brakes, and a squat, aggressive, stance that would make Attila-the-Hun proud. But holy shit does this thing hustle enough for that to hardly matter. As one wag recently put it, by most cold hard metrics this missile outperforms a Ferrari Enzo

And it does so whilst also being particularly easy on the eye. By the time I’ve had it half an hour total strangers have stopped in their tracks to ask me about it, or chased me to take photos. Make no mistake this car has the looks to make it catnip to any petrol-head within sight. No mean feat for a car that is a distant cousin to the one your mum takes on the shopping run to Wegmans. Where she could probably hit 60 mph across the car park from entrance to front door on a good day. 

With around 592 horses and 590ft-lb of torque on tap that would take her three seconds or so. Unlimited with the ceramic brake package she could then fly home on the interstate at up to 190 mph, assuming of course her radar detector was working at full steam, and she had her gold plated PBA card to hand. If only Audi had optional anti-radar paint…

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I jest; but only slightly. Bang for your buck I’m not sure there is a better all around package on the market. What else can you load up with kids, golf clubs, DIY stuff, your dog, llama, cases of wine, and then catapult around at supercar performance levels, all while maintaining some semblance of sanity at the cost? 

Sure the Mercedes Benz E63AMG shooting brake and Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo are arguably marginally faster, but there is occasionally more to life than pure brute performance. Off the track drag racing to fifty or so miles per hour from the local lights runs out of thrills pretty fast. And leaves one pondering what driving one of these highly technical machines is like in real life.

The answer is – easy; easy peasy in fact. Some have argued that the RS6 Avant has too much nanny state about it – with inputs that are a little remote in feeling and feedback that can feel like a video game. But whereas the Audi Quattro Sport was the fear of living out on the edge, tail in the wind, pushing the outside of the envelope with only a stick of Beemans for company, the RS6 Avant is more the Starship Enterprise – able to help you boldly go where no man has been before. And get there fast.

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Price as spec’d by DQ: $133,389 (including optional Red Ceramic Brake package, 22” Carbon Optic Package wheels, Bang & Olufsen 3D advanced sound system, sport exhaust, and other goodies.)

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Duncan Quinn