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2021 Audi RS 6 Avant Quick Spin: Less Unicorn, More Pegasus

audi-rs6-avant-2021-04-black-exterior-front-angle-wagon 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Oh my God, that’s gorgeous.

Isn’t it? That’s the absolutely stunning 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant, with “Avant” being Audi-speak for station wagon. Yes, that’s right, a wagon. Unlike some stupid, pumped-up hot-rod crossover, this thing is a proper performance car that happens to have a useful hatch and cargo space. In fact, it’s available only as a wagon — there is no sedan RS 6 available anywhere in the world.

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The RS 6 Avant features a low seating position and low center of gravity, so it’s actually amazingly good to drive compared to “performance” crossovers. Are you going to be able to see over the tops of the cars surrounding you? No. But let’s be honest, since everyone now drives freakin’ crossover-style SUVs, nobody can “see over” anything anymore. You may as well get something that still has the useful room of a crossover but drives a thousand times better. That’s always been the ultimate case for station wagons — unfortunately, you’re now too late because for 2022, the RS 6 Avant is one of just four pure station wagons (that aren’t pretending to be off-road crossovers) left on sale in the U.S.; the others being the Volvo V60 Recharge plug-in hybrid and Porsche’s Panamera and Taycan Sport Turismo. That makes the RS 6 Avant seen here something of a rare unicorn, doesn’t it?

Does it drive as good as it looks?

Better. What started out as an already nice Audi A6 with a wagon back was heavily breathed upon by the performance folks at Audi, and the result is an absolute fighter jet of a family car — I guess that makes this thing more pegasus than unicorn. The most obvious change are the flared fenders that needed to be widened to fit the massive 22-inch five-spoke wheels and summer tires. They’re integrated into the wider bodywork and make the already long, low profile of the RS 6 Avant even more intimidating to behold. Combine it with a more aggressive front end, a wheel design that looks like it could slice fingers off if washed the wrong way and Sebring Black crystal paint, and this RS 6 looks like it could scare off gangs of ruffians in dark alleys. If you told your kids this was the latest Batmobile, I bet they’d believe you.

It’s all powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine making a whopping 591 horsepower and 590 pounds-feet of torque. All that power is routed through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission to all four wheels via permanent Quattro all-wheel drive, employing a sport differential for better power and torque management. It results in an Audi-measured 3.5-second 0-60-mph sprint. And while I wasn’t able to do any measured testing in my week with the RS 6 Avant on the highways and canyons of Southern California, I have little reason to doubt its numbers. The car is capable of explosive acceleration, trading its normally chill, around-town demeanor for raging beast with a quick stab of the go-pedal. Punch the little exhaust-note button on the console and you get to enjoy the V-8 at even louder volumes, sending auditory warnings reverberating off the canyon walls or highway underpasses. In an age where a number of the newest performance cars are electric and sound like hair dryers or dishwashers — all sweeping electronic whooshes and dinging chimes — the throaty mechanical snarl of Audi’s V-8 is a nostalgic joy.

Sounds like this thing’s made for canyon carving!

You’d think it would be, but actually it’s not that great in tight twisties. After taking the RS 6 Avant through the canyons above Los Angeles and over the highways north of town, it became clear to me that the beast is really meant to be more of a long-distance Autobahn-burner than a weekend canyon racer. While it’s brutally fast and very responsive, the steering isn’t terribly communicative; it’s actually rather numb. Yes, it’s agile, especially with its adjustable suspension and rear-wheel steering, and you can certainly hustle it along the back roads and mountain ridgelines, but it’s not as enjoyable as something smaller and less insulated would be.

The ride quality is a beautifully balanced compromise between flat and level body control when cornering and a smoothly compliant ride over all manner of pavement. It’s also quiet inside, even with the adjustable exhaust set to full-tilt, making it almost too quiet versus its projected image. It’s like Audi created a blisteringly quick vehicle capable of supercar behavior but doesn’t want it to disturb your motoring Zen too much while you’re using it, so it never gets too crazy on you.

So it tilts more luxury than flat-out performance, gotcha. It certainly looks nice inside.

The interior is fantastic. My test car was done up in Cognac Brown leather with Granite Gray stitching, providing a stunning contrast with the somber metallic exterior. Audi has crafted outstanding interiors for years, and despite the increasing creep toward touch-sensitive panels for everyday controls (which the RS 6 Avant has as well), it still feels expensive inside. Audi’s combination of touchscreens and haptic feedback have turned its flat-panel controls into a better-than-average system of its type, but we still vastly prefer well-done mechanical buttons to what we have here, which sometimes requires two or three touches to make sure you activated or deactivated whatever it is you were trying for. The second-generation Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster remains a highlight, despite similar displays now becoming commonplace among vehicles that cost even half as much as this one.

Aside from the increasing push toward touch-sensitive controls, the interior of the RS 6 Avant is as useful and comfortable as any crossover-style SUV, despite headroom and seating position being a bit lower. The heavily bolstered sport seats are aggressive but still quite comfortable and adequately adjustable to create the perfect driving position. The backseat has decent room for two passengers, with no complaints about legroom or headroom. And the convenient cargo area is what it is — the straight, flat roofline of the RS 6 Avant wagon allows for plenty of space, especially when the rear seatbacks are folded flat. Not that an RS 6 Avant is ever likely to see duty hauling bags of mulch from the local Home Depot, but it can if need be.

Not a mulch-hauler? Despite being a station wagon? Why not?

While the Audi RS 6 Avant stickers at $117,370 including destination, you’ll likely never find one for anywhere near that price. At the time of this writing, prices on Cars.com ranged from $125,000 to $175,000, which is actually a considerable improvement from the nearly $250,000 the model was commanding when it first appeared in showrooms. At that price, you’re probably not muddying one up in the back but rather keeping it as pristine as possible (with the hopeful exception of getting the wheels coated in the traditional German brake-pad grime from aggressive use). Unlike some super expensive cars that make you wonder why they cost so much, however, the RS 6 Avant will not leave you scratching your head. It does some things only supercars can do; it looks like Bruce Wayne’s dirty-fantasy incarnate; it makes great sounds and brings big smiles; and it has a rarity to it thanks to limited production numbers. So skip taking that commuter flight between cities, and drive this instead. It’ll be far more entertaining.

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