If you want to stand out from the rest of the pack, you’ll have to take a sharp turn away from whichever direction the automotive pendulum is swinging. So it goes with hot wagons, a long-neglected slice of luxury that is just starting to find its feet once again as an alternative to the onslaught of SUVs that have conquered almost the entire landscape.
Confirmation that high-performance long-roofs are slowly emerging from their European strongholds after nearly a decade of barely registering in America is thunderously provided by the 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant. The first midsize RS to have been sold on this side of the Atlantic since the early 2000s, the Avant wastes no time catching us up on exactly what we’ve been missing from the four-ringed brand, which never stopped building hunkered down, over-endowed haulers in exile.
That the RS 6’s triumphant return is wagon-shaped is no accident. Audi USA has been patiently building a case for sub-SUVs, finally convincing higher-ups it was time to introduce a halo of twin-turbo V8 hellfire and aim it specifically at those who would have otherwise opted for a stilt-legged daily driver.
The end result? The mightiest Avant in history is a surprisingly versatile rocket ride for anyone with the stomach for both its 591 horsepower and its six-figure sticker price.
All Wagon, Hold the Woodgrain
Wagons with a capital “W” are nothing new in Audi’s native Germany, but in the United States the concept of a muscle car with a hatch has traditionally been given a more lukewarm reception. Although Mercedes-AMG has seen success with its E-Class offering (of which the E63 S is currently ruling the roost), both Cadillac (the second-gen CTS-V) and Dodge (the Magnum SRT8) were able to tap into only a small pool of open-minded enthusiasts. The sport wagon waters have been so choppy that BMW has never even dared to import any of its M-branded editions.
Audi’s decision-makers didn’t drop the RS 6 Avant into U.S. dealerships on a whim, however. After stoking the fires with the A4 Allroad and A6 Allroad, two successful “wagons” disguised with the scantest of body cladding and the briefest of lifts to help them infiltrate crossover country, Audi realized there was enough demand to justify expanding the lineup to include the sharpest point of its family spear. The A6 Allroad in particular knocked down regulatory doors thanks to having already been given the crash-test stamp of approval by the NHTSA.
How to Sell a Wagon in America
Sales data aside, the Audi RS 6 Avant has more than enough personality to succeed on its own merits. In fact, in a world where wagons have been pushed to the back, the Avant stood out on the street to the point where I was regularly snapped, shot and otherwise digitally captured by both pedestrians and passersby leaning out the side window for the best video angle on their phone. That’s a level of star power very few sport-utilities possess, and underscores the wisdom of Audi’s dare to be different approach.
Drenched in flaming red paint and besotted with carbon aero bits, grilles and inlets, the RS 6 Avant is a rolling advertisement that something wicked this way comes. Like most apex predators, its extroverted threat display is backed up by a knockout punch that brooks very little argument from anything sitting in the next lane: the Avant’s twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8 is good for 591 horses and 590 lb-ft of torque, matched with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that substitutes silence for snarl during the occasional fuel-saving highway coast-down.
Not that you’ll care much about miles per gallon while the Audi is holeshotting its way to an 11.5-second quarter mile, its concussive eight-cylinder wail expertly partitioned by an automatic transmission with just as many forward gears. All-wheel drive is of course standard with the Audi, which guarantees traction when you’re catapulting forward to shame whoever’s daft enough not to recognize they’re already on the losing end of the acceleration equation. It’s also on-hand to help expertly navigate rain-slicked roads during the colder months of the year, helping the Avant achieve four-season status.
A torque-vectoring rear differential that aims the twist where it can provide the best pivot, plus a rear-steering setup that further sharpens the angle, assist the RS 6’s bursts of lateral athleticism. These are aided and abetted by an adaptive air suspension system that does its best to conceal the car’s close-to-5,000 lbs of curb weight. As with most modern luxury machines, eschewing SUV proportions is no guarantee that their similarly ponderous heft will be left behind as well.
Not a Sports Car, A Sports Experience
While the RS 6 Avant does deliver a more connected drive than most of the similarly mighty hot-rod sport-utilities it competes against, the point of this particular Audi isn’t to canyon carve or preen in the pit lane. Yes, the RS badge guarantees track-day acumen (and carbon ceramic brakes are available if you insist), but the car is far more approachable as a purveyor of ridiculous speed wrapped in a package that can button down with the best of them.
Even when accessing the wagon’s multiple drive modes (with two programmable RS settings instantly available by way of a steering wheel-mounted button), the Avant never feels too wild to tame for civilian duty. It’s just as pleasurable to pilot the RS 6 at half-mast as it is to run-and-gun along a tasty two-lane, and while its squat-and-go explosiveness is the Audi’s best party trick, the Avant doesn’t demand the same level of engagement as a more focused sports car.
This is underappreciated when examining executive automobiles with a starting price of $110,000. Yes, the RS 6 Avant will gate-crash the starting grid if you really want it to, but there’s never any pressure to do so while pressing it into more mundane duty, nor does it feel like you’re missing something by avoiding the long way to work in the morning.
Few modern automotive choices indicate a disdain for the de rigueur like a wagon. The Audi’s RS 6 Avant offers everything you want from an SUV while swapping the off-road pose for extinction-level-event acceleration. In a world filled with cookie-cutter crossovers, it’s a trade the smart money makes every time.
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