Audi's mega-thug of a family estate makes its return, with the latest RS 6 packing a mighty 600hp wallop. Brilliantly, this is not a jewel of an engine in something of a leaden chassis, as this time around the ultimate Avant has handling that can match its thunderous performance and its hyper-aggressive exterior. Which makes it a freakishly talented car.
In the Metal:
There have been four Audi RS 6s since the model first appeared back in 2002, the originator based as it was on the second-generation 'C5' A6. And they have been getting progressively more belligerent in appearance ever since; where that C5 RS 6 was reasonably subtle, something of a sleeper or a 'Q car', by the time the preceding generation (C7) to this new car bowed out in 2018, it was already looking pretty aggressive and up for a bit of a scuffle.
However, the new C8 RS 6 is another level again - and this is a move that hasn't pleased everyone. For some, this uber-estate's appearance is just too much, lacking subtlety. And it's not hard to see where these critics are coming from. Look at it. Look at the frowning strakes running down its bonnet. Look at the hulking great grille, flanked by a pair of outsized air intakes. Look at the angry headlights. Look at the slatted nose vents. Look at the width of its wings and the pugnaciousness of its stance. Look at the whopping oval exhaust pipes sitting in a brash diffuser arrangement, all set underneath a jutting bumper. Its front end is scowling, spoiling for a rumble, its rear is weirdly reminiscent of some sort of battle orc from the Lord of The Rings films. It is, in short, the most outlandish performance estate we've ever seen.
And we love it. You could make the case that its diesel associate, the S6 Avant, is the more threatening character of the two, because it's more restrained in appearance than the comedy violence of the RS 6's design and therefore its 700Nm savagery is all the more unexpected, but a few hours in the 600hp model's presence will soon convince you of its merits. Slap all of this muscular, bulging bodywork over a typically smashing Audi cabin, complete with all the necessary RS touches and the A6 family's three-digital-screen interface, and you have a high-performance estate of near-perfection in the showroom stakes, the sort of car that should finally convince buyers of the undeniable merits of a wagon like this, rather than a hefty SUV instead. Marvellous.
What is it about estates that makes them so much more enjoyable when they've got stupid-power engines stashed under their bonnets? This car is a great example of that odd rule in the motoring world. It shares its mild-hybrid-enhanced 4.0-litre V8 powertrain with both the RS 7 Sportback and the RS Q8 SUV. There's precious little different about these three Audi RS products in their on-paper performance figures and they're all two-tonne-plus machines. And yet, the RS 6 is comfortably the more cohesive, enjoyable package than either of its two stablemates, as fun as they all are to drive.
This is because the RS 6 does so many things so phenomenally well. Despite our test car running on massive 22-inch wheels with preposterous 30-profile tyres, its air suspension does a magnificent job of cushioning the ride out on the RS 6, to the point that you might as well be tooling around in a 40 TDI for all you're feeling of the road surface beneath its rubber. It might look anything but discreet on the outside, but it can do a cultured, quiet cruise in a manner a V8 estate with this sort of speed at its disposal has absolutely no right to. Better yet, treat its detonator of a throttle gently and you can coerce 10.5 litres/100km (26.9mpg) from this behemoth, thanks in part to that clever mild hybrid technology letting the car coast engine-off at speeds below 160km/h and the 4.0-litre engine dropping to just four of its cylinders when appropriate.
But punch the RS 6 up into its Dynamic mode and you get a fabulous hooligan, a brawler with a rich, rippling V8 soundtrack and simply epic performance from anywhere north of 1,500rpm on the rev counter. Its Tiptronic gearbox, a proper torque converter unit rather than a twin-clutch S tronic, switches from its luxury-car-like automatic activities into a flawless whipcrack companion for the V8, and about the only complaints we can make about the transmission are that the sequential gate to the side of the lever is the wrong way around, which means you're forced to make manual shifts yourself on a set of rather plasticky paddles behind the wheel. Minor observations, both.
Mind, massive power has never been an RS 6 shortcoming. There have been models in the past with twin-turbo V10 engines and this C8 cannot even lay claim to being the most potent RS 6 yet; as the old C7 received a 'performance' model near the end of its life that toted a colossal 605hp. Nevertheless, guessing that a near-future, c.650hp C8 RS 6 performance is as inevitable as the sun rising in the east every morning, you don't want to worry about that modest five horsepower deficit to the old warrior - as this car's forte is actually its dynamism in the twisty stuff.
It's still an Audi RS that favours mammoth grip and foursquare cornering manners, a car that's perhaps not as playful at the limit as some of its rivals, but it's not completely inert and nose-led, like so many RS 6s of the past. It also has quite lovely steering, feeling suitably different across its three modes, switching from pleasantly light in Comfort to weighty, accurate and informative in Dynamic. This is unlike some regular Audis we've tried recently, which have the horrid, gloopy and artificial-feeling steering in Dynamic and airy-fairy, feel-free control in other settings. At least Audi Sport has got the knack of this by now - oh, and part of the RS 6's allure here will be because our car had four-wheel steering, which gave it a nimbleness and delicacy of touch totally at odds with its knuckleduster appearance.
The best news of all is that we thought this air-sprung RS 6 handled wonderfully, yet all contemporary reports suggest the Dynamic Ride Control suspension alternative (teaming passive springs with hydraulically cross-linked dampers) makes the brutally fast Audi wagon even more rewarding to drive quickly. That's incredible - and almost as incredible as how much more edifying and involving the RS 6 is to pilot, when compared to the mechanically similar RS 7 and RS Q8. Bizarre and brilliant, in equal measure.
What you get for your Money:
Audi Ireland has confirmed that the RS 6 Avant will be sold in one well-equipped specification for a price of €161,140. Over and above the S6 Avant, other than the powertrain and unique styling, the RS 6 gains a head-up display, Matrix LED headlights with laser light, ambient interior lighting, front seat ventilation, electric steering wheel adjustment, DAB radio, an electronically opened rear hatch and more.
You used to be able to write an RS Audi review with the following tropes: bonkers fast, great to look at, sounds fab and has a nice cabin, but it rides like a pig, is led everywhere by its nose and the steering lacks feel. You can't apply any of those criticisms at the new Audi RS 6 Avant, though, because it has switched all three disciplines into positive attributes (it's smooth, it's neutral, it's got excellent steering) and it has only enhanced the age-old rapid Audi strengths to all-new, stratospheric levels. Greater than its own impressive relation, the RS 4 Avant, better than any RS 6 we've driven before... better than any other fast estate we've tried, truth be told. The only things that could possibly put you off the RS 6 Avant are the price and the looks. We think the former is perfectly justified for a car this remarkable, and we are big fans of the latter. Therefore, top marks is the only reasonable result.