Is the RS6 still the landmark performance estate car?

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There is no uncompromisingly large, outrageously fast and supremely usable performance estate car quite like the Audi RS6 Avant.

Something clearly changed at Audi Sport headquarters during the genesis of the no-holds-barred Performance edition.

It was evidently better understood than it ever had been what people really want from a modern fast estate car - and how far the design and dynamic mission statement of this iconic, do-it-all, any-weather driver’s car could be pushed as a result.

It had clearly been realised that while RS6 buyers may feel they need space, versatility and Audi-brand on-board technology, they want something that feels much less tempered by everyday practicality. Something a little wild and unhinged.

In the standard C8-generation RS6, they certainly got a fast Audi that looked the part. Now, as the car nears the end of its life, it is only offered in Performance trim wherein its mechanicals have been dialled up to a wicked-strength extent.

With this fourth-generation version, the RS6 tore into its 20th anniversary. Having dallied briefly but memorably with turbocharged V10 power a decade ago, the RS6 Performance retains the turbocharged V8 engine type that has helped to define its character for a while now. It also retains the permanent Quattro all-wheel-drive format that has had equal influence in the casting of its character and place in the world.

And yet the list of new technology that’s ready to reinvent the dynamic abilities of this all-encompassing version is long. Mild hybridisation has been introduced to boost the car’s socially responsible fuel efficiency, and four-wheel steering adopted to keep pace with rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG E63 S and BMW M5.

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There is plenty that promises to make this Audi ’bahn stormer even better than its predecessors. Stand by to find out exactly what it all amounts to.

The Audi RS6 line-up at a glance

The RS6 is available exclusively as an Avant estate, and, since the end of 2022, the RS6 Performance has been the only offering in the line-up, with the regular car dropped owing to the imminent retirement of the C8-generation model.

Prices start at just over £110,000, with the Carbon Black model adding an £8950 premium. The range-topping Carbon Vorsprung car starts at just shy of £130,000.


Audi RS6 review rear three quarter

There are quite plainly some notions of wider Volkswagen Group performance car hierarchy to which the RS6 Performance is wonderfully immune.

When the original car was launched in 2019, it was as menacing and purposeful as an RS6 should be, if slightly less restrained than the cars that preceded it. And that clearly demonstrates itself with the RS6 Performance, which, over the original, gets lightweight wheels, beefed-up equipment levels - and a hiked price.

Its 3996cc V8 replaced the 3993cc unit that was co-developed with Bentley and first used in 2011. It’s the same mill you’ll find in a current Bentley Continental GT, Bentayga V8, Porsche Panamera GTS and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. In the RS6 Performance, however, the twin-turbocharged engine (now with a perfectly ‘square’ cylinder bore/stroke ratio; the last version’s V8 was slightly long-stroke) is allowed to develop more power and torque than in any of those other applications.

Performance edition cars have had their power and torque figures increased over the 591bhp and 590lb ft you got from the original car. The hikes aren’t huge, and we won’t claim that they make huge differences on the road. An extra 30 horsepower, and a similar gain on torque, has been delivered through larger turbochargers. That those gains act on a 2.1-tonne estate car is what makes it a little hard to feel the difference.

The RS6 was, let’s face it, indecently rapid already. It needed extra grunt about as much as dive planes and a periscope - and the reason it’s got it can’t have much to do with real-world performance.

The technically related Audi RS7 Sportback Performance is no more potent, but it is faster than the RS Q8 super-SUV. Within wider VW Group circles, only Porsche’s Turbo S E-Hybrid models (in which outputs are, of course, electrically assisted) use the same motor to more spectacular effect.

Ironically enough, the motor does have some hybridisation here as well. A 48V electrical architecture and starter-generator allow the engine to ‘harvest’ power at up to 12kW under regenerative braking and also mean the RS6 can coast at cruising speed in an ‘ignition-off’ state for periods of up to 40 seconds. It retains cylinder deactivation technology as well, and all of that means the car tops 30mpg on the extra-urban test cycle of the outgoing NEDC equivalent fuel economy lab test.

Like the last RS6, this one has full-time mechanical four-wheel drive with a passively locking Torsen centre differential that splits 60% of drive to the rear axle by default, varying it by as much as 85% as traction deteriorates up front.

Rearward torque is then split actively and asymmetrically by Audi Sport’s locking rear differential, which can overdrive the outside wheel using a system of electrically controlled clutches. The car also uses brake-based electronic torque vectoring.

Meanwhile, Audi simplified the RS6’s suspension and steering specification options for the Performance edition, so all cars now come with four-wheel steering and a torque-vectoring rear differential. The RS6’s diagonally interlinked, coil-sprung and adaptively damped DRC sports suspension system remains an option, though (air springs are standard), as do carbon-ceramic brakes.

The new 22in forged alloy wheels and Continental SportContact 7 performance tyres that Audi Sport has chosen for the car only come on upper-level trims.


Audi RS6 review interior

It’s a tribute to Audi’s interior designers that the brand’s big-car cabin architecture hangs together equally well for a luxury, high-quality feel in a £50,000 Audi A6 as it does in a £112,000 RS6. This cabin is as tech-laden and electronically sophisticated as you’d expect a flagship Audi to be, thanks to its sharp display screens and well-judged combination of cool metal and glossy black surface treatments.

The usual tasteful yet typically restrained sporting details do help to differentiate this performance model from its lower-order A6 siblings, though. Contrasting red stitching stands out on the black leather upholstery, and the Alcantara steering wheel and gear selector feel suitably motorsport-derived. There’s an impressive sense of space in the front half of the cabin, too, afforded in part by the optional panoramic glass sunroof but also by the Audi’s sheer girth.

This airiness extends to the second row, where our tape measure recorded typical leg room of 720mm. Although that’s 20mm less than in a BMW M5, the Audi has more head room (990mm versus 920mm). In any case, there’s more than enough room for two adults to sit comfortably and enough overall width for three children to fit across the back seats without too much complicated tessellation of booster seats.

The boot, meanwhile, has a seats-up capacity of 565 litres, extending to 1680 litres with the rear seats folded flat. The aperture itself is usefully wide; the boot floor is close to flush with the opening, which makes loading heavy stuff easy; and for stowing cargo, you’ll find rails, nets, hooks and a handy elastic strap in the RS6’s boot, all of which help to prevent what you’re carrying from smashing itself to pieces while you’re enjoying what we’re coming to next.

Audi RS6 sat-nav and infotainment

Audi’s flagship MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system and 12.3in Virtual Cockpit come as standard on all specification levels of the RS6.

The quality of the graphics and the rate of response to your inputs are, as we’ve experienced in the past, impressively crisp, but it remains a slightly awkward system to use on the move. The need to apply a fair bit of pressure to garner a response is one drawback, but the need to avert your eyes from the road for longer than you’d like is its greatest issue.

Still, the Virtual Cockpit is impressively configurable and ‘RS’ mode will no doubt appeal to some – even if some testers thought it looked a bit naff.

A £6300 Bang & Olufsen sound system was fitted to our test car as well. It’s pricey, certainly, but when set up correctly, it’s one of the best car stereos that we’ve come across.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for both infotainment screens. One is used for the air conditioning, the other for the radio, and they both use haptic feedback for key functions such as the heated seats.

While the system is nice to look at and largely slick enough to use, it’s not the best on the market. You have to take your eyes off the road for a second or two longer than would be comfortable if you want to adjust the temperature, and the screen makes you push it harder than you’d expect, so you find yourself repeating prods time and time again.


Audi RS6 Avant 2020 road test review - engine

There was already a richness and an aggression to the way this deep, growling V8 sang its tune, but compared with the more expressive V8 of the Mercedes-AMG E63 and, to a lesser extent, that of the BMW M5, the Audi’s engine just sounded a bit restrained.

But with the introduction of the Performance edition and resultant beefier turbochargers, Audi has not only turned up the outputs of the car’s twin-turbocharged V8, but it has also cultivated the appeal of its audible character. 

The V8 is now a little freer-revving than the original car, so you’re much more likely to notice the way it sounds. Audi has removed just enough noise insulation to allow greater combustion noise into the cabin, to blend with the V8 exhaust note. There’s that bit more authentic audible character about the engine when it’s hauling hard as a result. It isn’t louder than a standard RS6, just a bit less artificial-sounding and more listenable. It’s a welcome development.

On summer tyres and a dry track, the Audi’s appetite for speed is even more voracious than its need for fuel. The RS6 lunges off the line with incredible ferocity, although it takes a couple of runs and a bit of heat in the tyres to launch it completely cleanly.

Initially, the rearward weight transfer as the car springs forward can make the front wheels momentarily scrabble for purchase, but from there on out, the rate at which the Audi accrues pace is nothing short of incredible for a car of its size. Excessive? Probably. Unnecessary? Without question. But, above all else, utterly spectacular.

The eight-speed gearbox is well mannered. Aside from a slight tendency to shunt a bit at step-off, it changes gears swiftly and smoothly when up and running. The carbon-ceramic brakes, meanwhile, can be a bit grabby at low speed, but their power and robustness when you really need them is unquestionable, as our braking test results clearly show.


Audi RS6 review rear drift

Those used to fast front-engined Audis of old might be in for a surprise the first time they steer this car towards a corner.

The RS6 has greater tactile steering feel than so many fast Audis but, more strikingly, it has a really purposeful blend of four-wheel-drive tenacity and traction, of really linear yet walloping performance, and of surprising throttle-on handling vivacity and balance for something so big. It puts you in mind of a Nissan GT-R station wagon, or some two-tonne Porsche 911 Turbo with room for the whole family and their luggage - because the chassis and steering have that kind of tied-down composure and tactile feel.

In the past, the way to make an Audi estate feel really agile would have been to buy an RS4 instead, but at last here’s a big Audi wagon with a keenness that takes it from its traditional positioning of being ‘fast if a bit inert and uninvolving’ to something you really can compare to a BMW M5 or Mercedes-AMG E63 S - although few people would claim that it handles quite as incisively as those rivals.

Unlike either of those competitors, the RS6 Performance can’t be placed into rear-wheel-drive mode, nor is its four-wheel drive system as rear-biased as those of its major rivals.

Nonetheless, there is an edge to this car’s performance character it didn’t quite have in standard guise: a bite about its handling and greater unfiltered rawness to its general flavour that shouldn’t really belong on a luxury performance estate car. But somehow they do. 

It doesn’t do precisely what big fast Audis always used to do, which is to understeer a bit on the way into a corner and then a lot on the way out. Instead, it grips well on the way in and now can be cornered very neutrally on the way out, thanks to its RS-tuned active rear differential. We’re not talking about daft speeds to feel this, either. This is the kind of demeanour you can sense in everyday brisk driving, not track lunacy.

The active rear steer is really nicely judged, too. It’s rare that a manufacturer tunes these systems to feel as natural and predictable as Audi has done. You don’t end up cornering as if navigating the rim of a 50 pence coin. Rather, you just turn the moderately weighted, slightly soft yet accurate steering and feel the RS6 want to point towards a corner.

Unless, that is, you’re on the open road, in which case the rear wheels assist high-speed stability – which, even on winter rubber with some squidge in its tread blocks, is as good as you’d hope for a car with a top speed as high as the Audi’s. On proper ‘summer’ performance rubber, it’s very good indeed.

One of the first things you appreciate on track in the RS6 is the reduced need to consider its width compared with fast road driving.

That said, its four-wheel steering gives it surprising agility through tighter corners, but this doesn’t come at the expense of perceived stability. Grip levels are tremendous and, although you’re aware of its mass during quick, twistier sections of track, body control remains steadfast. This affords the car the ability to carry impressive speed through corners, although you never really shake the feeling that it’s more precise, grippy and assured than out-and-out fun.

Comfort and isolation

Combined with weight-saving carbon brakes and those new lightweight rims, the RS6’s sportier suspension is less punishing than it used to be. The more aggressive operating modes of the Dynamic Ride Control set-up certainly feel firm on UK country roads, and make the RS6 quite grabby in its body control, and given to pogoing a little on uneven surfaces. Pick the middle-ground suspension calibration using the driver-configurable RS1/RS2 settings, though, and the ride has greater suppleness.

Noise isolation is also first class. It probably helps that Audi’s 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine is naturally more muted than any comparable Mercedes-AMG unit or even a BMW V8, but with low idle, cruising and revving noise, and with a fine-quality sound system, the RS6 is perhaps the easiest-going car in this class.


Audi RS6 review front three quarter lead

The RS6 is available in Performance-branded wagon form only, and in three trim levels – the cheapest of which starts at just over £110,000. That’s a lot of money, clearly, but not an exorbitant figure when viewed in the context of Audi's current competitor set.

It’s also made to seem more reasonable than it otherwise might be, in light of the fact that it’s roughly what an averagely equipped Porsche 911 sports car will cost you. With the first car costing just under £60,000 in 2004, the same comparison could have been made when the initial RS6 Avant was launched in the UK.

A slight sticking point that hasn’t been addressed, however, is the economy. We averaged 22mpg during our time with the car – a figure that drops quickly if you thrash it. Allowing for the fact that this engine develops 621bhp and the car weighs 2.2 tonnes on our scales, fairly extreme fuel consumption isn’t exactly a surprise.

However, it does erode the car’s everyday ownership appeal a bit and reveals that Audi’s economy-boosting measures will have a rather limited effect should you choose to stretch the car’s legs.

The new car’s trim levels progress upwards from stock RS6 trim, through Carbon Black and fully loaded Vorsprung versions, for which Audi is asking just shy of £130,000.

All cars get four-wheel steering, matrix LED active headlights, fully digital instruments and privacy glass as standard, while the Carbon Black version has slightly different exterior body trim from the glossier Launch Edition and Vorsprung versions.

Only with Vorsprung do you get Dynamic Ride Control interlinked suspension, Audi Sport’s active exhaust, a premium Bang & Olufsen stereo, a head-up display and a full suite of active driver aids for no extra cost, though.


Audi RS6 review front three quarter

The C8-generation Audi RS6 Avant, it seems, is going out on a high: certainly in terms of price - but it also is now even more devastatingly fast, remorselessly purposeful and more incredible-looking than it ever has been.

The Audi RS6’s unflappable all-weather traction leaves you in awe of its ability to cover ground, and now that Audi has made the car’s soundtrack that bit fruitier and woken the steering up some, it has become one of the most likeably brutish fast estate cars that Audi has made.

The BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 S are both more thrilling devices for different reasons, although only the latter comes in estate form. But the Audi’s luxurious, practical cabin, well-judged ride and overall refinement give it a suitability for everyday use on imperfect roads that neither of its rivals can match.

Being the most usable all-rounder in the class doesn’t necessarily equate to class champion. Even so, the appeal of the RS6 remains impossible to deny. And will Audi’s better-heeled RS owners even blink at being asked to pay proper super-sports car money for it? Not for a second, we reckon.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Assistant

Jonathan is an editorial assistant working with Autocar. He has held this position since March 2024, having previously studied at the University of Glasgow before moving to London to become an editorial apprentice and pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, travelling to launch events and interviewing some of the industry's most influential executives, writing used car reviews and used car advice articles, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, and regularly appearing on Autocar's social media channels including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi RS6 Avant First drives