One of the most anticipated cars of the year isn’t a low slung two-seat supercar from Italy. No, it’s actually a station wagon from Germany. Yes, a wagon. Remember those? In this country, wagons went out of style around the time of Nirvana and Tupac when SUVs took over the highways and Starbucks parking lots. SUVs are understandably popular because they offer practicality and luxury (and surprising speed for some models), but for the first time in a while, we have a car that offers a compelling alternative to the SUV.
The 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant, available in the United States for the first time ever, blows up the stereotype of a family wagon. The RS 6 Avant is a beautiful, fast, high-performance car that will smoke many dedicated two-seat sports cars all while carrying 5 passengers and their stuff. More importantly, the RS 6 makes a convincing case that wagons can actually be cool.
The vehicle I drove commemorates Audi’s high-performance roots. It is the ultra-rare RS Tribute Edition, of which only 25 will be built, and it pays homage to the original Audi RS car, the 1994 RS2 Avant. “RS” is short for rennsport, which means motor racing in German and “Avant” is Audi’s term for wagon. So when you see an “RS” badge on an Audi, that means it’s the sportiest, most luxurious version of the class. The four-wheel drive RS2 was co-developed by Porsche and was so quick off the line that it could get to 30 mph faster than a Formula One race car of the era. Audi now has its own sport department so it no longer relies on Porsche for its go-fast bits, but with the creation of the RS2, the die was cast for fast wagons to follow.
The RS 6 Tribute Edition is a stunning achievement in design, and looks like nothing else on the road. It takes all of the supercar attributes of big wheels, wide stance and just plain sexiness, and applies it to a wagon body. Somehow it all works together to be one of the most beautiful cars on the road. During my time with the car, Ferrari owners stopped their cars to let me go ahead of them, just so they could get a closer look. A guy in a raised and worn Dodge Ram pickup rolled down his window to say “nice car.” While parked, young twentysomethings huddle around it with their phones out, asking if they could take pictures.
Maybe it has something to do with the color that shows off the great details in the design. The Tribute Edition wears the same electric Nogaro blue paint as the original RS2, but there is more heritage in the design than the color. Those blistered fenders are reminiscent of the original and iconic Audi Quattro from 1980, which went on to storm the rallycross circuit and put competing racing teams on notice that all-wheel drive is the best way to win races in all weather conditions and road surfaces. The enormous 22-inch wheels, with a daring V-spoke trapezoid design are painted silver, just like the RS2, and give the vehicle striking proportions and an athletic silhouette.
And athletic this car is. With the touch of the programmable RS button on the steering wheel, it will put all of the RS 6’s systems into the sportiest settings. Packing a four-liter twin turbo V-8 engine producing 591 horsepower, 590 pound/feet of torque and a glorious, rumbling sound that grows to a roar out of it’s sports exhaust as you push faster, this 4,600 pound wagon becomes a weapon that leaps from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and puts a big smile on your face as you carve up twisty back roads.
This big car is as nimble as it is fun to drive. Is it scalpel sharp like a Porsche 911? Maybe not, but the 911 can’t haul your new dresser home either. The air suspension does an amazing job of keeping the RS 6 flat through corners while soaking up bumps and road imperfections that would cause your teeth to rattle in other supercars. The Quattro all-wheel drive is tuned for fun and has a sport differential, which can send 100% power to the outside wheels during turns for maximum traction and feels like a big, invisible hand that magically enables the car to turn sharply into corners the faster you go. It’s like the car is just egging you on. Who would’ve thought that a wagon could be this fun to drive? Well, this one is. And when the weather turns sour and wet, the all-wheel drive becomes your greatest asset, delivering power to the wheels with the most grip, maximizing traction in inclement weather conditions.
As I drove through the busier city streets, I hit the RS button again to return to the normal drive setting and the exhaust quickly quieted down, the accelerator pedal and steering become more relaxed, and the cabin serene and quiet. On these streets, the RS 6 changes its personality from a fire breathing supercar killer to a comfortable cruiser. I appreciate the quality of materials and craftsmanship of the interior as I waft along, floating on the air suspension in comfort. Facing me is a 12.3-inch digital dash with a large head up display of information in my line of sight in the window. To my right: an easily reachable 10.1-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback for the infotainment system and a third touchscreen below for the climate controls. There is a sea of soft leather everywhere, across the dash, on the doors, the steering wheel and seating, finished with special denim blue contrast stitching available only in the Tribute edition. This is spectacular build quality from Audi with fit and finish that is so solid and precise that it will seemingly last forever. As traffic thickens, which is normally frustrating, the RS 6 coddles me in quiet comfort, silencing the noise from the outside so I can appreciate the excellent sound from the excellent Bang & Olufsen audio system. The RS 6 proves it can be a very comfortable daily driver or cross country cruiser.
There is plenty of room on the interior of this car. I am 6′ 3″ tall and had ample room up front for both leg and headroom. Once I set the seating position in the front, I jumped in the backseat and had plenty of room there as well. So this car can seat four adults very comfortably and five in a pinch. With 30 cubic feet of space under the rear hatch, the cargo area is deep but be aware that the steeply raked hatch may prevent some tall items from fitting. A small sacrifice for the amazing profile of this car. But you can easily put the rear seats down using latches in the hatch and increase the space.
The interior space and practicality brings me back to the usefulness of SUVs herding on the roads today. I can’t knock SUVs, because they are viable vehicles with benefits, but performance wagons are just as effective for daily use, arguably better looking and are, ultimately, cars. Wagons are engineered for the road and are more nimble and capable of being more fun to drive than tall SUVs. One of the advantages of some SUVs is their off road capabilities. But very rarely do SUV owners take their $100,000+ vehicles off road, or use it for stump pulling or rock crawling. When was the last time you saw a $132,000 AMG GLS 63 shod with summer street tires navigating rocky cliffs? Yes, some owners can set up their SUVs for that purpose, but most spend their time on the road.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of the performance SUV made for customers who want to have fun driving yet need the ability to carry passengers and carry stuff from Home Depot. So manufacturers chopped the roofs to slope the backs of SUVs to make them look sportier, festooned them with big engines and fat summer tires to offer more excitement than their standard versions. As good as some of those SUVs can be, they can’t offer what the RS 6 Avant can: a low center of gravity. The RS6 goes further and is more than three inches wider than a standard A6, which increases its cornering agility. There is no need to compensate for a tall stance that an SUV has. If you enjoy spirited driving, the excitement of twin-turbo V-8 power, beautiful looks, and yet still need the practicality that comes with five doors and the security of four-wheel drive, the Audi RS6 Avant is a wagon that satisfies all those needs and enables you to separate from the herd in style.