Audi RS6 Avant review
How good is Audi's super estate? We test the RS6 Avant
With a price tag touching £80,000, the Audi RS6 Avant is one of the most expensive estate cars you can buy. But when you consider the supercar-rivalling performance on offer and the practical estate car body, it offers two cars for the price of one, and you could easily spend twice as much buying an R8 sports car for thrills and a luxury SUV to go with it.
There are plenty of optional extras, and you could easily raise the car's price to £100k, but the one extra we would highly recommend is the Performance upgrade. Not only does it add more power, it also brings some added aural excitement.
With staggering performance, undeniable style and family-friendly practicality, the RS6 Avant ticks the right boxes as a rapid family car, while adding the Performance pack means it's more engaging to drive, and while we're waiting for the next Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate and the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake has been killed off, it's currently in a league of its own.
The Audi RS6 Avant is the latest in a long line of superfast Audi RS estates - a line that started back in 1994 with the RS2 Avant, which was developed by Porsche.
Back then, the RS2's 311bhp seemed excessive for a family hauler, but the latest RS6 Avant has almost double that figure. It's one of the most powerful cars the German firm makes and its 552bhp twin-turbo V8 produces a huge 700Nm of torque, allowing it accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds.
Now in its third generation, the A6-based model actually has a smaller engine than its predecessor, with the old 572bhp 5.0-litre V10 replaced by a 4.0-litre V8 in the quest for greater efficiency.
Yet despite the decrease in capacity and power, the new RS6 is faster than ever, especially if you pick the RS6 Performance edition - an even hotter variant which has a turbo overboost feature allowing the power to scroll up to a heady 597bhp - as well as shaving an extra couple of tenths off the 0-62mph time.
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The RS6 Avant and the Performance version are the only two options in the line-up. Both are lavishly equipped as you'd expect for an £80k car, while the hotter Performance model is distinguishable by its sports exhaust, unique wheel design, privacy glass and titanium grey exterior paint detailing for the front lip spoiler, front grille, mirrors, rear diffuser and window trims.
Currently the RS6 Avant is in a field of one, as Mercedes has yet to launch an AMG E63 Estate version of the E-Class, and the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake is no longer in production. The only cars that deliver a similar level of practicality and performance are the BMW M5 saloon, or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR. Like the latter two, the RS6 Avant offers similar practicality with the reassurance of the legendary quattro four-wheel-drive system, and perhaps a shade less ostentation.
There's no RS6 saloon option this time around, although there is the slightly more expensive RS7 Sportback, which shares the RS6's engines and running gear.
Engines, performance and drive
At its core, the Audi RS6 Avant is much like other super fast Audis, as it has explosive power and masses of grip, but it all feels a bit clinical and detached in the way it performs.
There’s so much performance on tap that it’s hard to use it on the road, even with quattro four-wheel drive, while the Audi feels a little subdued in corners. There’s no shortage of grip and the upgraded air-suspension system provides rock-solid body control, but there’s not much feedback through the major controls, especially the light steering.
Choosing the Drive Select system’s sportiest mode sharpens the throttle and helps reduce understeer by engaging a more aggressive setting on the electronically controlled Sports rear diff, but it also adds too much weighting to the steering. Make no mistake, the four-wheel-drive Audi is devastatingly quick on twisting roads, particularly in the wet, but it’s not that engaging.
Still, what the Audi lacks in driver involvement it makes up for with top-notch refinement. There’s virtually no wind noise on the motorway and in its comfort setting, the air springs soak up bumps well – only deep potholes really ruffle the RS6, and you could easily use it as daily transport, as long as you're happy to suck up the running costs.
With the traction of quattro all-wheel drive the 552bhp RS6 Avant accelerates from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, while the 597bhp Performance version shaves two tenths of a second off that time, at 3.7 seconds. There's no launch control, but we've extracted a 0-60mph time of 3.4 seconds from the standard car in damp conditions, so there's no doubting Audi's claims. Top speed is limited to 155mph, unless you opt for the Dynamic pack which raises the limit to 174mph, or the Dynamic pack Plus, which bumps it up to 189mph.
The Audi’s real world in-gear performance is equally impressive, and above 4,000rpm the RS6 accelerates even more ferociously than its key rivals. Adding to the drama is the eight-speed twin-clutch Tiptronic transmission, which provides rapid-fire shifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, plus it delivers a crisp throttle blip on downchanges.
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The RS6 Avant’s V8 may serve up blistering performance, but in standard guise it sounds a little muted alongside the vocal Mercedes E63. We'd recommend adding the optional sports exhaust, as it delivers a more imposing soundtrack, with pops and bangs on the overrun in dynamic mode. It's also standard on the RS6 Avant Performance, and more than justifies the faster model's extra outlay.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
There’s no escaping that a V8 estate car closing on 600bhp is going to cost a lot to run. A steep price tag and emissions of 223g/km mean big tax bills for company car drivers, while trips to the fuel station will be regular and costly if you use the car's maximum potential.
Audi claims combined economy of 29.4mpg for both the standard RS6 Avant and Performance version. This is largely down to the engine’s cylinder-on-demand technology which automatically shuts down four of the eight cylinders when you’re coasting on the motorway or in slow traffic.
This means, with a very light right foot, you could potentially eke the range out to 480 miles between fills of the large 75 litre tank. The reality of day-to-day driving is likely to be quite a bit different, of course, and we suspect the average RS6 owner will rarely see more than 300 miles out of a tank.
At least Audi’s fixed-priced servicing deals allow you to budget for maintenance, although it’s worth noting that if you drive the RS6 Avant hard or head to a track day, consumables like tyres and brakes are very expensive to replace. You can add ceramic brakes to the RS6, although they're pricey at £9,375.
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On the plus side, strong residuals are a plus for private buyers.
What’s more, when compared to some more exotic two-seater sports cars with similar performance, the RS6 could be justified as something of a bargain. That’s because the extra practicality could mean it’s all the car you’ll ever need, while a sports car owner will likely have to buy a family run-around too.
No surprises here - the Audi RS6 Avant falls into the top insurance group - 50. Budget for big annual premiums.
It's unlikely you'll be in line for a significant discount when buying an RS6 Avant, so even though it's a solid performer on the depreciation front, you're going to take a big cash hit at resale time.
With a predicted residual value of around 45 per cent after three years and 30,000 miles, it's going to be a sobering experience whatever happens. Even more so if you've piled on the expensive options up front, so make sure you really want all those bells and whistles...
Interior, design and technology
The RS6 Avant’s lines are incredibly aggressive and give the low-slung estate serious presence on the road. Audi’s designers have enhanced the standard A6 Avant’s lines with a deep, tarmac-skimming front bumper, huge, flared wheelarches and 20-inch alloy wheels. Even with more understated paintwork, it demands serious attention.
A crease running back from the headlamps follows the shallow window line to the rear, giving the body a more menacing look. Meanwhile, at the rear there’s a pair of fat tailpipes and a gloss-black bumper insert.
Audi has made the RS6’s light signature very distinctive – the car gets LED headlamps with a sharp running light design that’s reflected in the tail-lamps. There are also LED indicators that sweep in the direction you’re turning. Together, this makes the Audi easily recognisable in the dark.
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Like the exterior styling, the interior design is very precise and crisp, with lots of high-quality materials covering the dashboard and doors. You sit low down in the Audi’s deep bucket seats, while the dash wraps around with a sweeping profile that incorporates the neat pop-out multimedia screen and, lower down on the centre console, the climate controls.
GO for the RS6 Performance, and you get a few subtle styling upgrades. On the outside, the silver trim is coloured in matt titanium grey, while an exclusive 21-inch wheel design is standard. YOu also get privacy glass as standard and quilted honeycomb leather trim.
As you’d expect from an Audi, refinement and quality are brilliant. All the controls feel solid and expensive, while touches like the RS dials, aluminium pedals, extra carbon-fibre trim detailing and diamond seat stitching give the interior a proper sporty feel.
With prices closing on £80,000, you'd expect the RS6 Avant to be packed with kit, and Audi delivers, as there are plenty of gadgets on offer. LED headlamps, cruise control, nav and heated seats are all standard, but a reversing camera and keyless go are optional.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Audi RS6 comes with MMI Navigation Plus, which is a HD-based system with a topographical/3D map display. The navigation system works well and is easy to control using the rotary metal wheel behind the gearlever, but this interface definitely feels a generation older than the new TFT display in the latest Audis - like the latest TT - that replaces the dials with a digital screen. This upgrade would improve the RS6's interior even further.
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The standard audio set-up is a BOSE surround sound system with 14 speakers and 600 Watts, but for the princely sum of £6,300 you can upgrade to a 1,200 Watt system by Bang & Olufsen.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Ever since Audi revealed the Porsche-tuned RS2 Avant in 1994, it has been leading the way with its lightning-quick estate cars that match practicality with supercar performance, and the latest RS6 Avant is no exception. As it's based on the practical A6 Avant there's no shortage of space for luggage, while a deep glovebox, large door bins and an array of useful cubbies boost the Audi's family-friendly cabin.
There's no saloon option - you could consider the RS7 Sportback if you don't want an estate - and the car is a full five-seater.
The Audi RS6 Avant is a big car, measuring almost five metres nose-to-tail - very similar to the BMW 5 Series Touring. The Audi's 4,979mm length is matched by width of 1,936mm, so you might want to splash out £1,310 on the Parking Pack Advanced, which brings automated self-steering parking and an array of cameras for an all-round picture of your surroundings.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Front seat comfort is exemplary in the Audi RS6 Avant, and rear passengers have plenty of room to lounge around too - although the large transmission tunnel gets in the way for passengers sitting in the middle seat.
Headroom in the rear is better than the A6 saloon, and there are Isofix child seat mounts fitted as standard.
While the RS6 Avant's 565-litre boot is roomy and well-shaped, it trails the Mercedes E63 Estate's spacious luggage area by a significant 130 litres. Folding the Audi's rear bench flat gives you a healthy 1,680-litre load space - although this is still 265 litres shy of the E63's. However, there is the option of a useful load-securing system, plus a standard-fit powered tailgate and handy netted storage bin.
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There's a £625 Convenience Pack which adds a reversible floor mat for the load bay plus a fixings set for the internal rail system with a telescopic pole and straps for dividing the luggage area. It also comes with a 'through load' facility in the seat back for longer items, complete with a removable ski bag.
Reliability and Safety
Audi came in with a 21st-place finish in our Driver Power 2016 satisfaction survey, an eight-place drop over 2015.
However, when the survey’s focus turned to the brand’s perceived Reliability, Audi fared considerably worse with a 23rd place ranking – although that was only one place behind BMW, and actually three places ahead of Mercedes-Benz.
Audi dealers didn’t fare very well in the 2015 survey, coming a lowly 25th out of 32 – or 26th when judged on ‘Helpfulness and Attitude’, which suggests a reality that’s somewhat at odds with the premium aspirations of the brand’s marketing.
Still, the RS6 Avant is based on Audi’s regular A6 model, which we’ve heard no horror stories about, and because it’s using a lot of proven tech from across the range, the RS6 shouldn’t be unreliable.
Euro NCAP hasn’t crash tested the A6 estate, but the standard A6 was awarded a five-star rating back in 2011. Adult occupant safety was rated at 91 per cent, child occupant safety at 83 per cent, and pedestrian safety at 41 per cent. The BMW 5 Series tested the year before rated 95 per cent, 83 per cent and 78 per cent, while the latest Jaguar XF scored 92 per cent, 84 per cent and 80 per cent in 2015.
With differences between the A6 saloon and Avant/estate variants being relatively marginal from a front and side impact perspective, we’d expect the RS6 to perform similarly to the saloon in tests. And with six airbags and stability control as standard and Audi’s £2,100 Assistance Pack on offer – featuring adaptive cruise control, pre-sense plus with braking assistance and active lane assist – the spec list is reassuring too.
Audi offers a three year/60,000 mile warranty on all its cars, but the mileage cap only kicks in during year three – in other words the first two years cover includes unlimited mileage.
For £560 you can boost cover to four years/75,000 miles, and for £1,335 you can extend it further to five years/90,000 miles.
The RS6 Avant has different servicing schedules that are mileage dependent. If you drive less than 10,000 miles with lots of city driving and short journeys, you’ll need annual oil changes and biennial inspections. High mileage drivers will have variable oil change schedules up to a maximum of 19,000 miles/2 years, and they’ll still need the biennial inspections.