Audi didn’t invent the high-performance Euro-wagon—AMG got there first in 1988 with a one-of-a-kind load-lugging version of the legendary Hammer, powered by a 375-hp, 6.0-liter V-8. But when engineers stuffed a 311-hp 2.2-liter five-cylinder turbomotor under the hood of an Audi 80 wagon, Audi made the genre its own. The all-wheel-drive Audi RS 2 Avant, launched in 1994, could out-accelerate a contemporary Corvette or Porsche 911, and run to 163 mph on the autobahn. On the numbers alone, the 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant, with 591 hp, a claimed 0-60 acceleration time of less than 3.6 seconds, and—if you order the optional Dynamic Plus package—a top speed of 190 mph, looks to be a worthy successor to the car that founded the RS dynasty a quarter century ago.
And here’s the really good news: It’s coming to America.
The fourth-generation RS 6 Avant represents the ultimate expression of the original RS formula. It’s the most visually aggressive RS 6 Avant yet, with even more extremely pumped bodysides than the previous model, and more overtly sporty front and rear design elements. The muscular 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 under the hood packs 40 more horses than the previous RS6 Avant’s powerplant, along with 590 lb-ft of torque from 2,100 rpm to 4,500 rpm, an increase of 74 lb-ft. In addition to that sub-3.6 second 0-60 time, Audi says the RS 6 Avant will hit 124 mph in just 12 seconds.
The 2020 RS 6 Avant is powerful and quick … and also a mild hybrid. A 48-volt belt alternator starter system harvests and stores up to 12 kW of electrical energy, enabling stop/start operation at speeds of up to 14 mph, and coasting for up to 40 seconds with the engine shut down at speeds between 35 mph and 100 mph if the driver lifts off the throttle. The belt alternator starter instantly spins the engine up when more power is needed, and, combined with a cylinder deactivation system that shuts down cylinders two, three, five, and eight, helps improve fuel efficiency at cruising speeds.
The engine drives all four wheels—of course—through a sport-tuned eight-speed automatic transmission. A mechanical center differential delivers a 40/60 front-to-rear torque split under normal conditions, but if slip is detected it will automatically funnel up to 70 percent of the twist action to the front wheels, and up to 85 percent to the rears.
Two suspension setups are offered. The standard height-adjustable air suspension, with electronically controlled damping, is the first Audi air suspension capable of dealing with speeds up to 190 mph and features 50 percent stiffer spring rates than used in the standard A6 Avant. Baseline ride height is 0.8 inches lower, and at speeds above 75 mph, it drops a further 0.4 inches. A lift mode raises the car 0.8 inches at low speeds. The optional RS sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control uses steel springs and three-stage adjustable dampers connected via diagonal oil lines and a central valve. During cornering the valve regulates the oil flow in the damper of the loaded front wheel, helping to reduce pitch and roll movements.
Standard brakes are steel, with 16.5-inch rotors up front and 14.6-inch units at the rear. Carbon-ceramic brakes are available as an option, with the choice of red, gray, or black calipers. These massive stoppers—the front rotors are 17.3 inches in diameter and clamped by 10-piston calipers—also reduce total unsprung weight by a hefty 75 pounds.
A new piece of chassis hardware on the 2020 RS 6 Avant is rear-wheel steering, available with the optional Dynamic and Dynamic Plus packages. The system analyses key data points, such as speed and yaw, to determine the correct relationship between front and rear wheel steering angles. At speeds up to 60 mph, the rear wheels will steer up to 5 degrees in the opposite direction to increase agility in tight corners and reduce the turning circle by more than 3 feet. At faster speeds, the rear wheels will turn by as much as 2 degrees in the same direction to enhance stability, particularly during fast changes of direction.
The original RS 6 Avant, launched in 2002, was a stealth supercar, its wider wheels, buttoned-down stance, and big-bore exhaust the only visual clues to the power and performance lurking under its skin. The 2020 model, by contrast, wears its go-fast heart on its sleeve. It’s a hefty 3.15 inches wider than the standard A6 Avant—and 0.8 inches wider than the previous RS 6 Avant—the sharply chiseled sheetmetal teased out over a wider track and massive 21-inch wheels (22s are optional).
Only the roof, front doors, and tailgate are shared with the standard car. Everything else is unique to the RS 6 Avant. Edgy and assertive, a hulking and sinister presence in the metal, it makes the Mercedes-AMG E 63 wagon look ready for the retirement home.
The interior has the same superbly executed mix of design and technology that impressed us in the A6 sedan, but with an RS makeover. The Audi virtual cockpit features special RS displays that provide information on tire pressure, torque, power output, engine oil temperature, boost pressure, lap timings, acceleration measurements, and g-forces. The shift light display prompts the driver to upshift when the maximum engine speed is reached.
A flat-bottom steering wheel features multifunction buttons that allow the driver to select the RS1 and RS2 modes from the Audi Drive Select menu. Sport seats in Black Pearl Nappa leather and Alcantara come with RS embossing and rhombus pattern. Optional RS sport seats are available in perforated Valcona leather with honeycomb pattern and RS embossing.
The 2020 Audi RS 6 Avant is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the third quarter of next year.