► RS6 Avant Performance driven
► 597bhp quattro estate
► Priced from £86k
With all the current hot estate buzz directed towards the Mercedes-AMG E63 and the (lack of a) BMW M5 Touring, Audi’s burly RS6 Avant has sort of slipped under the radar.
The RS6’s remit spans beyond fast estates now, though. Apart from having to face off against the new Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate, hot SUVs like the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo also hove into the big Audi’s crosshairs.
High time to blow the cobwebs off Audi’s ultimate estate and check out the even hotter Performance variant, to see if there’s still life in the big beast yet.
Read on for our thoughts on the V8-powered bruiser from Ingolstadt.
What’s different about the Performance?
Clue’s in the name, really. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 has been boosted from the standard RS6’s 552bhp and 516lb ft of torque to 597bhp and 553lb ft (via an overboost feature), while the 0-62mph sprint is 0.2 seconds quicker than before. Audi says the eight-speed Tiptronic auto has been fettled to handle the extra shove, too.
As for looks, Performance-spec cars are beset with matt titanium detailing in the front bumper, including an etched ‘quattro’ graphic at the base of the grille. Inside, RS leather and Alcantara ‘super sports’ seats are standard, and the interior benefits from carbonfibre inserts and Alcantara in places in the cockpit.
But can you tell the difference?
Honestly? Probably not. A 0.2-second difference in launch time and 40-odd extra horses are unlikely to be instantly felt by anyone other than those who have a regular RS6 and drive it every day.
Still, though, having 597bhp under your right foot is a scintillating experience, especially when it sounds as unholy as the RS6 Performance. Press the starter button and the demonic-sounding bi-turbo V8 jumps into life with a bassy thunder clap.
Maximum torque is available all the way from 1750 to 6000rpm, so no matter what gear you’re using in the eight-speed auto, a huge wave of twist pushes you into the back of your seat while your ears are assaulted by the meaty exhaust note.
You know what they say about a big, fast Audi…
Yeah, yeah, yeah… that they have steering deader than the deadest of doornails. It’s a tired stereotype but one that, irritatingly, rings true here.
The rack is overly light even at speed, so if you set the RS6 up into a corner you’ll most likely find yourself making a quick adjustment to your line mid-turn. Finding out exactly where the wheels are pointing when you’re ‘on it’ can be difficult.
But you’re quickly calmed by the ride. The air suspension isn’t new to this class of car – the E63 S Estate features an air setup, too – but it’s just so plush. When set to comfort, it glides over bumps more adeptly than the Merc, despite having the same size 21-inch wheels as its rival. It never wallows, though; body roll is kept in control, whichever suspension setting is selected through the Drive Select system.
Plus, grip from the quattro all-wheel drive system is phenomenal, even in the wet.
How is it inside?
The RS6, or even just the A6 in general, probably has one of the oldest Audi interiors still on sale now. There’s no Virtual Cockpit or chunky oblong gearlever like in the R8 or SQ5, and the infotainment screen looks comparatively low-res next to rivals.
Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? Not really. The RS6’s dashboard is a little button-heavy but you know where everything is. The most satisfying part, though, is just how tactile every button press, lever switch or door pull feels. Everything has a pleasing click, thunk or whump, and the whole interior feels like it’ll last without wear and tear for decades.
What if I actually want to use it as an estate?
Rear space is great, even if your driver or front passenger is particularly lanky. You can fit two car seats in the back and easily have a third person in the middle with room.
The boot is squarely shaped with a low load lip, but at 565 litres it’s not as capacious as its rival from Stuttgart.
RS6 Performance vs E63 S Estate: quick comparison
We drove the Audi back-to-back with the Mercedes and both had strong positives.
Both have V8s, all-wheel drive, air suspension, insane pace, a premium image and premium price tag to match. But where the Audi falls a little flat the Merc shines, and vice versa.
The Mercedes’ interior is far newer and has an optional tech list to worry the International Space Station, but the Audi’s interior is so pleasingly solid and well laid-out that you can forgive the low-res graphics on the pop-out infotainment screen.
AMG’s estate has sharper and much more communicative steering, a stiffer ride even in ‘Comfort’ and more dynamic prowess through the twisty stuff, while the Audi is more cosseting at a cruise with its plusher ride and quieter cabin, yet can still keep up with the AMG in the straight-line pace race.
It kind of depends on what you want from your fast estate. The Mercedes is better for the tech fan and those with trackday ambitions, while the Audi feels a better all-rounder for normal, (and occasionally exciting), family life.
If we haven’t made it abundantly clear already, the RS6 Avant is getting on a bit. But it’s still an interesting estate that has tonnes going for it.
It’s properly quick, has an interior that’s solid in that most Audi of ways and shivers go down your spine like lighting hitting an antenna when you get an earful of the V8’s roar. It can’t hold a candle to the E AMG’s feel and feedback on a back road, though.
Buy one with pride in the knowledge that you have an estate car that can tear down the hopes and dreams of supercars at a set of traffic lights, but hardcore performance car enthusiasts might look elsewhere for their handling thrills.