What is it?
Audi has a long, if not entirely illustrious, history of making estate cars fast enough to make your dog feel very queasy indeed. While the B7 RS4 Avant from a couple of generations ago was widely regarded as a high point for fast Audis, there have been far more misses than hits.
The RS6 Avant has long been the perfect example of how the German brand falls a little short of making a truly great performance car. While you can’t argue with the sheer amount of power on offer or the usability quattro brings, they’ve proved to be numb and often spine-shatteringly firm in the UK.
So what’s changed, then? Well, the RS6 Avant has received the Performance treatment that’s also available on the RS Q3. In the RS6, that ramps horsepower up from a potent 552bhp to a supercar-worrying 597bhp. Torque is normally 516Ib ft, but the Performance pack adds an overboost function that briefly increases this to 553Ib ft.
Furthermore, we’ve finally got our hands on a car running the standard air suspension set-up. Considering how uncomfortable the optional steel springs made things, the RS6 Avant could finally come good here.
What’s it like?
Despite weighing more than two tonnes and being capable of moving the entire contents of your typical bedsit in one hit, the RS6 Performance is explosively fast. There’s no launch control, yet it still fires you away from a standstill with an addictive savagery. The bellowing V8 makes a fitting soundtrack, too.
Audi claims 0-62mph in 3.7sec, while our experience – and timing gear when strapped to the standard RS6 – suggests that it’ll reel off 0-100mph in comfortably less than nine seconds. On the road, you really can’t keep your foot buried for very long at all before you’ll fear for your licence.
What really impresses is how usable this performance is. In the dry and on asphalt that isn’t too craggy, it barely wastes a single horsepower even when you’re being brutal with your throttle application. In the wet, you do see the traction control light flicker more regularly, but it’s nowhere near as lairy as a Mercedes-AMG E 63 estate.
That, unsurprisingly, means it’s nowhere near as playful as the big Mercedes, either. There may be a sports differential out back and a rearward bias to the torque split, but you still won’t be drifting the RS6 Avant.
Understeer dominates the experience; even stamping on the throttle in the wet with steering lock on will give you, at most, a twitch of the rear. After that, the driveline fires the torque to the front axle to drag you out of the slide as quickly as possible.
The air springs are a definite improvement over the conventional coils, though. There’s precious little roll when pushing on, yet the car still copes admirably with the kind of British B-road that traditionally unravelled RS6s. It’s still firm, but the car seems to move with the surface instead of trying to flatten it like a turbocharged road roller.
One area that we always felt needed attention was the steering; despite this, there have been no changes to the electromechanical system. If there’s any feel at all, we certainly didn’t find it, leaving you guessing as to what the front wheels are doing. It may be accurate, but it just doesn’t involve you like the best performance cars.
More impressive is the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is capable of swift shifts when you’re trying to embarrass exotica but proves delightfully smooth under normal use. There are paddles for you to take manual control, but there is sometimes a delay between you selecting a gear and the gearbox actually delivering it.
Of course, it’s not just the driving experience that might tempt you into the RS6. While it has one of Audi’s older interiors, it’s still a great place to sit. Material quality is excellent and it looks good in a sober, Germanic way. Rear space is more than adequate for all but the tallest of adults and the load bay is huge.
Should I buy one?
We can certainly understand why someone might opt for an RS6 Avant Performance. For a start, there’s no other standard estate that’s faster, yet it’s still capable of being driven briskly in any weather conditions. As an everyday car for effortlessly crossing country, it’s very impressive.
The problem is that the best performance cars are more than just impressive. They should connect and engage with you; they should be the kind of car you look longingly at and desperately think of excuses to drive. This is something the RS6 has never been able to do. This model changes nothing in that respect.
Are we missing the point, though? There is the argument that the person that can spend £86,000 on a fast estate and then deal with the running costs probably doesn’t have this as an only car. If you already own a wheeled adrenalin pump and just want the quickest and easiest way to cart five people and all their luggage from point A to point B, the RS6 Avant Performance fills that role perfectly.
2016 Audi RS6 Avant Performance
Location Bedfordshire; On sale Now; Price £86,000; EngineV8, 3993cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 597bhp at 6100-6800rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1750-6000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2025kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph3.7sec; Economy 29.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 223g/km, 37%