A supercar in every sense of the word and yet one that can carry a whole family and all of their luggage and equipment – the groundbreaking Audi RS 6 celebrates 20 years as a performance pioneer.

26 July, 2022

Back in the year 2000, the accepted image of a supercar was a high-performance, two-door sportscar that sacrificed anything approximating practicality to pure, unbridled performance. The forerunner to Audi sport, quattro GmbH, wasn’t put off by the accepted wisdom though, and sought to produce a vehicle that could deliver supercar performance while also fulfilling its role as a luxurious everyday driver. Not content to leave it there, quattro GmbH decided that its ‘everyday supercar’ would also be available as a sedan and station wagon – or Avant in the Audi lexicon.

And so in 2002, after much development work using the Audi A6 platform as its basis, the Audi RS 6 was born. With its 4.2-litre twin-turbo V8 powerplant, new body treatment and revised suspension, the C5 RS 6 boasted race car performance in a luxury sedan and wagon as never before. Of course this was more than a matter of shoehorning a bigger engine into an existing body and adding a bodykit. 

For starters, the V8 was too big for the A6 and required the front to be extended to allow an additional four centimetres to accommodate the engine. The engine itself was fine-tuned in England by the legendary Cosworth factory which was a subsidiary of Audi until 2004 – its 331kW and stump-pulling 560Nm of torque instantly putting it in a class of its own.

This in turn was harnessed by a five-speed tiptronic transmission with power going to all four wheels thanks to quattro permanent all-wheel drive. The 0 to 100km/h sprint was completed in 4.7 seconds, giving it extraordinary performance for the time. Allfrom a car that although tougher and more menacing in appearance than a ‘standard’ A6, was worlds away in looks from a low-slung high-performance sportscar.

Ride and handling too was in a class of its own, the Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) which debuted on the RS 6 using a mechanical damping system to negate pitch and roll through the fastest of corners.

On its arrival in Australia, that first RS 6 Sedan made an appearance as the Bathurst 1000 safety car in 2003, showcasing the brand’s engine mastery to the Australian public at Mount Panorama, while in Europe, the RS 6 Competition (a race-oriented version) made its presence felt in the 2003 GT World Challenge, winning on debut.

An uprated RS 6 plus was produced towards the end of the C5’s production life which saw power output increased to 358kW (torque remained at 560Nm) and the top speed increased beyond the governed 250km/h to 280km/h.

The next generation (C6) followed in 2008, upping the ante in every possible regard with its 5.0-litre V10 twin-turbo powerplant producing a stonking 432kW and 650NM of torque that was available from as low as 1500rpm. At the time this was more powerful than the R8 GT which had a maximum power output of 415kW.

With its dry sump lubrication straight out of motorsport and a reworked six-speed tiptronic transmission, the RS 6 C6 dismantled the sprint to 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds in the
Sedan and 4.6 seconds in the Avant. Top speed was an electronically governed 250km/h that could be increased to 280km/h as an option, while the later RS 6 plus topped out at 303km/h.

The first ceramic brakes (420mm) discs front, 356mm on the rear were optional in the RS 6 and the DRC was retained for this model given its success in the first iteration of the car.

Once again the RS 6 rode on 19-inch wheels which were perfectly in keeping with the dimensions of both Sedan and Avant, with 20-inch versions available as options. Again it was muscled up in the styling department, but still tended to the more subtle end of the styling spectrum.

The C6 model run also included an RS 6 plus Sport or an RS 6 plus Audi Exclusive version, with 500 limited edition variants that included a numbered badge on the interior, special alloy wheels with a five-spoke design, leather on the instrument panel, and floor mats with the RS 6 logo.

In 2013 the third generation or C7 was released with a different powerplant again, the big V10 replaced by another twin-turbo V8 this time with a displacement of 4.0-litres. The Sedan was dropped from the line-up and the remaining RS 6 Avant shed a cool 120kg in weight through an increased use of aluminium components contributing to an even greater agility than before.

The RS 6 Avant became even more muscular in appearance with its wider stance and flared guards making it 600mm wider than a standard A6. Design was noticeably sharper and more aggressive than on previous models and many would say that with this iteration, the RS 6 Avant really came into its own visually.

Performance too continued to increase despite the smaller displacement engine, with 700Nm of torque on tap and a sub four-second 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds. This time an eight-speed transmission was employed, while the huge ceramic disc brakes were again on offer. Adaptive air suspension became a standard feature for the first time on this model, dropping the ride height by 20mm and further enhancing the ride, the whole package only serving to further cement the RS 6’s reputation as a genuine daily driver with supercar performance. Indeed, this model went even further and despite the increased performance, the introduction of COD technology (Cylinder on Demand) allowed the V8 to deactivate four cylinders when not under load to produce 30 percent greater fuel economy as well.

Of course it gets harder and harder to hone an edge the sharper it gets, but Audi Sport managed just that with the fourth and current generation of the RS 6 Avant. Arriving on the world scene in 2019 and here in Australia during during the first year of the pandemic (2020), the C8 RS 6 Avant draws on all of the qualities that have made this model such an outstanding success since the start and takes it even further.

Retaining the 4.0-litre bi-turbo powerplant, the C8 or fourth generation RS 6 Avant continues the trend of increased power and improved efficiency. This generation saw the introduction of a 48 volt mild hybrid system for tremendous fuel efficiency, and yet with 447kW of power and 800Nm of torque on tap, the current RS 6 Avant delivers. 3.6 second 0 to 100km/h sprint – or 12 seconds from 0 to 200km/h if you’re fortunate enough to have the right roads and road laws at your disposal.

All-wheel steering is a standard feature on the current model, along with massive 21-inch rims, which can be optioned up to 22-inch rolling stock. The look of this current iteration too is beyond anything that has come before, with only the roof, front doors, and tailgate shared with the base A6 model. Everything else is specifically designed for the RS 6 Avant, making this the most striking looking of all of the RS 6 models to date.

Certainly it’s still subtle compared to some, but there is simply no mistaking the obvious performance potential of this big wagon – just the sound of it is enough to put it beyond doubt.

Of course, to call the Audi RS 6 Avant a ‘performance wagon’ is like calling Michelangelo’s David a ‘good sculpture’. This is every every inch a high-performance masterpiece, but one that also accommodates five adults in absolute comfort, carries all of their gear and offers the very latest in automotive technology and infotainment.

This is the car that does it all with such apparent ease that it’s not hard to see why the RS 6 has built such a fiercely loyal following around the world and particularly Down Under. After all, why would you choose between a high-performance car, a luxury conveyance or a practical car to drive every day – when you could have an RS 6 Avant and have it all.