Think ‘fast estate’, and I reckon the first car that’ll spring to mind for you is the Audi RS6. I’d put money on it. Audi’s ballistic wagon is the definitive car of the genre - long has been, and it probably always will be, depending on how the latest one shapes up. We’ll come back to that shortly.
It’s hard to pin down exactly why. The RS6’s RS2 ancestor wasn’t the first uber estate - that honour arguably falls to the W124-based ‘Hammer’ AMG made in its pre-Mercedes subsidiary days, although if you insist on it being an official effort, the E34 BMW M5 estate pre-dated the RS2 by a whole two years.
But the latter beast was only ever made in small numbers, and after that, BMW merely flirted with the idea of M5 wagons. AMG estates arguably only reached god-like genius much more recently, and all the while, Audi has stuck to its fast wagon formula, busy perfecting the recipe. So dogmatic is Ingolstadt’s dedication to this niche, that the most recent two RS6s have been strictly estate only.
The first and second-generation RS6s had a reputation for hiding outrageous performance under subtle bodywork - lightly widened wheel arches aside, there wasn’t much to mark them out against boggo A6s of their day. The new one? There’s no mistaking it for the work of Audi Sport - with its huge wheels, giant box arches and ur Quattro-esque vents above the grille (which is also massive), it’s by far the most obnoxious RS6 yet.
You can moan all you want about the C8’s wholesale abandonment of nuance, but this was inevitable. Given how aggressive Audi’s entire product range is right now, the company has designed itself into a corner - the sportier things simply have to go above and beyond to gain any visual distinction.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, though - I think the new RS6 looks brilliant. Particularly on the move with the air suspension in its lowest, sportiest setting, with that giant face hugging the road. Looming in your rear-view mirror - a sight I witnessed a few times during our recent C6 vs C8 test - it looks as though it’s on the hunt, ready to pounce on some BMW M Division-flavoured lunch.
Behind the oh-so angry face is the now familiar-feeling 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 used across multiple Audi, Porsche and Bentley models. Here, it’s good for 592bhp and 590lb ft of torque, making for a 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds. And scrambled insides. At anything over 3000rpm, it responds with an explosion of speed and guttural eight-cylinder thunder.
Throttle response is exceptional for a turbo engine. And when it’s time to swap a cog, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is ready to chuck in a new ratio with efficiency and a certain degree of aggression. It’s just a shame the paddle shifters themselves are the usual nasty chunks of plastic on the back of the steering wheel.
Outright speed has never been an issue for the RS6 historically, of course - an insatiable appetite for attempting to headbutt the horizon was all-but-guaranteed for the new one. Where this car has always struggled is the corners - the C7 simply couldn’t hide its near-two-tonne flab when negotiating a tight bend.
The C8 is off to a bad start, being nearly 200kg heavier than its immediate predecessor, but you wouldn’t know it. Active anti-roll bars powered by a 48-volt sub-system, air suspension that’s 50 per cent stiffer than on a regular A6 and rear-wheel steering all help to make the RS6 feel both lighter and smaller than it really is. The latter two elements are optional but essential.
You can lob the RS6 around like a small sports saloon, safe in the knowledge that it’ll change direction quickly, with the front end absolutely refusing to let go. It’s the rear-steer that has the most conspicuous effect on the driving experience, however - in the tighter stuff, there’s a noticeable pivot at the middle of the car. This makes up for the all-wheel drive system’s refusal to make a whole lot happen at the rear axle. The RS6 gets the traditional Torsen centre differential treatment giving a general 40/60 torque split, although it can (in theory) lob up to 85 per cent to the rear.
The steering isn’t a high point, but not something we’ll grumble about either. It’s fast, and bucks the usual Audi trend of being too light, while giving an occasional hint of feedback.
What’s most pleasing about the RS6’s brutish dynamic attitude is the way it vanishes when you switch back to comfort mode and bimble home. Unlike the RS Q8 we tried recently, it actually rides properly. There’s a fair bit of road noise and the odd crash over tarmac imperfections that’d make us want to avoid the vast 22-inch wheels (the RS6 gets some still very big 21s as standard), but otherwise, it makes for a great cruiser.
It could be a little nicer inside, though. Audi interiors are a little too spangly and try-hard these days, contrasting themselves with the effortlessly classy cabins the company made a name for itself with a decade or so ago. Ditching a lot of the physical controls for a pair of haptic feedback touchscreens does - as we say when we test every new-gen Audi - seems like a backwards step, but you do get used to the setup quickly. And even if we’re not sold on the design, everything feels solid and upscale in there.
The RS6 is slightly better at the wafty stuff than the fabulous Mercedes-AMG E63 estate, which edges the Audi when it comes to dynamics thanks to sharper steering and a more playful attitude. Best we call that a dead heat until we can get these two together, but the important thing to note is that anyone chiefly interested in the handling side of the equation won’t feel short-changed with the Audi. Not by a long stretch.
The C8 isn’t just the best RS6 ever, it might just be the greatest fast car Audi has ever made.