A quick history of Audi's hardcore wagon, the RS6

The RS6 turns 20 this year
by Craig Jamieson | Jul 31, 2022
Audi RS6 20th anniversary
PHOTO: Top Gear
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For the family-minded individual, the Audi RS6 is a lifeline thrown from the sports car world to a humbler, more humdrum plane of existence. It’s purchasable proof that your life doesn’t have to end when your progeny’s begins, that you can have your cake, eat it too, then haul the leftovers home at over 250 km/h.

Or, to put it more simply, it’s a very fast, quite luxurious and almost excessively spacious automobile that, with the right amount of mental gymnastics, could pass as practical... right up to the first service bill. And as it’s been the ‘sensible’ dream car of countless parents for two full decades now, we thought we’d look back over the past 20 years and four generations of RS6... and try very hard not to play favorites.

2002 Audi RS6 Avant

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RS6 C5 (2002)

Performance stats:

4.2-liter twin-turbo V8
444hp, 560Nm
0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds

Remember back when we used to talk about Q cars? Pepperidge Fa... er, Audi does. For our money, the original RS6 still does the best job of hiding its bonfire under a bushel.

Even though the C5’s 4.2-liter, twin-turbo V8 – developed with Cosworth’s help – made as much power as the 2002 DTM Championship-winning ABT Audi, it never shouted its performance credentials at passers-by.

In fact, we’d wager that if you de-badged it and fitted a set of reserved wheels, only the most avowed car nerd would understand the animal they’re looking at.

2007 Audi RS6 Avant

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RS6 C6 (2008)

Performance stats:

5.0-liter twin-turbo V10
572hp, 640Nm
0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds

While the C5 had the same power as a DTM racer, the C6 would instead single out Audi’s flagship supercar – the R8 V10 – and manage to usurp its title as the most-powerful Audi of 2008.

But then it would be, with a dry-sumped V10 that, just for good measure, also had a pair of turbos bolted on. It really was a different time, wasn’t it?

Coincidentally enough, the C6 was the first RS6 to offer ceramic brakes as an option. Well, it was either that or drag-racing parachutes, right?

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2013 Audi RS6 Avant

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RS6 C7 (2013)

Performance stats:
4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
596hp, 700 Nm (750 Nm on overboost)
0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds

All good things must come to an end, of course. And the BMW-Audi war of who could fit the most outlandish engine in a purported family car.

But if it’s any consolation, the C7 was 120kg lighter than its predecessor, thanks to increased use of aluminium and the fact it wasn’t lugging an entire 5.0-litre twin-turbo V10 up front. It also had better weight distribution – 55:45 front to rear in the C7 versus the 60:40 ratio in the C6.

So it was lighter, better-balanced, more powerful and had more torque than the old V10 leviathan. Objectively better. Subjectively? Weeeeelll...

2019 Audi RS6 Avant and 2002 RS6 Avant

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RS6 C8 (2019)

Performance stats:

4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
592hp, 800 Nm
0-100 km/h in 3.6 seconds

A quick look at the spec sheet suggests Audi put the C7’s basic running gear in the new C8, messed about with the styling to cater to the new ‘What’s a sleeper?’ crowd and called it good. Er, about that.

The V8 might be similar, but it’s now bolstered by a full 48V mild hybrid setup, resulting in the quickest-accelerating RS6 ever. And it’s handier in the corners, too, thanks to four-wheel-steering.

After three generations of RS6, it’s such a big deal that building them is actually integrated into the assembly line, rather than production cars being hand-finished into RS models – despite the fact that the new RS6 only shares a roof, front doors and tailgate with a regular A6.

If the C5 was the quiet achiever, if the C6 and C7 left any doubt as to what lay within, the C8 absolutely isn’t, and doesn’t. That said, if one arrived at our doorstep, we wouldn’t exactly send it back...

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This story first appeared in TopGear.com. Some minor edits have been made.

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