Back in the winter of 2016, the big wagon news was that Mercedes-Benz was bringing the then-new C-Class Wagon to Canada, despite the car being unavailable south of the border. It’s a rare thing when a relatively small market such as Canada has access to European models that U.S.-based product planners figure won’t fly with Americans. Naturally, it seemed as if the station wagon was poised for a properly wicked comeback.
These days, the Mercedes-Benz C-Cass Wagon and E-Class Wagon (in mild and spicy form) are still available in Canada. There’s a new Volvo V60, V60 Cross Country and V90 Cross Country to choose from, and the Golf SportWagen and Alltrack remain intact. The Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo is a compelling recent entry and the Audi A4 allroad is a stalwart performer. But the latest version of the BMW 3 Series Touring, which was previously sold here, is reportedly not coming to North America.
A bigger disappointment for Canadian wagonistas: Two recent models that did appear in America, the Buick Regal TourX and Jaguar XF Sportbrake, never crossed our border. Buick has since announced that all of its wagons and sedans have been cancelled for North America, although they will continue to be sold in China.
The modern station wagon appears to be an automotive industry litmus test, rolled out every few years, a stab in the dark from one brand or another. None of the automotive brands separate the sales figures for cars and wagon derivatives on a consistent basis. Whenever brands look to gauge whether our collective demand for crossovers and SUVs is waning, wagons are the vehicle of choice. The latest experiment, the 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant, is perhaps the most compelling station wagon in the history of station wagons. But it may not be powerful enough to move the needle.
In 2016, the station wagon was a niche product, and it remains a niche product today, the preferred ride for a sliver of nostalgia-infused enthusiasts. When viewed through this lens, the Audi RS 6 Avant isn’t just for the 1 per cent – it’s for the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent.
Offered for the first time in North America, this fourth-generation super-wagon is astonishingly capable. Armed with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V-8 gas engine, aided and abetted by a 48-volt mild hybrid system, the RS 6 Avant boasts 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. The result: a vehicle that can accelerate almost as quickly as the Audi R8 supercar and go on to hit 305 kilometres an hour – with five passengers and five sets of skis aboard.
Sound ridiculous? Maybe it is. Maybe that’s the point.
“Obviously, this car is new for North America,” says Victor Underberg, head of technical development for Audi Sport GmbH. “We’re happy with the car, but we need to wait and see if people like it or not. If customers in America and in Canada want cars like the RS Avants, there will be more. If not …”
There’s little to dislike about the RS 6 Avant. The glaring weakness is likely the base price, which will be confirmed closer to the on-sale date in the final quarter of 2020. In Europe, the sticker shock rolls in like a thunderclap at EUR 117,500. This will not be a car for the faint of wallet. But for those with the means, it’s a compelling proposition that makes both that sportscar and that SUV in the driveway seem redundant.
The new breed of high-performance SUVs are better than ever – and Audi has a few examples in its own lineup – but they can’t keep pace with the RS 6 Avant on the typical mountain drive, such as the one experienced in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Out on my own, in a version equipped with the optional dynamic ride system with air suspension, the Audi made quick work of the hairpin bends, undulating pavement and gravel-strewn shoulders. The RS 6 Avant also features standard 21-inch tires, rear-wheel steering, an all-wheel drive system that shuttles engine torque forward and aft, and torque vectoring to distribute torque from side-to-side at the rear wheels. All of these systems work together to make the ultrawide and admittedly weighty wagon behave like a much smaller vehicle – it’s like a tarmac rally car in disguise.
But it also has that everyday functionality we talked about. In addition to the space for five passengers, the RS 6 Avant also has all the comfort and technology features one would expect in a six-figure car. The mild hybrid system brings slightly increased efficiency by allowing the engine to shut down when coasting, incorporating regenerative braking to replenish the lithium-ion battery pack and having the batteries power some light-load accessories. The RS 6 Avant also incorporates cylinder deactivation, defaulting to a four-cylinder when less power is required.
The combination of high performance, a high degree of comfort and measures designed to boost efficiency make the Audi RS 6 Avant a seriously desirable car. Just don’t wait for it to power a comeback for the entire station wagon set.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up for theweekly Drive newsletter, delivered to your inbox for free. Follow us on Instagram,@globedrive.