Audi RS4 Avant

Booted and boosted; the fast fam­ily hauler just got bet­ter

Motor (Australia) - - FIRST FANG -

THE AUDI RS4 Avant ex­ists in a rare sphere of fast com­pact ex­ec­u­tive es­tates that com­prises only it and the Mercedes-AMG C63 wagon. Now in its fourth gen­er­a­tion, the RS4 also leaves the C63 as the only V8-pow­ered car in this class. Like the RS5 of last year, the new RS4’s en­gine has been down­sized to a 331kW 2.9-litre twin­turbo V6, hav­ing dis­posed of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion car’s charis­matic, nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated V8.

It drives through an eight-speed torque-con­verter au­to­matic, to all four wheels, in a body given a bit more chunk­i­ness and cool­ing and 30mm-wider arches.

The four-wheel-drive sys­tem puts 60 per cent of power to the rear wheels un­der nor­mal driv­ing, but can put as much as 70 per cent to the rear, or 85 per cent to the front. There’s also a ‘sport dif­fer­en­tial’, an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled rear dif­fer­en­tial that can ap­por­tion as much power as it likes to either rear wheel.

There are other sus­pen­sion op­tions, too: hy­drauli­cally-linked dampers re­duce roll and pitch, dy­namic steer­ing and car­bon-ce­ramic brakes. Other op­tions in­clude an ex­pen­sive Car­bon Pack. Wheels are 19s; or 20s with 275/30 R20 tyres. This gen­er­a­tion of the RS4 is (up to) 80kg lighter than the old one, but is still a 1715kg car.

Like all Audi RS mod­els, it’s fast, of course. As well as 331kW at 57006700rpm, there’s 600Nm, which ar­rives at 1900rpm and hangs around un­til 5000rpm, so the RS4 has the kind of ta­ble-top power and torque graph that negates the need for the ul­tra-quick up­shifts of a dual-clutch gear­box. As we found in the RS5, a torque-con­verter suits the na­ture of a car like this, smooth to pull away and smooth on both up and down­shifts.

Re­mark­ably, given the lack of tyre side­wall, the low-speed ride isn’t bad, while the steer­ing is light and ac­cu­rate, al­beit with some vague­ness. As a town and mo­tor­way car, the RS4 is re­fined, ca­pa­ble and per­haps more com­fort­able than you’d credit, given the ap­pear­ance and the wheel size.

When it comes to more in­ter­est­ing roads, though, the RS4 is a pe­cu­liar fish. You can swap the drive modes be­tween Com­fort, Dy­namic, Auto or In­di­vid­ual, in which you can set your own modes for the sus­pen­sion stiff­ness, steer­ing weight, and en­gine and trans­mis­sion re­sponse.

The RS4 has se­ri­ously high lim­its and its var­i­ous driv­e­line shenani­gans make it feel far more agile than you’d credit. It grips hard at the front and feels like it piv­ots very much around its mid­dle and the sport dif­fer­en­tial, which pre­sum­ably un­der ex­treme pres­sure pushes loads of the rear’s power to the out­side wheel, will do its best to straighten a line on cor­ner exit.

You can feel the me­chan­i­cals and the elec­tron­ics do­ing things and en­gag­ing you in the process. Although the en­ter­tain­ment is that you’re largely as­ton­ished at what it can do, rather than be­ing in­volved in the process.

But it’s very ef­fec­tive. A C63 would be a slower and, I think, a less agile ex­pe­ri­ence, but I’m con­fi­dent a more en­joy­able, and more ana­logue, one.

Slink the sus­pen­sion into Com­fort and the RS4 will do all this with more nat­u­ral-feel­ing body roll, and a bet­ter abil­ity to shrug off bumps in a straight line. There’s some odd di­ag­o­nal pitch while it’s cor­ner­ing like that, but it makes the straight bits prefer­able, be­cause big road lumps can give your back a work­out oth­er­wise. In the Auto drive mode, it’s close to a sat­is­fac­tory blend of the two. How­ever, per­son­ally I think I’d stick with Com­fort mode most of the time.

If ab­surdly fast and ul­tra-se­cure are what you want from a fast wagon, the RS4 fairly hits the mark. I’m in­clined to pre­fer a C63 for its more com­pelling en­gine note and more nat­u­ral, en­gag­ing han­dling bal­ance, but the Audi’s very like­able. Maybe it’s eas­ier to warm to an RS4 than it is, say, an RS5, even though the two cars do os­ten­si­bly the same dy­namic things. That’s be­cause those dy­namic things seem more suited to an es­tate car than a coupe; which is either kind to the RS4 and mean to the RS5 or fair either way. I think it’s fair. If the speed at which your lug­gage trav­els from one end of a mildly twist­ing road to an­other is im­por­tant to you, fill your fig­u­ra­tive, and lit­eral, boots.

If ab­surdly fast and ul­tra-se­cure are what you want from a fast wagon, the RS4 fairly hits the mark

The twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 is a sharp, re­spon­sive and rev-hun­gry unit that de­liv­ers mas­sive straight-line per­for­mance

The RS4’s cabin re­ceives some RS touches, like the Al­can­tara-wrapped wheel, badges and red stitch­ing (can be matched to ex­te­rior colour), but it’s left largely un­changed from the A4/A5

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