Audi RS4 Avant
Booted and boosted; the fast family hauler just got better
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