JUST prior to Christmas, Audi released another performance leader intended to help lead the brand’s image through this year. The RS4 sedan that tops A4 range has now been joined by the RS4 Avant (which is Audi for station wagon). Wagons used to be a popular type of car in Australia, going back a few decades. Nearly every second driveway in those days sported a large wagon that was part five or six-seater passenger vehicle, part ute, part beach camping body and even part bus in the less safety conscious days when it was still legal to throw a handful of unseatbelted kids into the luggage area. But as the SUV rose to dominance, the station wagon was tagged as a bit daggy, and its popularity sunk. That may all be changing. The past couple of years of petrol price pressure has seen small and medium wagons appear in increasing numbers, and hot wagons arriving from Europe, where the body shape is hugely popular. And as far as hot goes, the RS4 Avant is a scorcher. This is a station wagon with a lap timer and a 0-100km/h figure of 4.8 seconds. That is clearly into supercar territory. But unlike a Ferrari, you can lug furniture home in the Audi. It has all the punch of the RS4 race-sports sedan but with the practical attraction of a versatile body that can carry up to 1354 litres with the seats folded. Like the sedan, the RS4 carries a high-revving allaluminium direct-injected 4.2-litre V8 that develops 309kW of power at 7800rpm and 430Nm of torque at 5500rpm (with 90 per cent of that grunt being available
between 2250 and 7600rpm). This is transferred to the tar via a six-speed manual transmission talking to the latest version of Audi’s signature quattro drive — in this case dividing the torque 40 front/60 rear, giving all-wheel drive stability and very tasty rear-wheel skewed dynamics. Even in a rare bit of rain on greasy road, this beast never relaxed its claws. Aluminium also used in the front wings, bonnet and carefully positioned chassis components mean the powerto-weight ratio has been optimised (to a low 3.93kg/bhp) and the weight distributed where it will enhance handling. The suspension has been revised to better match the wagon body, and road fun is also helped along with dynamic ride control, two-sage electronic stability program, 19-inch wheels and huge perforated and ventilated brake discs (365mm front, 324mm rear) among a slew of other technology. From the outside, this looks like a stylish family wagon. On the inside, you’ll know better. Settle into the racy leather seats, press the button for Sport mode and feel the bolsters expand to grab you in a firm hug. Take a grip on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, tap the metal pedals to waken the roar of the engine and hit the road for one of the best drives around. This is truly a car that can put a smile on the face of a keen driver. And if you just want to tootle around the garage sales and load up the cargo area with loot, you’ll be cossetted in an interior kitted out with Audi’s signature restrained style and quality. Equipment includes Bose audio, parking alerts, cruise control, high-intensity xenon headlights and automatic airconditioning. There are very few cars around that don’t lack or annoy in some area, but this could well be one of them. This car leaves you with the impression that it needs nothing else in the way of grunt or gear. However those who always want an extra something — or perhaps want to go racing — you can option ceramic brakes for an extra $13,200. If you’re looking for a late Christmas present, the RS4 Avant can be gift-wrapped for $168,100. And for those already making Santa’s next list, a Cabriolet RS4 will arrive early next year for $187,000.