Audi’s fast Avant returns to its six-pack roots in a world where boost beats cubes

RUSH­ING IN peak-hour traf­fic is fu­tile – es­pe­cially when time is of the essence. My body’s nat­u­ral cop­ing mech­a­nisms aren’t help­ing al­lay an anx­ious mind. My eyes glance at the clock re­peat­edly as if to some­how, by magic, make the dig­its regress and my thumbs tap the steer­ing wheel in a rhythm akin to a spo­radic ner­vous twitch. It’s a manic dance per­formed daily and, on this oc­ca­sion at least, Mel­bourne’s hus­tle and bus­tle has de­feated me. I’m hope­lessly late.

“Did you pick up the RS4 on your way to work, Trent?” asks as­so­ci­ate ed­i­tor, Scott New­man. I pause – it’s the kind of fleet­ing mo­ment where you teeter be­tween fact and fic­tion – be­fore ad­mit­ting that I didn’t have the keys to a B9 Audi RS4 Avant in my pos­ses­sion. De­spite the myr­iad ex­ple­tives run­ning through my head, the over­ar­ch­ing thought stuck in my brain is, “how did I ‘for­get’ about an Audi RS4?”

History un­cov­ers the an­swer; an­ces­try doesn’t come much more revered. The pre­vi­ous-gen B8 RS4 is an au­ral water­mark in terms of atmo V8 de­lights. It wasn’t with­out fault, but a scream­ing 8250rpm red­line cer­tainly made it mem­o­rable. Even the RS2 – a co-de­vel­op­ment with Porsche which started the RS line – and the orig­i­nal twin-turbo V6 B5 RS4 seem to carry more lus­tre. So, with­out even set­ting eyes on its prag­matic, yet pur­pose­ful sil­hou­ette, the new 2.9-litre TFSI twin-turbo V6 Avant al­ready has pre­con­cep­tions to over­come. It’s been shrouded in con­tro­versy amongst fans and claims of it los­ing its emo­tive ap­peal are rife. Buy­ing into that nar­ra­tive seems like the easy op­tion. How­ever, af­ter fi­nally mak­ing the trip to Audi, a Misano red RS4 sits be­fore me, ready to dis­prove all the haters.

The weather re­flects the con­tro­ver­sies with storm clouds fast ap­proach­ing, threat­en­ing to ruin a drive along The Great Ocean Road. The com­mute out of Mel­bourne of­fers a chance to as­sess ex­actly what this $152,900 uber wagon of­fers. De­spite the cylinder-count cull, the ‘hot-vee’ six houses two tur­bos within its banks, re­sult­ing in an un­changed 331kW. Torque is boosted to 600Nm, all of which comes on board at a use­able 19005000rpm, and is sent to ground via Audi’s qu­at­tro per­ma­nent all-wheel drive. Gone is the seven-speed dual-clutch, in its place is an eight-speed torque con­verter auto, and over­all di­men­sions (on the MLBevo plat­form) have grown. Dy­namic Ride Con­trol (DRC), sports ex­haust and Audi’s elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled, torque-vec­tor­ing rear sport dif­fer­en­tial is stan­dard. Audi drive select (Auto, Com­fort, Dy­namic and In­di­vid­ual modes) al­lows you to tai­lor cer­tain me­chan­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters.

With the dense city grid­lock an ever-fad­ing sight, the lure of a road­house is hard to ig­nore. It also of­fers a chance to take in the de­sign, one that at first glance seems a lit­tle too un­der­stated for a Ren­nS­port (RS) Audi, but un­furls its men­ace on closer in­spec­tion. Said to be in­spired by the iconic Audi 90 qu­at­tro IMSA GTO, the pro­nounced qu­at­tro blis­ters sit 30mm wider than the S4 and give the hy­per sib­ling an un­mis­tak­able stance. Milled 20-inch al­loys fill the guards while large, oval ex­haust tips sit pur­pose­fully within the rear dif­fuser. It’s the Red Light District for all the lovers of a fast wagon – ahem, I mean Avant.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, my luck with the weather has come to an end. Just past Gee­long, the heav­ens open. As far as a co­coon away from the el­e­ments goes, the RS4 pro­vides a sump­tu­ous environment. The at­ten­tion to de­tail impresses, from the prox­im­ity sen­si­tive cli­mate con­trols to the knurl­ing of the di­als, it makes you feel spe­cial. While it might not be overtly be­spoke com­pared to the S4, it’s a cabin for those who revel in the finer touches, the in­tri­cate nu­ances and the over­all tac­til­ity of it all.

The on-ramp out of the ser­vice cen­tre is the first real op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the new pow­er­train. To say the RS4 has a new­found turn of speed is an un­der­state­ment. It’s bloody quick – al­most verg­ing on su­per­car pace. With 3mm of stroke taken out (now 86mm) and two tur­bos gen­er­at­ing up to 21.8psi of boost, the re­al­ity is that the 2.9-litre six (shared with Porsche) is any­thing but a de­stroked, ramped-up S4 en­gine. It pulls hard from low revs, con­tin­u­ing all the way to 6750rpm. You can gather li­cence-los­ing speeds with a flex of your right an­kle.

Even with the rain-soaked tar­mac, sus­pi­cions are al­ready gath­er­ing that the claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.1sec might be a tad un­der­stated. The high­way squirt also un­cov­ers the new V6 growl, which is un­ex­pect­edly en­tic­ing and far more cul­tured

than you’d ex­pect from a bent six. Yet, as night falls, the Ma­trix LED head­lights strike through the mist and fog. Per­sis­tent pre­cip­i­ta­tion means the road speed shown on the (op­tional) head-up dis­play scarcely climbs to any­where near the posted limit. Parked up in Apollo Bay, the dy­namic in­di­ca­tors do their thing as the RS4 is locked away for the night.

Day­break pro­vides another bleak out­look. How­ever, the up­side is wind­ing roads free of tourist traf­fic. This is qu­at­tro ter­ri­tory. If the RS4 is ever go­ing to shine, it’s on the soaked rib­bons of tar­mac that hug Victoria’s south­ern coast­line. And the B9 doesn’t dis­ap­point. With the adap­tive dampers set to Com­fort and the out­right road speed cur­tailed by the con­di­tions, the sus­pen­sion soaks up the lumps and bumps with aplomb. At these speeds the extra travel in­spires con­fi­dence with­out adding ex­ces­sive roll, while the 275-sec­tion Pirelli P Ze­ros im­pec­ca­bly dis­perse rivers.

It’s a fight be­tween car and mind; the car goads me to go faster and ex­ploit its grip, yet my mind, see­ing the con­di­tions, forces me to check out. De­spite the ob­vi­ous dy­namic tal­ent, cau­tion proves the bet­ter part of valour. Still, it’s hard to imag­ine a BMW M3 Com­pe­ti­tion or C63 AMG stay­ing within earshot of the tied-down RS4 with this level of stand­ing wa­ter. Just how it finds pur­chase on seem­ingly ice-like roads beg­gars be­lief. What’s more, the sound em­a­nat­ing from un­der the bon­net and out the ex­haust is in­tox­i­cat­ing. Mus­cu­lar re­ver­ber­a­tions and ma­tured histri­on­ics con­tinue long af­ter the auto ’box has revmatched on down shifts.

How­ever, there are some caveats. The adap­tive dampers, com­bined with the new five-link sus­pen­sion setup front to rear, aren’t al­ways happy in Dy­namic or Com­fort modes. The for­mer is harsh, and with abun­dant mois­ture, it makes the RS4 lose most of its com­po­sure. The ride qual­ity be­comes skit­tish and erodes con­fi­dence. There­fore the lat­ter is cer­tainly the de­fault in­clement DRC set­ting. Auto mode is sup­posed to be a half­way house in which the car de­ter­mines the stiff­ness, but it doesn’t re­ally work, ei­ther.

Mer­ci­fully, as the week­end comes to a close, the storm clouds dis­si­pate. It’s time to see just how fast the force-fed six can get the 1715kg (the B9 is 80kg lighter over­all) wagon down Heath­cote’s drag strip. The RS4 bests its quoted 0-100km/h time by more than two tenths at 3.86sec. The quar­ter mile is cov­ered in 12.03sec with a ter­mi­nal speed of 186.24km/h, while 80-120km/h is achieved in 2.41sec. And yet, the crazy part about it is that it feels as though it’d do that on any sur­face – even with your grand­mother driv­ing. Sim­ply ac­ti­vate the dy­namic start and the rear squats, the front lifts and all fours sav­age the tar­mac like a dog with a bone. The eight-speed auto shifts through the gears with dual-clutch-es­que swift­ness.

Away from the straight lines of Heath­cote to the moun­tain ranges out­side Mel­bourne, the dry-weather abil­ity of the RS4 is re­vealed. The new V6 re­lieves 31kg from the front axle com­pared to the V8. Over­all weight distri­bu­tion is im­proved; hence the go-fast wagon is far from an un­der­steer­ing pig or solely a point-and-shoot propo­si­tion. You can re­ally feel the qu­at­tro sport diff ap­por­tion­ing torque across the rear axles – up to 85 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear wheels. The RS4 also deals with changes of di­rec­tion with deft re­sponses.

Okay, it’s not go­ing to per­form lurid skids on cor­ner exit, but set up for a cor­ner cor­rectly and the rear will ro­tate on en­try in a pro­gres­sive and sat­is­fy­ing way. The RS4 is so much more lively and fun on the limit than you ex­pect, with the P Ze­ros of­fer­ing just enough slip to feel the car mov­ing un­der­neath you. Sadly, the vari­able-ra­tio dy­namic steer­ing doesn’t di­vulge feed­back as keenly (sur­pris­ingly, Auto is the best mode) and the brakes leave the party early if you go too hard on them too of­ten.

On these smooth roads, Dy­namic mode of­fers just enough com­pli­ance with­out the pitch and body roll Com­fort in­duces. And there’s the rub. You won’t find a Goldilocks damper set­ting for ev­ery oc­ca­sion. While Com­fort of­fers new lev­els of sup­ple­ness over the harsh­est of city streets or bro­ken bi­tu­men and suits the luxe part of the Audi equa­tion, it’s not per­fect. Re­bound, es­pe­cially on ver­ti­cal move­ments, isn’t con­trolled

well enough and if you en­counter a mid-cor­ner un­du­la­tion at speed the RS4 will leap out of it, send­ing you off line.

Con­versely, Dy­namic can be that bit too stiff and un­for­giv­ing – un­less you find unblemished black­top. How­ever, there’s just enough lee­way to find the magic. And when you’re on the right road and in the right mode, it does feel ‘just right’.

The fourth-gen RS4 was at risk of be­ing ster­ile. How­ever, in re­al­ity, it’s any­thing but. Pre­con­cep­tions con­fine it to a per­for­mance car that goes about its busi­ness with­out tact – a ruth­lessly ef­fec­tive equa­tion that’s hell­bent on pro­vid­ing only the an­swer. And yet, here I am, sit­ting in morn­ing rush hour once again, be­ing cos­seted by a mas­sag­ing seat and think­ing that the twin-turbo V6 wagon is any­thing but an emo­tion­less cal­cu­la­tion. Ev­ery con­di­tion has been thrown at the RS4 and it has passed largely un­scathed. It lives up to the per­for­mancewagon genre and re­ally could be the only car you’ll ever need.

While the cylinder count and in­duc­tion type is dif­fer­ent, sur­pris­ingly, the B9 has a soul that hon­ours the past and the fu­ture. There’s an in­nate and en­dear­ing na­ture that makes you want to live with it. Un­like its fore­bear, the B8, it isn’t a car you’ll fall for straight away. But spend some time with it and Audi’s RS Avant cre­ates a new theatre that’s ev­ery bit as en­gag­ing. It turns out the RS4 is any­thing but for­get­table.


ABOVE The torque split is rear-bi­ased at all times (40:60), but up to 70 per cent can be sent for­ward and 85 per cent to the rear at a time OP­PO­SITE TOP Audi’s Vir­tual Cock­pit is bril­liant, while the 755W, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound sys­tem packs a punch

BE­LOW Op­tional gloss black styling pack­age ($1000) adds black ac­cents to the grille, ex­te­rior mir­rors and the roof rails

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