Audi’s RS 4 Avant does its famed ancestors proud – it’s both a unique and wonderfully complete take on modern high performance
Photos: Derryn Wong
What are the ‘it’ cars of each brand? They all have to have history, as well as a current incarnation.
For Porsche, it’s the 911, enough said.
For Mercedes-Benz, it’s got to be the 300SL, which has sort-of-kinda evolved via the SLS into the AMG GT sports car.
For Audi, it’s not the attention-grabbing R8, but rather the RS 2 Avant, which sowed the seeds for the current RS 4 Avant.
Wagons – and to a certain extent hatchbacks/sportbacks – have always been Audi’s special thing.
There have been quite a few wunder-wagons from Ingolstadt, but the RS 4 is directly related to the RS 2.
So there’s quite a bit of expectation that comes with any car bearing an ‘RS 4’ badge. Luckily, this one, is well up to it.
The switch to the new platform (MLB) and lighter, stronger materials sheds 80kg (1,715kg kerb weight), new suspension design, the latest all-wheel drive system, and torque-vectoring sport differential.
Everything’s new on this car, and on paper, what enthusiasts will miss most is the aural fury of the 4.2-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 – the previous RS 4 was the ‘last stand’ for Audi’s charismatic engine, which has now been replaced across the range by the new 2.9-litre biturbo V6, or 4.0-litre V8 in larger cars.
In fact the RS 4 goes back to its roots, with the first RS 4 (B5, from 1999) having a 2.7-litre biturbo V6 engine.
While the classic Audi wagon colour will always be dark green (Malachite Green, to be precise, check out our drive of the legendary Audi sport Quattro on CarBuyer.com.sgor watch the video below) red is the next best thing, and the RS 4 has no trouble pulling this fetching shade of it off.
It also helps highlight the front spoiler ‘wing’ in matte silver, ‘quattro’ badge, and 20-inch wheels. The latter deserve special mention, as they’re CNC-machined, rather than forged or cast items, and at $3,285, aren’t exorbitantly priced either.
Of course, it’s a wagon, so that makes it either dullsville, or really, really cool, depending on who you’re asking. Compared to the sedan, you can carry an additional 25-litres of stuff (505-litres, expandable to 1,510-litres), though the real benefit is the convenience of the hatch door and wider loading space.
Nice touches here are the remote seat-back folders, the automatic cargo space cover, and automatic boot opener (stick a foot under and draw back quickly), so you can chuck stuff in totally hands-free.
Where you’ll get hands-on though, is more important: RS-steering wheel, sport seats, RS-themed Audi Virtual Cockpit instruments, carbonfibre trim, perforated leather, and more.
Unlike many performance cars, the RS 4 isn’t intimidating to drive. Some may see that as a minus, but for the vast majority of the human race (yours truly included), it’s a big plus. It simply doesn’t have the slight inertia from extra-wide tyres, or extra effort to steer, or fiery, unpredictable power delivery that makes some speed demons a chore to live with in the slow lane.
The RS 4 can behave itself when it needs to, or more importantly, when you need it to. Hulk-in-a-suit is an often used metaphor for powerful cars, the RS 4 is more like a very fit person in smart casual. Thanks to the anti-trendy wagon part of things, no hipster beard or caterpillar-style eyebrows.
Modes are handled through Audi’s Drive Select system – Comfort, Normal, Dynamic, and a custom Individual mode so you can set the steering, drivetrain, sport differential, and engine sound to suit.
The other way the RS 4 runs counter to trends is that it doesn’t seem to be chasing ridiculous power too. Compared to the RS 2, it’s gained 135hp, and only outstrips the first RS 4 by 70hp. Circa the same time frame, the 1997 Mercedes-Benz C 43 AMG Estate has 200hp less than the current Mercedes-AMG C 63 S.
All that fits in nicely with Audi’s theme of right-sizing an engine. While this sounds almost pedestrian and edging on boring (indeed Audi sometimes doesn’t get it totally right), the RS 4 Avant is far from slow, and a real treat to drive fast.
450hp is the same as before, but the RS 4 makes the most of it. On paper it’s a whole 0.6 seconds quicker in 0-100km/h, at 4.1 seconds, but we’re very sure Audi’s understating things again: This is a shockingly quick car, it simply picks up and goes, the turbo torque punch replacing the noise of the old 4.2 with pace, pace, and more pace.
But it’s not a case of the engine getting ahead of the driver. The classic Audi RS supportiveness is still there, you can simply keep pushing it harder, and it keeps giving. There are seemingly no major flaws in its dynamics, and like the RS 3 sedan , it has a lively, adjustable nature that makes you feel part of a dynamic duo, rather than a person strapped on for the rocket ride.
Like the RS 5 coupe, the wagon has conventional suspension (while adaptive Dynamic Ride Control is an option), which means you’ll feel the stiffness of it when driving sedately, though it’s singularly well-judged, offering a fine balance between the extremes.
The V6 actually sounds throaty and engaging at full blast – the test car didn’t come with the optional sport exhaust, which is presumably louder. So we didn’t miss the 4.2 all that much, especially when the car’s gained much more communicative agility in the bargain.
While the eight-speed auto never missed an obvious beat, we did miss was the whip-crack, instant shifts of the old dual-clutch gearbox, much more suited to a car of this type.
If you don’t like wagons, you’ll never like the RS 4 Avant. If you like high-performance but are sceptical of the rear end’s appeal, you do owe it to yourself to get behind the wheel of the RS 4 Avant. You’ll be going so quickly you won’t have time to look rearward anyway.
Audi RS 4 Avant
|Engine||2,894cc, V6, biturbo|
|Power||450hp at 5700-6700rpm|
|Torque||600Nm at 1900-5000rpm|
|Top Speed||4.1 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||C2 / 202g/km|
|Price||$392,280 with COE|