Road Test: Audi RS4 Avant
Audi’s fourth-iteration RS4 Avant does ballistic and benign in equal measures.
That most rarefied of niches, the luxury ultra-performance wagon, has just seen one of its founding members, the Audi RS4 Avant, return with all the improvements accompanying the Ingolstadt brand’s ninth-generation family car, but with even more performance and agility than before. Aimed directly at the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate, the RS4 offers buyers the sort of low-slung versatility and coolness that no SUV can match, in a package that oozes obsessive quality and attention to detail. We’re glad for choices like this.
German car companies are famous for mining niches within niches, to the point where they either invent an interesting new segment (hello, Mercedes CLS) or lose the plot in a dead-end street (goodbye, Mercedes R-Class). The Audi RS4 Avant, however, is different, sprouting from the same genetic pool that – with Porsche’s help – created one of the most exciting cars of its era, the 1992 80-based 1994 RS2 Avant. Blown five-cylinder goodness, ensconced by the brand’s terrific quattro all-wheel drive system. There was nothing like it before. And since, really, if we’re talking medium-sized AWD ultra-performance wagons, unless you count stuff like the oddball Subaru Liberty GT or Volvo V70 R of a decade and a half ago.
The latest RS4 Avant, the fourth iteration of that original RS2 concept, adheres to the same basic recipe, in providing blitzing performance, exceptional roadholding and family-friendly practicality.
Based on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB-Evo modular longitudinal architecture underpinning everything from the A4 1.4 TFSI front-driver to the Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne, the newcomer leverages a variation of the latter’s 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo, ditching the characterful old 4.2-litre V8 that made the B7 RS4 of 2006 a modern-day classic (and the first great Audi since the 1980s). And in every meaningful way the move’s brought tangible improvements. From the moment that starter button is pushed, the gear lever is slotted into ‘D’ and the accelerator pedal pressed down hard, to the moment you realise that (on a closed circuit, naturally), you’re staring at 200km/h. The forward thrust is momentous, the torque access immediate and the response to throttle movement massive. And that’s before Sport is selected.
Additionally, the chassis’ cool calmness is commendable, with measured yet meaty steering providing pin-sharp cornering at speeds that are frankly crazy in most other cars, especially if the roads are less than bone dry.
The Audi wagon’s control is spectacular, making it feel planted as well as poised like no other new vehicle of this size and price point we can think of. Backed up by hugely effective brakes, this is the best choice of getaway car if that involved blasting across wet or icy terrain. Perhaps the biggest progress is in the Teflon-slick smoothness of the powertrain, combined with a welcome supple ride for something so lightning-fast. While we didn’t get a chance to sample the RS4 on bad urban roads, the rural mountain passes leading into north-western NSW provided enough challenging bits to test the adaptive dampers’ abilities.
Typically, we are also extremely pleased by the A4-esque horizontal dash, awesome design, lovely quality, immersive aromas and gorgeous textures, making for a sensory experience that is as luxurious as the drivetrain is dynamite.
Not much to criticise then, and in any objective assessment, a 331kW/600Nm five-seater family wagon with a massive cargo area that can also hit 100km/h in four seconds while returning a combined average of under 9.0L/100km is a phenomenal engineering achievement. We would have loved a bit more aural melodrama from the 2.9 bi-turbo; it just isn’t vocal enough and may lead unaware drivers to double their intended speed. But that’s really about it if we’re going to stick the boot in. Because the RS4 Avant revels in having the boot stuck right into it, responding with lightning reflexes. We just wish there was a bit more thunder to go with it!