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Driven: Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Audi.

Driven: Audi RS 4 Avant
Audi reverts to a twin-turbo V6 for the fourth-gen RS 4. It’s a genius decision…


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Audi RS 4 Avant

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Audi Sport seems to be on a roll - its RS models of very recent months have, with the possible exception of the RS 5, all been fantastic: rewarding to drive, as brutally quick as ever and wonderful to behold inside and out. The fourth-generation RS 4 Avant continues this welcome trend, as it uses the RS 5's powertrain to seemingly greater effect, being a better-handling car than its supposedly racier coupe stablemate. That it's also an estate merely makes the cool factor go up several notches, too.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi RS 4 Avant
Pricing: RS 4 Avant from £61,625, Carbon Edition from £71,625
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 199g/km (£1,200 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 32.1mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited, option to raise to 174mph, limited)
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 450hp at 5,700- to 6,700rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 1,900- to 5,000rpm

What's this?

The fourth iteration of the Audi RS 4 Avant, continuing a 17-year lineage of cars to wear that badge and also being, in a way, a direct descendant of the legendary, Porsche-fettled RS 2 Avant of 1994. This time around, Audi has gone back to its RS 4 roots - as it has the the same engine configuration of the original B5 generation of wide-arched warrior. That car, launched in 2000, packed a 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6 rated at 380hp, while the current car foregoes the 4.2-litre normally aspirated V8s of the following two generations (the 420hp B7 (2005-2009) and 450hp B8 of 2012-2015) and employs the 2.9-litre biturbo V6 we've already seen in the RS 5 Coupe.

That means no more horsepower compared to the outgoing car, the peak figure remaining pegged at 450hp, but the upsurge in maximum torque is most welcome - fully 39.5 per cent, as it swells from 430Nm of the V8 to 600Nm here, spread across a fat 1,900- to 5,000rpm band. The preceding S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has gone, too, as the additional torque means an eight-speed Tiptronic 'traditional' auto is required for the RS 4 Mk4.

The RS 4 has been on a diet, too. Some of it is accounted for by the smaller TFSI engine, which - at 182kg - is 31 kilos lighter than the old V8, but further clever construction work sees the RS 4 tipping the scales 80kg trimmer than the B8. That means power-to-weight is up marginally, at 262hp-per-tonne (+11hp-per-tonne) but the traction from its quattro drivetrain is put to the best possible use, as six-tenths of a second have been trimmed from 0-62mph time, the latest Avant capable of a searing 4.1-second sprint.

In the UK, the 'regular' car retails from £61,625, while there's a Carbon Edition which, well... has some extra carbon fibre (and a few sundry other tech updates), for £71,625. The first figure means the RS 4 undercuts the 476hp Mercedes-AMG C 63 Estate by £1,950, while the Audi is also cheaper than the 450hp BMW M3 Competition Package DCT, which weighs in at £64,225, although obviously it doesn't have the added benefit of a big boot. It's 505 litres on this Audi, by the way, an increase of 50 litres from the Mk3.

Standard equipment is generous enough, including the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, LED lights all round, 19-inch alloys, an RS brake system with 375mm front/330mm rear discs and six-piston calipers, Super Sport front seats with Nappa leather upholstery, MMI Navigation Plus and MMI Radio Plus with a 180-watt, 10-speaker Audi Sound System, and a powered tailgate, among more, as well as the sport differential for the quattro all-wheel drive.

Options include (and are in no way limited to) 20-inch wheels, a Bang & Olufsen 19-speaker, 755-watt 3D sound set-up, Dynamic Steering, RS Sport Suspension Plus with Dynamic Ride Control (DRC), an RS Sport exhaust for naughtier powertrain tunes, Matrix LED headlights, carbon ceramic brakes, a head-up display and a top speed restriction increase to 174mph. Thus, the £61,000 RS 4 will probably more likely be a £75,000-£80,000 motor, in all truth, once customers get to ticking order form boxes.

No matter; we can assure you it'll feel worth every penny. The interior is, as ever with Audi, as close to faultless as you're going to get. The driving position, the layout of the controls, the look of it all, the solidity with which it is screwed together - all beautiful. But it's the exterior which should seal the deal. While S and RS Audis have never struggled for enticing visuals, this RS 4 looks absolutely spot on: the blistered, IMSA-inspired haunches, its pugnacious foursquare stance, that mean-as-hell front end, the wide and imposing rear with the twin oval exhaust exits... it all comes together to create a glorious whole.

You can stand and look at the RS 4 from all angles, and it should comfortably have you mentally drooling while you gawp at it. Furthermore, the decision to offer luscious Sonoma Green as a colour option is an inspired move by Audi, because the car looks ridiculously splendid when finished in that shade. All in all, the showroom appeal is strong with this one.

How does it drive?

We managed to sample two RS 4 Avants, which both had DRC and the upgraded Sport exhaust, yet one was fitted with Dynamic Steering and the other wasn't. Further technical details to note here pertain to the quattro system's apportioning of torque, which is split 40:60 front-to-rear in normal driving, but which can go to as much as 85 per cent front and 70 per cent rear if the control software senses any wheel-slip.

Does that sound like the Audi might be prone to understeer? It does? Well, don't worry - because it really isn't. In fact, this RS 4 is so invigorating and enjoyable to drive quickly that it's hard to believe it's related to the somewhat underwhelming RS 5 in the slightest. We have to be honest and say Audi seems to have got the knack of Dynamic Steering, because the car equipped with that system felt no different to the one without it, both having direct, weighty and feelsome set-ups that inspire total confidence in the driver.

That primary interface of the car allows you to exploit its ferocious mechanical grip to the utmost, the RS 4 doing the classic fast Audi trick of being incredibly stable and neutral - in most cases - during cornering. It'll blast from bend to bend in a remarkable display of body control, traction and lag-free power delivery, making mincemeat of a difficult series of curves. But what's so wonderful about this new model is that, should you start getting brave with the throttle, it'll move around fluidly underneath you - to the point that, timed well, you can get the back end of the RS 4 to transition into oversteer. Not necessarily the sort of big, lurid slides that an AMG would muster up, sure, but still - oversteer? In an Audi quattro? On dry roads? Magnificent!

The drivetrain is an utter jewel, too. Yes, some are going to lament the lack of the V8 soundtrack of the old RS 4, and others might find the pop-burble-bang of the exhausts a bit much, but we think Audi has judged the latter characteristic to perfection for a ballistic family estate (it's quieter than the RS 5 or TT RS, for instance). And on the former score, the V6 has an appealing voice all of its own - all raw and metallic and edgy as it homes in relentlessly on its redline. Indeed, the savagery of the acceleration in all of the first five gears of that seamless Tiptronic 'box is quite breathtaking, and raises suspicions that, even accounting for the V6's additional 170Nm, 450hp might not be telling all the story.

If there are any criticisms, it's that the RS 4 is marginally shy of being the ultimate article for driver involvement, in the way a genuine RWD machine tends to be, but it's so far in advance of most RS models that have gone before it that you can kind of forgive it for lacking that last, tiny degree of engagement. And, like any self-respecting quattro Audi with a bit of muscle, it feels like it would take on any road in any weather conditions you could throw at it and still go like the clappers.

There's also a slight question mark over the ride comfort in Dynamic mode on the DRC dampers, which just feels a touch too tough on Spanish roads (meaning it is likely to be verging on the unpleasant on the cruddiest of UK surfaces), and the body control in Comfort, which allows slightly too many vertical movements of the Audi's shell in the wake of big compressions. But as the car is so exciting on twisty routes and thoroughly cosseting when it's just cruising along a motorway, it would seem these are minor considerations, all told. Anyway, the solution to any damper-related concerns is either: a) don't specify DRC in the first place and try a passively-suspended RS 4 instead; or b) stick it in Auto mode, because it doesn't ever go as firm as it would in full Dynamic, nor does it get as loose as Comfort.

But we're splitting hairs here. This latest RS 4 Avant is everything you could want of a performance estate. So good and so fearsomely rapid is it, in fact, that it has you questioning why you'd ever need to look upwards at the RS 6 Avant. There's no doubt the RS 4 has the chassis finesse to embarrass its bigger brother handsomely and it's sort of, kinda more affordable, too. Brilliant work by Audi Sport, this.


Maybe the difference in appreciation between this Audi RS 4 and the similarly-equipped RS 5 is down to expectation: an estate car can get away with being a trifle dull, perhaps, whereas your mind tells you that a coupe should be unfailingly thrilling. So is that the only reason why the RS 4 is cooler and more desirable than the RS 5? No. We actually think there's more to it than that. The RS 4 undeniably feels a more alive, playful and cohesive performance car than the RS 5. And while the Audi RS 4 Avant doesn't quite match its only direct rival - the Mercedes-AMG C 63 Estate - for outright driving excitement, it nevertheless feels like a more rounded creation in many respects than the V8 Merc.

Thus, we're happy to call the Audi a total belter. The RS 4 is simply a thoroughly likeable, genuinely rewarding thing to drive in all situations and it therefore goes straight in as one of Audi Sport's most sparkling creations. Just make sure you order it in Sonoma Green, to have it looking its absolute, jaw-dropping best...

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 12 Dec 2017    - Audi road tests
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2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.

2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.2018 Audi RS 4 Avant drive. Image by Audi.


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