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First drive: Audi RS 4 Avant (2020MY). Image by Jordan Butters.

First drive: Audi RS 4 Avant (2020MY)
Apart from LED lights and the nose vents, Audi hasnít changed the RS 4 Avant. Or has it?

 



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Audi RS 4 Avant (2020MY)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Audi updates the fourth-generation RS 4 Avant and, aside from a few of its latest styling flourishes, you might be tempted to think not an awful lot has changed. But some notable under-the-skin alterations make one of our favourite everyday fast chariots into something even better for the 2020 model year.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi RS 4 Avant
Pricing: A4 Avant range from £32,150, RS 4 from £64,600
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive with rear-axle Sport differential, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: five-door performance estate
CO2 emissions: 210g/km (VED Band 191-225: £1,280 first 12 months, then £465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter; NEDC-derived)
Combined economy: 28.2-28.8mpg (WLTP)
Top speed: 155mph (limited; option to raise to 174mph limited)
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 450hp at 5,700-6,700rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 1,900-5,000rpm
Boot space: 495-1,495 litres

What's this?

The fourth take on the Audi RS 4 formula, revised following its launch in very, very late 2017. When it arrived little more than two years ago, it junked the nat-asp V8 of its immediate predecessor to return to the roots of the B5 original (built from 1999-2001); as the first RS 4 had employed a 2.7-litre biturbo V6, the fourth iteration used the same induction and cylinder layout, only now displacing 450hp and 600Nm. Not a million miles away from the original's 381hp, although considerably up on the older warrior's 440Nm.

Still, putting the issue of whether the RS 4's outputs have evolved by enough of a distance over the passage of time since the turn of the millennium to one side for a moment, the masterstroke in Audi Sport's decision to go from an atmo 4.2-litre V8 to a blown 2.9-litre V6 was that the car lost weight. Lots of it, in fact, so this 'B9' generation has always felt one of the most lively and engaging RS 4s - and, indeed, by extension, any model of Audi RS - that you can buy. There's less mass over the nose, more agility in the chassis, a greater feeling that the rear axle (enlivened in the UK by a standard-fit Sport rear diff and the usual quattro AWD with a 40:60 rear torque-bias) does more than simply track around faithfully in the treads of the leading wheels.

For the 2020 edition, somehow Audi has stripped more weight out of it; another 45 kilos, to be exact, attributed in the main to sound-deadening. Which is perhaps more than we were expecting for a mere trimming-back of the noise-absorbing materials, and makes us idly wonder if the RS 4 has been transformed into a stripped-out, full-feedback sort of car like a Honda Integra Type R, wherein you can hear all manner of stones pinging into the wheel arches as you drive along. But we've gone off on a tangent - in essence, at a now-quoted 1,745kg (unladen, no driver) compared to its erstwhile bulk of 1,790kg, the RS 4 is reasonably trim. Especially as its only directly comparable rival, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Estate, comes in at 1,750kg and that car is rear-wheel drive, whereas the RS 4 is, as we've already mentioned, quattro-equipped.

Thus, with the same on-paper power and performance stats as the pre-facelift version, we're looking for something else from the 2020MY RS 4 Avant. Audi Sport says it has also fiddled with the Tiptronic gearbox to give it faster shift times, while the (optional) RS Sports suspension with the adaptive dampers has been recalibrated to give a more comfortable ride. A move which might look like it is at odds with shedding a medium-sized child's worth of sound-deadening materials relating to refinement from within the Audi's nooks and crannies, but there we are. Beyond this minor mechanical massaging, you'll spot the 2020MY RS 4 courtesy of the triple vents cut into the nose atop the Singleframe grille, plus swanky new LED lights front and rear with highly distinctive signatures running horizontally along the tops of the clusters. Inside, the graphics of both the RS-specific Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch instrument cluster and the 10.1-inch infotainment screen have been sharpened and modernised, but without the three-screen digi-dash of the latest Audi products, the architecture of the RS 4's cabin is starting to visually date already. Progress is remarkably swift in the automotive sector in this regard, would be the learning to take away from this particular observation of the cabin aesthetic.

Anyway, Audi will offer the RS 4 Avant 2020MY in no fewer than four specifications. There's the base car, which kicks off at £64,600. For £71,000, you can have an RS 4 Carbon Black, or add another £11,000 (ELEVEN GRAND!) onto that price and you'll be in an Audi RS 4 Avant Vorsprung (£82,200). Top billing, though, goes to the RS 4 Bronze Edition, which is another £195 more expensive than a Vorsprung. As the standard spec of any RS 4 is jolly comprehensive, the three 'upper' models offer styling gewgaws, in the main, as their temptations to splurge more cash on your rapid Audi wagon: the Carbon Black has much gloss-black and carbon-fibre detailing, inside and out; the Vorsprung is essentially an RS 4 with almost every cost-option box ticked, such as the speed limiter increase to 174mph, 20-inch alloys, the RS Sport Plus suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, a panoramic roof, heated rear seats to go with the fronts, a head-up display, Dynamic Steering and a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System, among more; and the Bronze Edition is a limited-run special, with just 25 cars destined for the UK which all wear bronze alloys, a plethora of carbon-fibre details inside and out, bronze interior highlights and some desirable bits of kit. Exclusivity is this most expensive RS 4's watchword.

How does it drive?

Let's get something clear: the revised, 2020MY Audi RS 4 Avant is not our favourite RS 4 yet built. That honour still goes to the sublime B7 second-generation variant. But, of all the things to actually wear the Audi RS logo (we're excluding the R8 here, even though we know it's made by the same people), this RS 4 is right up there at the top of the dynamic pile.

It's a car which continues to expound Audi's particular brand of go-faster ethos, which is built upon the idea of mammoth grip and ridiculous traction. These two things together can upset the driving purists who want to hang the backside of any given car out in tyre-smoking oversteer when transitioning through every corner, who will immediately decry the RS 4 Avant as 'boring' and 'uninvolving'. But if you can key into what Audi Sport is trying to deliver here, you'll realise that this is a performance estate which is very, very hard to fault.

Sure, it won't exhibit extrovert driving tendencies like some of its rear-wheel-drive peers. But there's one point straight up: aside from the aforementioned C 63 S from AMG, who else makes a rapid estate of this size? That's four-wheel drive and aimed squarely at the performance market? No one, that's who, unless you count the Polestar Engineered version of the Volvo V60 T8. Which is a four-cylinder plug-in hybrid, lest we forget.

So the RS 4 kind of sets the template for its own class of car. And it's a brilliant template. You can get the back of the Audi moving around, if you want; power out of tight corners and you can feel torque flooding rearwards, even if the onboard systems gather their composure quickly and balance out the grunt as quickly as possible. You're better off making the Audi move around its axis with well-timed lifts of the throttle and exuberant steering inputs, whereupon it will switch from neutrality into a mild stance of oversteer if you want it to. Crucially, it telegraphs all this information clearly and quickly, so as the driver you feel engaged in the process of making it go quickly.

It is, naturally, still devastatingly fast if you keep it neat and tidy. The high-speed grip of the RS 4 is just preposterous. In the dry, once you've got the outer two tyres loaded up and the weight of the car settled on its springs, it will simply track round any bend you show it at whatever speed you care to attempt. Understeer will only occur if you dive into sharp corners at way beyond sensible pace, while the traction is unimpeachable. The RS 4's drivetrain is still an utter gem, blessed with a great soundtrack and near-lag-free power delivery, and it would seem the Tiptronic alterations have done a great job of smoothing out what was already a pretty damned exceptional gearbox in the first place.

But it's the improvement in ride quality we'll take away. Don't ask why, but we drove this UK-registered RS 4 in Morocco, on roads near Marrakech and heading into the desert at Ouarzazate (a fabled location for filming movies). We mention this not for some kind of 'Wish You Were Here' gloating, but rather to highlight the truly shocking state of some of the road surfaces the Audi had to encounter. If you think Britain's roads are bad, you should try some of north Africa's, which descend from race-track smooth tarmac to rough, unmade gravel routes in the blink of an eye. Potholes the size of the lunar Hippocrates riddle sections that actually have a metalled surface (and these holes will claim the low-profile tyre of a hard-driven German estate with little compunction) and about the only decent thing to take on these sorts of thoroughfares would be some sort of Baja racer for the road.

And yet the RS 4, one slight high-speed aberration with a pothole and no jack in the boot aside, soaked up this abuse with outrageous aplomb. It never thumped nor crashed its way through and over big imperfections in the surface, while washboard sections of the route were easily soaked up by the damping. Considering the car we tested was on the optional 20s (and also the RS Sports Plus optional suspension, which seems to be a 'must-tick' upgrade), this was a phenomenal performance. And also one which was put into context by the presence of an RS 7 Sportback on 22s which couldn't muster up anything like the same ride dignity as the RS 4, despite the fact it is an ostensibly bigger, more luxurious car which should be able to double-up as a grand tourer. Yep, if you've got the idea that all hot Audis cover ground with all the grace and comfort of a sledge traversing corrugated iron, try the 2020MY RS 4 out for size and be amazed by the elegance of its ride quality.

Verdict

The Audi RS 4 looks as good as it ever has done - arguably better, with its ur-Quattro-inspired conk and fancy LED lights - it goes as fast as it ever has (which is definitely as fast as anyone could feasibly need of a posh, family estate) and it feels as solidly built as it should. Where the 2020MY improvements have done their best work is in its ride comfort, as this is one of the nicest 400hp-plus vehicles you could wish to travel in, even when you're taking on thoroughly dreadful roads. It's a bit pricey, it's a tiny bit inert right at the dynamic limit and the interior isn't quite at Audi's most cutting-edge best, but in all other respects the updated RS 4 is a tremendously good all-round performance car that will have you questioning why you'd ever need the more expensive RS 6 Avant instead.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 9 Mar 2020









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2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.

2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.2020 Audi RS 4 Avant. Image by Jordan Butters.








 

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