You know how these David and Goliath encounters end. One large, overweight, overpriced, over-the-hill lummox meets a light, lithe and agile upstart, receives a knockout blow and gets to go home with a thumping headache. We have, after all, been here before.
Except maybe this time will be different. The Audi RS4 Avant is more than merely a great-looking, superb-sounding, beautifully built estate. It’s an excellent car, too, so much so that we signed off our road test saying “the latest RS4 will go down as not just one the fastest RS models, but also one of the finest”. So, and for the avoidance of doubt, although many RS Audis have been rightly bashed over the years for promising much on paper and delivering little on the road, this, emphatically, is not one of them. We really like this car and there’s nothing, not even a day in the Welsh mountains in the company of a Volkswagen Golf R Estate, that changes that.
2018 Audi RS4 Avant reveal
Ah yes, the Golf R. In hatchback form, I’d say it has as good a claim as any to be the best everyday driver’s car this kind of money can buy. As an estate? Surely, it’s the same but more so? We know that wagons drive pretty much identically to the hatches upon which they’re based these days, so what we appear to have here is even more of what was already a world-beating property. If only the truth were so straightforward.
Unsurprisingly, the statistical analysis appears stacked in Audi’s favour. Its engine has double the cylinder count, more than twice the capacity and half as much power again. It has more torque, too. But it’s heavy: 1795kg is properly porky for a compact estate and more than 200kg heavier than the Golf. There are diesel E-Class Mercedes-Benz wagons, the biggest estates on sale, that weigh less. So the Audi’s power-to-weight advantage is clear but not overwhelming, especially when you consider that in torque-to-weight terms it’s actually the Golf that holds the advantage.
More than just raw figures
Which is more than enough number crunching for now. I start in the Audi and at once step back in time. This is not simply because its interior architecture is decidedly old-school Audi but, more memorably and sadly, there is probably no species more critically endangered in our world than the highly tuned normally aspirated V8. Ferrari has given up on them and shortly so will Porsche. BMW abandoned them long ago, Mercedes only recently. But their days are numbered and you need only one look at that 26.4mpg fuel consumption figure to know why.
What the numbers don’t reveal is the hot bubblegum elasticity of its power delivery. By 6000rpm, it has been pulling so hard and for so long that you feel it must need another gear soon. But it doesn’t. It keeps serenading you with its sweet, fascinating and multi-layered voice past 7000 and 8000rpm, too. On the test track, you’ll find fifth gear works for any speed between 30mph and 140mph and although small-capacity turbos have many advantages, they don’t do that.
So the surprise is that the Golf motor competes at all. VW’s engineers deserve respect not for prising so much power from such a small capacity, for they could have done that 20 years ago, but for making the engine not merely flexible and responsive but also positively urbane in character.
You only know it’s turbocharged because there’s no other plausible explanation for almost 300bhp at just 5500rpm from just 2.0 litres. There is no lag and its sound is so clean and cultured that you’d think there was nothing interrupting the flow of its gases from combustion chamber to outside world. Despite the notable fall in revs from one gear to the next necessitated by the wide ratios of its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the wall of torque maintains thrust regardless. True, it lacks the Audi’s slightly deranged pace, soul-stirring soundtrack and yet more slick seven-speed transmission, but the Golf is closer in all these areas than the apparent disparity in specification suggests.