Fast Audis evoke strong feelings in many enthusiasts, and this car is one of the main reasons they do so.
The original RS4 set the template for the RS brand, combining enormous power and immense four-wheeldrive traction, the latter making the performance accessible to any driver, whatever the weather.
The problem is that making a powerful car accessible also means making it foolproof. As a result, fast Audis have traditionally tended to lack the driver involvement of their rivals from Mercedes and BMW, and that lack of engagement is the key fault their detractors hold up against them. But the RS4 is an old car now, with hydraulic steering and all the feel that should go therewith, so is it really that unenthralling?
It’s an easy car to want, and few fast cars strike the balance between subtlety and aggression quite so well. Where modern cars pout with snarling mouths and muscular creases, the RS4 has the veiled menace of a nightclub bouncer who’s found out someone has been harassing the bar staff.
It’s lovely inside, too. Modern weight-saving and cost-cutting measures mean today’s interiors no longer have the heft they did in the RS4’s day. Yes, it looks a little dated now, but not as much as you’d think. The particular car we’re driving has the optional bucket seats, but they feel like overkill because the RS4 is too weighty and luxurious to be a track car. It’s an estate, after all – a fact which, incidentally, brings its own advantages. Few neo-classics with this sort of performance can be enjoyed by the whole family.
And it is quick. There is turbo lag, but it’s minimal and doesn’t matter in any case because the 2.7-litre V6 is gutsy in its own right. From a standstill, all four wheels hook up and before you know it the two turbos come on song, which has the effect of turning the scenery into smears in your peripheral vision and making whatever was half a mile in front of you approach extremely quickly.
It’s classic fast Audi at its best: mind-bending performance, delivered with refinement and understatement. And wet or dry, the RS4 hooks up and does its thing in almost exactly the same way.
But what of involvement? It’s true that the RS4’s steering doesn’t give the same level of feedback as many older performance cars, but there’s enough here to feel what’s going on. To think of this car as the ultimate driving machine would be a mistake, but as a tool for covering ground at the fastest possible pace, it excels.
Push hard – and you have to push harder than you’ll probably want to, because it’s pretty unstickable – and the RS4 will understeer gently instead of indulging in lurid drifts. All very safe. But don’t think there isn’t exhilaration here, because before you get to that point, the RS4 will corner speeds that your brain tells you should be untenable. The joy is in hoofing the throttle mid-corner in a thoroughly uncouth manner and marvelling at the way the car magics grip and traction into existence and catapults you out of the bend while you cling on and enjoy the ride.