What is it?
The third generation Audi RS4, but this time available only in Avant estate form. Like the last it uses a 4.2-litre V8 motor, but with power raised to the same 444bhp seen in the RS5, up from the 414bhp of the last RS4.
Unlike its forebear, there is no manual transmission option, Audi maintaining its S-tronic 7-speed double clutch gearbox is better in every regard, not least its ability to help reduce fuel consumption by 27 per cent. Audi also claims the new RS is quicker than the last, citing a 0.2sec reduction in 0-62mph time to 4.7sec, though that’s likely to come as much from its seamless gearshifts and launch control strategy as its extra power: it may have an extra 30bhp, but so too must it carry another 85kg, meaning the new car’s power to weight ratio is actually only a fractional 5bhp per tonne better than the last.
Visually all the usual RS cues are there from the enlarged air inlets at the front past the bulging wheel arches and extended sills at the side to the ovoid exhausts at the rear.
What's it like?
If you were lucky enough to know the old RS4 at all, you’re going to wonder where all the vorsprung’s gone, at least at first. Drive it merely moderately fast and the RS4 is quite a remote car, especially if you make the mistake of paying extra for variable ratio dynamic steering, which appears to offer little benefit at speed and is horridly light and overly direct around town.
If you keep the engine operating in the mid-range where its one true rival, the Mercedes C63 AMG Estate is at its happiest, the V8 feels merely pleasantly fast. Moreover the ride is rather firm, even in the softest of its driver selectable settings. The motor is quiet, the gearshifts commendably slick in all three modes and the interior a paragon of ergonomic common sense. But where’s all the fun gone?
Actually the entertainment offered by the old RS4 is there, and with an added dimension, but you’ll need to look – and drive – harder to find it.
First you need to start hammering the V8. Although precisely the same size as the old unit, this is a new engine for the RS5 and RS4 and it needs to be revving at or past its 4000rpm torque peak before it comes alive. But thereafter it only gets better and if you can keep it bubbling between 5500-8500rpm, you’ll believe your keeping company with one of the true greats.
Likewise the chassis. The handling of most RS Audis, including the last RS4, has always deteriorated the harder you try: this one is the reverse. At normal or even mildly elevated effort levels, it doesn’t even hint at what’s to come. But if you turn off all the electronics and introduce with serious intent to a wet Austrian mountain road, instead of understeering everywhere, it turns in crisply, allows any trace of nose push to be neutralised with a lift of throttle and, if you’re so minded and have the space, is not at all averse to a little light drifting.
Should I buy one?
It a slightly strange car, this RS4. On the one hand I applaud Audi’s decision to change fundamentally the character of the car, on the other I have to point out it would be better still if its engine and chassis were more engaging at all effort levels and not just maximum attack.