We get our hands on the barnstorming Audi RS4 Avant in the UK to see if this fast family estate can take the fight to the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate

What is it?

The fourth-generation Audi RS4 Avant comes with a base price the far side of £60,000 and substantial mechanical changes to the underwhelming car it supersedes. We’ve driven it before – on the occasion of its international launch, in Malaga – but now it’s in the UK, with first deliveries scheduled for late March.

Much of the new stuff is from a template set down by the latest Audi RS5. As such, gone is the characterful 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 of the old model, replaced by a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 TFSI. It marks a return to the twin-turbo V6, in fact, though this 2018-spec engine is slightly larger than that of the original B5 RS4 of 2000. The upshot is that combined fuel economy is up by roughly a fifth and carbon dioxide emissions are halved.

That, of course, is only part of the story. Downsizing has taken a good measure of weight from the nose too. This V6 is 31kg lighter than the V8 and employs the ‘hot-vee’ architecture pioneered by Mercedes-AMG. The theory is that by placing the turbos within the valley of the cylinders, you truncate the engine’s respiratory tract and consequently trim turbo-lag.

It is a mighty device too; small but explosively potent. The headline figure of 444bhp isn’t perhaps the most breathtaking but 443lb ft between 1900rpm and 5000rpm hints at brutal and sustained acceleration. The sprint to 62mph takes a claimed 4.1sec, with top speed capped at 155mph unless you pay Audi £1450 to have it extended to 174mph.

There are further weight savings beyond the engine. Audi has shaved 15kg from the body, 12kg from the axles, 3.5kg from the electromechanical steering, 12.5kg from the quattro driveline and finally a solitary kilogram from the sport differential in the rear axle. You can take the diet further with optional carbon-ceramic brakes (8kg) and a set of beautiful 20in aluminium milled alloys (another 8kg), which together reduce that all-important unsprung mass. All in, the B9 RS4 is up to 80kg less than the car it replaces, which with any luck will be the start of a trend of lighter RS-badged creations.

The options list, meanwhile, is long in a way that only an Audi options list can be, but your chief concerns are whether to go for dynamic steering (£950) and the sports suspension (£2000). You might also consider the sports exhaust (£1200), though we can tell you that while Audi is correct in its claims that the exhaust note of this new RS4 is reminiscent of the old V6 in the B5, that car’s song always was a bit blunt.

And then there are the looks, the overall impact of which is hugely dependent on spec. This generation of RS4 is more aggressive than the car it replaces, however, with acute angles, deep creases and a penchant for ‘sporty’ detailing that extends even to air vents that shadow not only the headlights but the rear lights too. All but indistinguishable from the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate in terms of its footprint, in the metal the RS4 has a hard, technocratic edge to its compatriot’s more demure curves. 

Back to that dependence on spec. In a conservative colour such as Navarra Blue (£645), the RS4 creates only a few more ripples among traffic than a well-equipped 3.0 TDI, and that’ll suit many of you just fine. Opt for something more unusual, such as splendid Sonoma Green (also £645), with privacy glass and the Black Styling pack (£550), and your mid-sized estate will take on a distinct air of menace.

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However, crack on with pearl-effect Vegas Yellow (£2400), fit the 20in anthracite twin-spokers (£2400) and top it off with the Carbon Black pack (£5000), and you’ve got the practical equivalent of a Pagani Zonda. And something that’s arguably far more effective in the real world…

Audi rs4 avant rear 1

What's it like?

Vindictively quick on patchy UK tarmac. In fact, stretching this car to anything like its potential is an exploit of mind over matter. You must override the monkey-brain that screams lift and allow the car simply to get on with it.

The truth is that 444bhp is rather less than Audi Sport – née Quattro GmbH – is accustomed to dealing with. An RS7 Performance makes near enough 600bhp and its lengthy chassis needs to corral an additional 200kg on top of the RS4’s 1715kg. The new car is within Audi’s comfort zone and it shows because, on any kind of road you care to fire it down, the stability the chassis demonstrates is staggering.

As well you might expect in a vehicle touting the latest quattro driveline and 265-section tyres all-round (Continental SportContact 6s, in the case of our test car). Geared for RennSport duties, in this case the set-up uses an eight-speed torque-converter – effortlessly smooth and well suited to this application – that sends 40% of torque to the front axle in normal driving. With the loss of traction, up to 85% goes to the front, or 70% to the rear, and its activities are just about detectable.

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The passive set-up of our test car feels like it's tuned for sweeping A-roads. Wheel articulation is succinctly controlled and body roll limited to what you’d expect to find in a pretty focused hot hatch. Direction changes are absolute, though the process is never quite as invigorating as it is in the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, with its quicker ratio and thin-rimmed wheel. Far more of a cruiser, the RS4 Avant is nevertheless the quicker machine on the sort of roads we’re familiar with.

That stability means the steering – light, precise, but dead in your hands – along with the throttle and brakes can be used with impunity in almost any combination. Flat-out acceleration in second and third through an undulating ess-bend? Dispatched with contempt. Heavy braking on the way into a low-speed corner on a shabby surface? The RS4 is planted. What you have to ask yourself is whether this is what you really want in a performance car. And for a family estate, it might well be.

The three-stage stability control system is particularly nicely calibrated, secretively trimming drive here and there and, as alluded to, working with the torque vectoring to help the RS4 corner – sorry – as if it were on rails. But what if you wind it off? Set the electronic rear sport differential to Dynamic and the RS4 can indeed entertain, its tail end tentatively creeping out during medium-speed bends. It’s not a natural like the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate, though, and defaults to understeer more often than not. As for the power oversteer in which the Mercedes seems to delight, good luck with that – you’ll need a hefty weight transition to begin the process.

Weight is also a pivotal factor in ensuring the primary ride is fluid, and settled, which is exactly what you want in a practical car you might very well use for a day-long excursion. Issues can arise at lower speeds, where the stiffness required for that economy of movement when you’re pushing on translates into a pronounced fidget. For a car of the RS4’s ability, it's perfectly acceptable – but if you’re expecting Audi to have worked miracles, you may be disappointed.

We did have a brief go in a car fitted with RS Sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control, however. It costs £2000 – not a lot, for a major option in the context of a £60,000 car – and hydraulically links three-stage adaptive dampers diagonally across the car. The idea is that they conjointly diminish pitch and roll during braking, acceleration and cornering. The most tangible benefit is that you can set the damper rate to Comfort, which goes a long way to mitigating that low-speed jostle and gives you a convenient amount of body roll through corners.

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Audi rs4 avant dashboard 1

Should I buy one?

Does this 1.7-tonne estate gel as a driver's car? For point-to-point security, it does. Something so quick, so unshakeably incisive, and eternally predictable in its responses is inevitably going to satisfy to a degree. In the context of an estate, certainly, this level of agility is almost unnerving.

However, that it can be so dramatically dressed up or down depending on your preference for specification hints at a fun-loving character that’s not entirely embraced by the mechanicals. You’re unlikely to exceed the RS4’s limits on the road because they are extraordinarily high, and the electronics don’t endorse that kind of behaviour when you do.

Its limits are undoubtedly higher than those of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 Estate. And while the AMG launches a convincing riposte in the form of its soulful twin-turbo V8 and a superior handling balance, its interior is a rung below that of the RS4 both in terms of quality and ergonomics. 

We suspect buyers will naturally lean towards one or the other, though it’d be negligence of the first order to sign on the dotted line without driving both.

Audi RS4 Avant

Where Bedfordshire On sale Now Price £62,175 Engine 2894cc, V6, twin-turbocharged, petrol Power 444bhp at 5700-6700rpm Torque 443lb ft at 1900-5000rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1715kg Top speed 155mph (optionally 174mph) 0-62mph 4.1sec Fuel economy 32.1mpg CO2 199g/km Rivals Mercedes-AMG C 63 Estate, Alpina B3 BiTurbo Touring

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Audi rs4 avant 4 star car

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
UserNameAlreadyTaken 22 June 2018

New Audi colour: Primer

Did the factory bother to paint the press car?

BeamMeUpScotty 23 January 2018

Yes, a RS3 offers more sheer performance per pound sterling...

...but this would be also relevant only on race-circuits.

If some vanity-driven buyers still want this kind of power-monsters in the actual restrictive traffic conditions, so be it.

By the way, the most reliable car I've ever owned (from new) was a A4 Avant 1.8 T Quattro (165 hp), for 8 years and almost 200.000 miles -- 314.000 km more precisely -- without any major problem except the final major oil consumption. This happy story dates from the late nineties though, and I doubt it would be repeatable now, with all these sensible electronic gimmicks onboard.

oaffie 22 January 2018

On a day to day basis, with

On a day to day basis, with traffic, speed cameras etc it is really hard to see where this would add any value over and above what a Golf R estate would give you.

Marc 22 January 2018

oaffie wrote:

oaffie wrote:

On a day to day basis, with traffic, speed cameras etc it is really hard to see where this would add any value over and above what a Golf R estate would give you.

And a Jimny will go where ever a Range Rover will but it's unlikely one would be chosen over the other.