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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

Our Verdict

Audi RS4 Avant

The Audi RS4 Avant covers ground like few, if any, other estate cars, but it doesn’t involve you all that much in the process

  • First Drive

    Audi RS4 Avant 2018 UK review

    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
22 January 2018

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 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.

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…

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.

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.

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 C63 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 C63 Estate, Alpina B3 BiTurbo Touring

Join the debate

Comments
16

22 January 2018

Nice but wish the nav screen could be folded away like on many other Audis.

22 January 2018

Agree about Sat Nav, Premium Pop-up one on £22,000 A3 (keep watching Silent Witness, I think they've disabled it on start-up)  but not even qn option on £62,000 A4.

Accountant's will have their way with the next gen A3 too!

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

289

22 January 2018

....no V8, playing into the hands of Mercedes-Benz here I fear. V6 just doesnt cut the mustard (aurally) I am afraid.

Still, should bolster the values of the old model I suppose....gradual toning down of on of the beauties of AMG's and RS's, first Turbo's added necessitating trickery to still sound good, and now V6's to meet EU  emission rules.

Soon farting will be a crime!

22 January 2018

Interior nice, but exterior just another Audi. 

Quicker than and Alfa Quadrifoglio? I don’t think so!

22 January 2018

The RS4 is a bit of curious RS model for Audi because while the RS3 and RS6 produce monstrous amounts of power for their class, and have historically tried to outmuscle their rivals, the RS4 hasn't of late. This latest model only produces around 70bhp more than the first RS4 from around 20 years ago while I think its bhp is the same as the last the (B8) RS4. What I find more significant is the gap between it and the RS3, or lack of it. The RS3 isn't much less powerful, is lighter and I suspect therefore has very similar performance figures. Unless you need a car from the class above, or indeed an estate for the extra space, I find it hard to see how the RS4 can justify its extra £20k.

TS7

22 January 2018
Lanehogger wrote:

The RS4 is a bit of curious RS model for Audi because while the RS3 and RS6 produce monstrous amounts of power for their class, and have historically tried to outmuscle their rivals, the RS4 hasn't of late. This latest model only produces around 70bhp more than the first RS4 from around 20 years ago while I think its bhp is the same as the last the (B8) RS4. What I find more significant is the gap between it and the RS3, or lack of it. The RS3 isn't much less powerful, is lighter and I suspect therefore has very similar performance figures. Unless you need a car from the class above, or indeed an estate for the extra space, I find it hard to see how the RS4 can justify its extra £20k.

There's certainly a bit of headroom for a potential plus/performance RS4 later in this model's life. My guess would be in early 2020...

TS7

22 January 2018

...the RS6 (and S6) have a 'Hot-Vee' turbo layout too, which pre-dates Mercedes.

22 January 2018

Is a more feelsome steering there....?!

Peter Cavellini.

22 January 2018

A turbo V6 would be just about acceptable in an S, but is a cheap and nasty offering in an RS.  Just not special enough.

22 January 2018

couldn't agree more

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