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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - RS4 Avant

Our Opinion

We like
Brutal power delivery and V8 soundtrack, fun and foolproof handling, grip and traction, surprising ride comfort, space and practicality, transforms from track beast to docile runabout at the press of a button
Room for improvement
Lack of steering feel

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Audi logo13 Feb 2013

THE Audi RS4 Avant costs more than double that of the most expensive standard A4 wagon, but $6500 less than its direct competitor, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Estate that, incidentally, has an even larger price gulf above the non-AMG version.

But these cars arguably provide good value for money by fulfilling two roles – sportscar and family transport – without sacrificing much in the way of style.

Considering the RS4 Avant carries over the RS5 coupe’s mechanicals while adding an extra pair of doors and a big boot for $12,000 less, it could be said that we are looking at a bit of a bargain.

For years many Audis have been criticised for ride discomfort and understeery handling, but we experienced neither during laps of the Sydney Motorsport Park circuit (formerly known as Eastern Creek) and a drive along potholed, speed-bump-infested local roads.

The RS4 effortlessly acquitted itself on track with brilliant balance, taut body control, plenty of turn-in grip, masses of traction for powering through corners, and even a propensity to wag its tail when provoked.

Of course, that glorious hand-built 4.2-litre V8 provided plenty of punch everywhere, with brutal but linear power delivery right up to its dizzy 8250rpm redline.

A meaty, bass throb from the exhausts at low revs that quickly takes on a manic, almost metallic chatter of a race car – or even the V-twin of a Ducati sports bike – as it spins up is quite unlike the throaty muscle-car soundtrack of a C63.

Behind the V8 is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission delivering lightning-fast, full-throttle upshifts and automatic throttle blips on downshifts, accompanied by a satisfying whump from the exhaust.

The RS4’s chassis communicates well, providing plenty of notice to the driver during the neutral and predictable breakaway of grip or traction, allowing a large margin within which to adjust the car’s line with the throttle.

Once settled into a bend, the RS4 feels rock-solid and the driver is free to plant the loud pedal due to the seemingly endless traction, while for oversteer thrills there is plenty of scope to unsettle the rear-end by sharply backing off the throttle and then reapplying power for a bit of tail-out action.

This is due to the RS4’s trick crown-gear centre differential that can send up to 85 per cent of power to the rear axle, where a sports diff distributes drive to the wheel with most grip.

There is a neutrality and inherent balance to the car, helped by the fact Audi has started to move away from its traditional nose-heavy weight distribution, but the RS4 is incapable of sustaining a drift in the same way as a true rear-drive car like the C63.

We rarely experienced understeer, and when we did it was never chronic and was easily tamed through the throttle pedal.

In most cases, the RS4’s front end just digs in and follows the desired line, and its fool-proof style both flatters the ham-fisted and rewards a smooth style while allowing plenty of playtime in between.

The ceramic brakes – a $13,500 option – on the track cars were more than up to repeated punishment and hauled the 1870kg wagon up with impressive ease, with a fantastic progressive pedal feel once the disconcertingly long initial travel (not present on the standard brakes) was overcome.

It is a just a shame there is not more feel from the steering, which was otherwise direct and accurate, as this is the only fly in the ointment to the huge fun and driver satisfaction the RS4 provides.

Being all-wheel-drive, it is also the kind of car that would inspire a trip to the track or nearest mountain pass regardless of inclement weather.

A sparkling track performance left us with fears for the RS4’s on-road usability, but these were quickly extinguished when we drove two examples on the road loop, one fitted with 20-inch wheels and adaptive dampers, the other on 19s with standard suspension.

We recommend the adaptive suspension, which also features hydraulically linked dampers that reduce body roll, and at this price level it is a pretty affordable $4400 option that can also be packaged with 20-inch wheels and a snarling sports exhaust for $7200 all-up.

Even in dynamic mode and on 20-inch rims, the car with adaptive dampers was able to negotiate speed bumps and potholes without causing discomfort, with a noticeable further improvement in comfort mode.

The standard suspension combined with 19-inch wheels proved almost as good, with a just-perceptible extra level of brittleness, but we had no chance to find out how much difference the roll-reducing system makes as both track cars were fitted with the adaptive system.

Audi’s Drive Select system – with each mode selectable via a handy dashboard button as well as the MMI rotary controller – really tames the RS4 in comfort mode, transforming this bona fide track weapon into family friendly transport.

In addition to altering the suspension, comfort mode backs off the engine’s throttle response, hushes the exhaust and makes the steering lighter, so unless the accelerator is mashed into the carpet, the RS4 is a cinch to trickle around town or cruise on a country road.

Unless ticking the $4700 option box for RS bucket seats with adjustable bolsters – which offer an iron-fisted grip on the body at the expense of some comfort, as well as side airbags and extra rear legroom – the RS4’s interior is just as comfortable as a standard A4.

Being a wagon, the RS4 is a bit of a stealth fighter, but to those in the know the blistered wheelarches, massive brakes, gaping intakes on the front bumper, rear diffuser and fat oval tail-pipes give the game away.

The effect is akin to a heavyweight boxer wearing a bespoke suit – there is an air of restrained aggression behind the respectable exterior – and this cements the RS4 in our opinion as the thinking man’s muscle-car.

We found little to dislike about it – apart from the fact we had to walk away without the keys.

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