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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - RS4 Avant

Our Opinion

We like
Screaming V8, throttle blips on downshift, wagon practicality, sonorous exhaust note, cabin quality, superb transmission, cheaper than before
Room for improvement
Very firm ride, expensive options

Gallery

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Audi logo19 Jul 2013

Price and equipment

CARTING a flat-pack cabinet one day, bothering two-door supercars on sinuous mountain roads the next.

Ok, so that is a subtle exaggeration of your writer’s weekend at the wheel of Audi’s latest RS4, but it’s also a weekend within the bounds of the possible, such is the beast from Ingolstadt’s versatility.

Pricing kicks off at $149,400 plus on-road costs. That’s $18,700 less than the previous RS4 and $12,000 less than the comparatively impractical RS5 coupe with which it shares its mechanicals, including a fire-breathing 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8.

It’s main rival is the $156,900 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG wagon, another member of the dog-friendly German supercar set.

Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, electric folding aluminium mirrors, electric tailgate, Bluetooth with audi streaming, satellite-navigation with 20G of music storage, a seven-inch display and voice control, 10 speakers with a sub, three-zone climate controls, automatic lights and wipers, a flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddles, and heated Nappa leather seats.

In typical Audi style, the options list is as long as your arm, and if you roll out of the showroom not paying over the odds you’ve got some mean powers of self-control.

Optional 20-inch alloys wheels will cost you $3600, while brutal ceramic brakes are $13,500 (our car had these, and our necks are still bent out of shape from the force of their stopping power).

Adaptive suspension including hydraulically linked dampers that reduce body roll is available for an extra $4400, or packaged with the 20-inch wheels of varying design and a sports exhaust with black tailpipes for $7200.

Other boxes you can tick include an alarm ($1000), automatic high-beam ($300), sunroof ($2850), upgraded Bang and Olufson sound system ($1550), digital TV ($2200), luggage rails ($450) and hip-hugging, racing-style front seats ($4700).

Interior

The RS4 is really just a hotted-up A4, so the cabin design is familiar.

Typically well-made and ergonomic, but with a design that’s more function over form.

The pop-up screen is clear and legible, though smaller than some rivals. The paddles fall easily to hand and the chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel is delightful. There’s also a sense of theatre when you start the engine, with the speedo and tacho needles running their full gamut before returning to rest.

The soft-touch surfaces and lashings of aluminium trim around the vents, dials and fascia add to the clinical Germanic ambience, but you can have wooden inlays if you’d prefer.

The design is timeless and therefore stands up well to the newer Euro set it competes with, but as mentioned in the previous section, it lacks of few big-ticket standard items.

Adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and - sin of all sins - a regular USB port, should all be standard fit, to our minds.

Those optional racing seats are not for the faint-hearted, or the generous of proportion. Your correspondent barely squeezed between those mammoth bolsters, but once ensconced, boys and girls, you’re goin’ nowhere.

Practically minded folk may do well to steer clear, but those looking to use all that power and poise should tick the box and make themselves fit.

The carbon-style hard backings are a pest to the long legged in the second row, however. It’s much more pleasant to rest your knees on the regular number’s cushier plastic and leather.

The biggest bonus here is the cargo space. With the rear split-fold seats in place you have an acceptable, albeit far from massive, 490 litres of storage, but fold the seats flat and you suddenly have 1430L - enough for four golf bags and their buggies, or a productive weekend at IKEA.

We’ve never taken a flat-pack cabinet home faster than we did in the RS4… TStill, the electric tailgate is handy, but the optional load rails in our car really should be standard in a car of this price.

Engine and transmission

Under the bonnet of the beast is a hand-built, small-capacity 4.2-litre V8 producing 331kW at a barely believable 8250rpm and 430Nm of torque developed between 4000rpm and 6000rpm.

Its red cylinder-head covers and carbon inlay add some visual pizazz. The small block and use of aluminium in the pistons keep the 90-degree bent-eight to a relatively lean 216kg.

The previous model was exclusively sold with a six-speed manual transmission, but on this new one Audi fits a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic unit (one large dominant clutch, and one reserve clutch to hold the next gear ready) with paddle-shifters as standard.

As a result, 0-100km/h comes up in 4.7 seconds, two tenths quicker than the previous model and a tenth slower than the RS5 coupe, while combined fuel consumption of 10.7 litres per 100 kilometres is a 21 per cent improvement.

That being said, we found it hard to get below 12.0L/100km, although our average was thrown out of sync by some more aggressive driving.

Being a normally aspirated unit, the power delivery is linear, but it’s the revvy nature that grabs you. There are not many V8s that relish being revved above 4000rpm, let along 8000rpm. Drop back a gear, plant the foot and await the aural rush.

It’s a meaty, bass throb at low revs that quickly takes on a manic, almost metallic chatter of a race car as it spins towards its dizzy 8250rpm redline.

Ours had the optional $2300 sports exhaust system - at idle, it’s enough to make office windows rattle and scare small pooches off their leashes. At full blat, it’s enough to unleash an avalanche.

Audi has also configured the S tronic transmission to coincide its downshifts with the most delightful engine ‘blip’. Each and every downchange, provided you are in the Dynamic Drive Select’s sports mode (a button can set the car to normal, comfortable or sporty setting), is accompanied by a belching roar.

The Drive Select basically tweaks the exhaust flap and throttle valves, while adding or taking away weight from the electromechanical steering and playing with the firmness of the ride.

Ride and handling

Audis have a fundamentally different character to most BMWs and Mercedes-Benz models, thanks to their signature (60 front: 40 rear) Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Grip, grip and more grip. No, an Audi is rarely tail-happy like an M3 or C63 - it prefers the ore dignified and efficient method of hanging onto the road as though its mortal life depended on it.

The RS4 is an exaggerated exemplar of the trait, with a 20mm lower ride height, stiffer shocks, adjustable suspension and Dynamic Ride Control - as system which links diagonally opposed shocks with hydraulic lines and regulate oil flow to the outside front wheels.

The electromechanical steering can be given added resistance at the push of a button, and offers a nice linear arc with plenty of heft, plus the simulacrum of feel and feedback.

The RS4 is a car that simply eats fast, flowing sequences for breakfast and spits them out before lunch. Firm steering, sharp turn-in, instant power out, minimal bodyroll.

The downside of all this added sharpness is the ride quality which, amplified by the optional racing seats, can grow a little firm for comfort. Audi itself uses the term “decidedly taut”, showing the company remains a master of understatement.

Luckily, Audi’s Drive Select system – with each mode selectable via a handy dashboard button as well as the MMI rotary controller – tames the RS4 in comfort mode, softening the dampers, easing the engine’s throttle response, hushing the exhaust and removing steering resistance.

Safety and servicing

The RS4 scores eight airbags and all the requisite active safety acronyms. The entire A4 range scores the top five-star NCAP crash rating.

Audis come with a three-year/100,000km warranty, and 24-hr/365-day roadside assist is available. Service costs can vary between dealers.

Verdict

You may think, by looking at it, that Audi’s RS4 wagon must by its very design be a compromise. You’d be wrong.

Under the taut body is the beating heart of an animal - that free-revving V8 is a gem, and the transmission ain’t a bad match. Aside from the occasionally spine-jarring ride, it’s near-faultless. Just don’t tick too many options boxes.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz C65 AMG Estate ($156,900 plus on-road costs).

The Germans sure can make a hot wagon. AMG’s hand-built 336kW/600Nm 6.2-litre V8 is a masterpiece. Hard to split this and the Audi.

HSV ClubSport R8 Tourer ($74,290 plus on-roads).

Local hero is half the price and far larger to boot. This 325kW/550Nm Australian muscle machine is at its peak right now, which is sad since this VF generation will likely be the last of the breed of RWD local muscle cars.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Audi RS4
ENGINE: 4163cc petrol n/a V8
LAYOUT: AWD
POWER: 331kW@8250rpm
TORQUE: 430Nm@4000-6000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed twin-clutch auto
0-100km: 4.7s
TOP SPEED: 250km/h (governed
FUEL: 10.7L/100kmCO2: 249g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4719/2040/1416/2813mm
WEIGHT: 1870kg
SUSPENSION f/r: Front five-link/rear independent
STEERING: Electromechanical power steering
PRICE: From $149,400 plus on-roads

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