Car reviews - Audi - A4 - RS4 Avant
Subtle yet aggressive styling, baby-bum smooth automatic transmission, quattro all-wheel-drive sure-footedness, torque-rich engine
Room for improvement
Some optional equipment should be included as standard at this price point, exhaust note could be more aurally pleasing
Audi proves it can have its cake and eat it with amazingly well-rounded RS4 Avant
2 Nov 2018
GERMAN mid-size sports sedans have long been the benchmark for performance, practicality and polish with the likes of the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C63 and Audi RS4 duking it out to see who will be top dog.
V8s, twin-turbocharged in-line sixes, lashings of carbon-fibre, dual-clutch automatics, sub-4.5 second zero to 100km/h acceleration times and room for five occupants are all terms that are thrown in the mix when talking about the aforementioned class of car.
However, Audi’s heritage with performance wagons is what it is hoping will set it apart from its contemporary rivals as it launches its new-generation RS4 Avant.
While Mercedes also offers its AMG C63 S with a big booty, Audi has been building fast wagons since the early 90s with its first RS model, the RS2.
Ditching the previous version’s V8 in favour of a Porsche-sourced 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, does the latest Audi RS4 Avant have the guts to go toe-to-toe with the razor-sharp BMW M3 and brutish Mercedes-AMG C63 S?
Price and equipment
Kicking off from $152,529 before on-roads – $1519 pricier than before – there is no doubt the Audi RS4 Avant represents a sizeable chunk of change.
However, Audi touts that the new-generation version gains over $20,000 worth of added equipment to justify the slight price rise.
As standard, the new RS4 Avant is fitted with 20-inch alloy wheels (up from 19 inches), sports exhaust, adaptive dampers and radar-guided cruise control, in addition to LED headlights, Nappa leather sports seats, Audi’s acclaimed Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system and powered tailgate.
Of course, Audi’s top A4 also scores a 2.9-litre twin-turbo engine, sports differential, massive brakes and quattro all-wheel-drive system, but more on those down below.
In comparison to its Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate though, Audi’s RS4 Avant is almost $10,000 cheaper than its $162,400 arch rival, while also $6000 more expensive than the sedan-only $146,529 BMW M3 Competition.
However our test car rang the till at $165,546 thanks to the inclusion of pearl-effect Misano red paintwork ($1846), unique 20-inch alloys ($1600), carbon-fibre inlays ($1000), a Technik package ($3900), gloss-black styling package ($1000) and RS Design package ($3300).
Though not as egregious as some other models with expensive optional equipment, the $3900 asking price of the Technik package that adds a colour head-up display, wireless phone charger and Matrix headlights should really be included as standard in a $150,000-plus luxury car.
Moreover, I think we can all agree asking $3300 for the RS Design package that swathes the steering wheel and shifter in Alcantara, and adds a splash of red to the interior stitching, seat belts and floor mats, is a little steep.
As you’d expect from a premium German brand, the RS4 Avant cabin is the perfect blend of comfort and refinement.
Measuring 4781mm long, 1866mm wide and 1404mm high with a 2826mm wheelbase, the latest RS4 Avant has grown in every dimension, except height, over its predecessor.
Thanks to A4 underpinnings, cabin space is aplenty, affording room for four adults or a small family comfortably.
The wagon body style also enables the RS4 Avant to swallow 505 litres with the second row in place, or up to 1510L with the seats folded flat – the former outclassing the Benz rival by 15L, while the latter outclasses the maximum space in some mid-size SUVs.
Audi’s signature Virtual Cockpit all-digital instrumentation is fitted as standard to the RS4 Avant and, even after a few years on the market now, we think is still the best driver’s display available bar none.
It’s intuitive, easy to understand and customisable – everything you want in vehicle instrumentation.
With a central screen also fitted, you just have so much information at your fingertips that you barely have to dive into menus to bring up your phone contacts or input new sat-nav destinations.
The rest of the interior is swathed in premium, soft-touch materials and we especially dig the Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, though we have to question how long the material will remain pristine with sweaty and dirty hands.
The front sports seats are great, offering heaps of support for the lower back, shoulder and thighs thanks to a plethora of electronic adjustment.
For those long commuters, the pews even sport and massaging function to knead the tired and fatigued muscles back to life.
Engine and transmission
Ditching the former petrol V8 for a twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 sourced from Porsche, the new Audi RS4 develops 331kW of power from 5700-6700rpm and maximum torque of 600Nm from as low as 1900rpm.
Although the V6 engine matches the old V8 for power outputs, torque is up by a noticeable 170Nm.
Mated to a slick-shifting eight-speed torque-converter automatic, the RS4 Avant sends power to the road via Audi’s rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system for a zero to 100km/h acceleration time of just 4.1 seconds – matching the 375kW/700Nm rear-drive Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate.
Acceleration is effortless and brutal. Coming away at the lights with a flat right foot means you barely have time to register what is happening, let alone react.
With such a meaty torque band, the RS4 Avant is just as capable around town in short bursts to the shops as it is in a twisty mountain road.
The automatic transmission is also fantastic, the best and smoothest shifting torque converter we’ve experienced.
Audi proves that you don’t need a second clutch for smooth cog swaps at speed, while the benefits of a traditional torque converter are really felt at creeping speeds and pulling away from the lights whereas a dual-clutch automatic tends to limp and jerk.
For those that want a bit more control though, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are included.
We absolutely dig the powertrain combination, and those that are worried Audi would throw the baby out with the V8 needn’t be concerned.
While true, the V6 can’t match the V8 for sheer visceral and guttural acoustics, its peppy, eager and willing nature mean all the performance is absolutely still kept intact.
Our time with the car was a mix of both inner city, country and spirited driving, and in each setting the engine and transmission combination shone through as an absolute delight.
Official fuel consumption figures peg the RS4 Avant at 8.9 litres per 100km, a huge improvement over the outgoing model’s 10.7L/100km claim, and we even managed to even better than figure at 8.8L/100km after a week with the car.
Ride and handling
With a rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system in tow, the RS4 Avant sends 60 per cent of torque to the rear axle, which can increased up to 85 per cent in hard acceleration, or even 70 per cent up front when required.
The result a nimble and sharp characteristic that is aided by all-paw grip and surefootedness, no doubt enhanced by the Audi Sport differential.
While true, the elongated rear-end will never dance and swing like the AMG Estate, the fact of the matter is, why would you want it to?
Audi’s RS4 Avant splits the middle between the often too-sharp-for-the-road BMW M3 and muscle-car-like Mercedes-AMG C63 S to offer a refined, if not class-leading on-road driving characteristic.
However, there could be more feedback through the steering wheel, which features electric assist and speed sensitivity.
With various driving modes on offer, including Normal, Comfort, Sport and Individual, it’s not hard to find a set-up to suit your own personal preference though.
The adaptive dampers in particular probably don’t go far enough in softening/firming the ride, meaning jaunts around town and on uneven road surfaces can be discomforting even in Comfort mode.
The large 20-inch wheels and 275/30 Pirelli P Zero tyres all round probably don’t help the ride quality either, but the RS4 Avant is a hard-charging sportscar after all, so expect some compromise in comfort for performance.
Fitted with massive six-piston brakes up front and four-piston rears, the RS4 Avant’s stopping power is nearly as impressive as its acceleration – grab the stop pedal and the feel is immediate and precise.
Safety and servicing
Audi’s RS4 Avant has yet to be crash-tested by either ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the former has awarded the base A4 with four-cylinder engines a maximum five-star rating when examined in 2015.
Safety equipment includes lane-keep assist, driver attention detection, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view monitor, adaptive cruise control, reversing camera and lane-keep assist.
The RS4 Avant, like all new Audi models, come with a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty with three years roadside assist.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000kms, whichever comes first.
Those looking for a practical family hauler have a plethora of options to choose from that are significantly cheaper such as a Mazda CX-5, while those after a sportscar can get similar performance for less with a Porsche Cayman, however, those after both will find the Audi RS4 Avant a near-perfect blend of the two.
Though there are a few shortcomings in terms of equipment levels and a less-than-compelling exhaust noise, these minor things are really just nit-picking.
Audi’s RS4 is just about as close to motoring perfection as you can get without breaking the bank (too much).
Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate from $162,400 before on-roads
Similar straight-line performance from AMG’s hallmark 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8, but two extra cylinders mean a heavier front end and less fuel economy. The Merc does sound the absolute business though.
BMW M3 Competition from $146,529 before on-roads
Sedan-only body style means less practicality, but BMW has honed its latest M3 into a razor-sharp corner carver. However, the compromise is the M3 rides a little hard on uneven road surfaces and it’s rear-drive format can be twitchy in the wet.
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