When I started this job back in 2008, one of the first cars I ever tested was the Audi RS 4. And I loved it. I loved because it was insanely quick in a straight line yet soberingly easy to thread through corners. You see whereas the rear wheel-drive BMW M3 was somewhat intimidating to a performance car newbie like myself, the Quattro-equipped Audi did nothing but spur me on thanks to its steadfast and seemingly unbreakable grip.
It was a fast car for dummies. A high-powered land limpet that made its driver feel like he or she had the skill of a hundred Jenson Buttons. Flattery aside, it also looked the part. Massive wheels. Pumped-up arches. Exhaust tailpipes big enough to swallow a man’s fist. It oozed a macho sex appeal. Inside you could find Recaro racing seats, a manual gearbox and an unassuming ‘sport’ button on the flat-rimmed steering wheel that, when pressed, suddenly caused the gonads of that 4.2-litre V8 to drop. All of this forged the Audi into an instant icon, a mega-saloon that remains very much in my personal top 20. So it was with some trepidation that I approached its modern-day successor.
Luckily the all-new RS 4 Avant made a damn fine first impression with me. Well at least in the looks department anyway. Because unlike its predecessor that was available in three different body derivatives (including a rather flaky cabriolet), this one is offered solely as an estate. And I like this decision. It fact it rocks my world because there are few things quite as paradoxically awesome in this life than a belligerent, over-powered station wagon. And Audi is one of the few manufacturers who can actually pull them off. So like its great RS 2 ancestor, the latest RS 4 differentiates itself with a considerable amount of cosmetic war paint.
Dare to stare into its face and you will notice a giant honeycomb radiator grille as well as an aggressive new front apron that features a racecar-inspired splitter. Below the bonnet, menacing like the eyes of some wily fox, there’s a pair of standard Xenon Plus headlamps fitted with LED daytime running lights. This mean-streak is carried on down the profile of the Audi with bulging wheel arches, side skirts, aluminium-licked rearview mirrors and, in the case of my test car, enormous 20-inch V-spoke alloy wheels. At an extra R19 430 they certainly aren’t cheap but they do offer a considerable visual edge of the standard 19-inchers. Your choice.
Round back things are a tad more discrete. I mean apart from the obvious RS badge, the only standout bits and pieces are an aluminium-lipped diffuser and two bazooka-sized exhaust tailpipes. Still, it is more than enough to give this Audi some serious street presence. It’s one of those cars that seeks attention wherever your travels take you.
The Audi boys make killer interiors and the one doing duty inside the RS 4 is certainly no different thanks to their liberal use of Milano leather, soft-touch plastics and sporty carbon-fibre inlays. Being the big daddy of the A4 range, it also boasts a rather lavish array of standard features. What, the Four Rings being generous? Yep, the vehicular Scrooges of Ingolstadt have thrown in MMI Navigation Plus, Bluetooth connectivity, Audi Drive Select and Audi Parking System Plus – all for free. While it was still chilly down in hell, they continued jazzing up the spec-sheet by including one of those fancy automated tailgates as well as a pair of supportive, electric ‘S-sport’ bucket seats. So for the first time in history you don’t really find yourself wanting for anything, which is jolly nice.
As things stand the new RS 4 looks and feels every bit as good, if not better, as its legendary forebear. This means that the greatest single test is in the way this Avant engages with the blacktop. Evolution may have added a few pounds but it has also packed in some extra kilowatts. 22 if you really want to get technical. And when unleashed through that new Launch Control-equipped seven-speed S-Tronic gearbox, they definitely make this wagon feel marginally quicker in a straight line. It is just jaw-droppingly quick by anyone’s standard.
Yet for all this V8-fueled fury, there’s a new sense of refinement dialed into the package that seems to distance you somewhat from the overall driving experience. In the previous model you had to be at the top of your manual gear-shifting game. But here you just aim the steering wheel, floor the throttle and let that double-clutched wizardry do its thing. Going fast is seldom this easy.
A similar level of polish has been rubbed into the handling. Back in 2008 the RS 4 could, when provoked, be a surprisingly tail happy machine. It really didn’t take all that much to swing its hips when exiting a corner. Fast-forward to the present and you’ll find that this Avant feels a lot more planted, a lot more Quattro-esque. Even with the Sports Differential and the ESP set to mild, I struggled to get it to dance much.
Predictably this doesn’t make the latest Audi RS 4 quite as exciting to drive around the curvy bits. There is a tradeoff, however, and that’s insatiable grip. Tons of the stuff. All-wheel drive coupled with 265/30 R20 tyres allows you to steam-train through and out of corners at absolutely ridiculous velocities. You know when your brain starts screaming at you to tap-off? Well this is the point where the RS 4 Avant is only just starting to get warmed up.
Once you’ve learnt how to drive through this, you can then start adjusting the feel of the car to suit your tastes. We’ve come a long way since the days of the humble Sport button and Audi Drive Select now allows you to tweak the characteristics of the Avant’s engine, gearbox, suspension, steering and sport differential. It also comes with three factory-preset modes: Comfort for everyday cruising through town, Automatic for those dark days of indecision and Dynamic for bouts of balls-the-wall speeding. The latter makes the steering feel disgustingly artificial, so I used the customizable Individual mode to make my own bespoke set of parameters. It sounds like a hassle but it’s definitely worth doing if you want to squeeze the most out of the car. Particularly in terms of feedback.
So is the new Audi RS 4 a worthy successor to the original? Well after one week’s worth of thrashing it up hill and dale, I have to nod my head in agreement. Granted, this time around it isn’t quite as playful from a dynamic point of view. But it does feel quicker and a lot more refined thanks to the shoehorning of new technology. It also makes an even stronger visual statement, standing out from the performance crowd with its avant-garde estate styling. More importantly it’s probably the most enjoyable RS model I’ve piloted in a very long time. A little nimbler than the nose-heavy RS 5 and considerably more interesting than the TT-RS, this wild Avant is my fast Four-Ringed weapon of choice.
The Facts: Audi RS 4 Avant
Engine: 4163cc V8
Power: 331kW at 8250rpm
Torque: 430Nm from 4000 to 6000rpm
0-100km/h: 4.6-seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 250km/h (governed)
Fuel Consumption: 18.5l/100km (achieved combined)
CO2: 259g/km (claimed)
Price: From R875 500
A worthy successor to the original
Looks the business
Fast and easy to drive
Driven hard it’s a guzzler
Artificial steering in Dynamic Mode
No manual gearbox option