It has not been unknown in the past for Audi’s RS models to be criticised for missing a certain fun factor when compared with their competitors from Mercedes-AMG and BMW’s M Division.
It’s an accusation some will no doubt direct at this latest iteration of the RS4 Avant, because it is not a car that will slide its tail wide in the same way as an AMG C63 or M3. And that’s despite a four-wheel-drive system that can direct up to 70 per cent of the car’s power to the rear wheels, or the inclusion of Audi’s sport electronic differential on the back axle.
Rather, in the RS4 you use the nicely weighted steering to plot your course, press the throttle as hard as you dare and then hold on as the car decides how best to channel 443lb ft of torque to the road in the most efficient manner.
If that sounds a little one-dimensional, try being in an RS4 on a damp day as it hops over an expansion joint under full load in second gear. It should be the kind of scenario that is quickly followed by the need for clean underwear, but not so in this amazing car, which simply grips and goes.
It should be said that it’s a similar dynamic repertoire to the company’s RS5, which has been criticised by some for its ability to make a 444bhp coupé feel rather tame. Yet there is something in the transformation to an estate that makes more sense of this approach.
As you’d expect, this new RS4 has the full set of Audi’s go-faster styling cues, including swollen wheel arches (by 24mm), gaping air intakes and fat exhausts. As with the latest RS5, it also substitutes the old naturally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 with a twin-turbocharged V6.
At 2.9 litres in capacity this downsized unit is still not what could be described as small, but the benefits in terms of fuel economy and CO2 emissions are too much for a modern car-maker to resist. Specifically, from the V8 RS4 to this model fuel economy has climbed from a claimed 26.4mpg to 32.1mpg, and CO2 emissions fallen from 317g/km to 299g/km.
This is achieved not only through the new engine, but also by stripping weight, whether it’s a big chunk such as the 31kg that comes out from under the bonnet, or smaller savings across components such as the transmission, steering and bodywork. Added together it makes the latest RS4 a useful 80kg lighter than its predecessor.
Power remains unchanged at 444bhp (would you really want more?), while torque doesn’t so much climb as soar to its new 443lb ft peak from the 317lb ft of before. What’s more, you get everything from 1,900rpm all the way through to 5,000rpm, which in practice borders on nauseating.
That’s particularly the case if you launch the car from a standing start, when it takes all of 4.1 seconds to accelerate to 62mph, although your stomach might tell you that it’s faster still.
What you don’t get are the lovely V8 noises of the old car, and while Audi has done its best to beef up the voice of the V6 with a switchable sound actuator it’s still only about 80 per cent convincing, not least because it has a tendency to exacerbate the engine’s drone on a trailing throttle below 3,000rpm. The only ways to interrupt this are to brush the throttle or use the Drive Select modes to switch off the system entirely.
It’s also through Drive Select that you can change how the standard eight-speed, torque converter automatic gearbox responds, from smooth and discreet in Comfort mode to rapid-fire when set to Dynamic. Any concerns that it wouldn’t be as sharp as the old RS4’s dual-clutch gearbox are unfounded.
Rather than the optional £2,000 adaptive suspension, our test car rode on the standard RS Sport set-up. Needless to say this is lower (by 30mm) and firmer than you’ll find in a regular A4 Avant.
However, thus equipped the RS4 is not quite the bone-shaking contraption you might expect, even when fitted with optional 20-inch alloy wheels (the RS4 rides on 19s as standard). Yes, the low speed ride is pretty uncompromising, but pick up the pace and things even out rather well.
Body lean is virtually non-existent, even when cornering like only an RS4 knows how. The way the car turns in is also deeply impressive, helped by the smaller, lighter engine, as well as the inclusion of torque vectoring, which will gently brake an inside wheel to increase agility.
It is really amazing how little hesitation the RS4 displays when you flick it from one direction to the other, even if you’re hard on the throttle at the same time.
Plus, of course, it’s an Audi estate, which means you get a usefully sized (505-litre) boot complete with flat floor and a parcel shelf that lifts automatically with the powered boot lid.
The rear seats are also easily roomy enough for a couple of tall adults, and in the front the sports seats and low-set driving position blend beautifully with technology such as Audi’s virtual cockpit digital dial display to create a sense that you’re driving something special – which of course you are.
No doubt about it, this RS4 is a very grown-up and serious car, with appreciably stronger performance than its predecessor and an uncanny ability to cover ground very quickly indeed.
The lack of drama as it does so won’t be what everybody wants from a performance machine such as this, but for every missed drifting opportunity you’ll instead experience the inherent advantages of having four-wheel drive when it comes to deploying vast amounts of torque.
The result is rather compelling.
Audi RS4 Avant
TESTED 2,894cc twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic, quattro all-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE From £62,175 (as tested £69,770)/now
POWER/TORQUE 444bhp @ 5,700-6,700rpm/443lb ft @ 1,900-5,000rpm
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 155mph (limited)
FUEL ECONOMY 24.6mpg/32.1mpg (EU Urban/Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 199g/km
VED £1,200 first year, then £450 for five years, then £140
VERDICT The RS4 Avant is a compelling option for anybody who wants vast quantities of performance in a car that retains all the practicalities that come with being an estate. True, a Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate has greater adjustability to its handling, but if you prefer your fast estate with more grip than slip the RS4 is the one to have.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four out of five stars
*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 17/04/2018 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.