Review: Audi RS4 Avant
Legendary sports-coupe with rally-bred reputation. Tough, durable, immensely fast, but costs a small fortune to run
I may be paraphrasing a little; the exact words escape me, but that‘s how, I think, a recently re-discovered What Car used car guide of 1997 described the original 200bhp Audi Quattro.
If ever there was a car that changed the game; turned the world upside down; rewrote the rule book… (Insert appropriate incredulous cliché), the Quattro was it. When Roland Gumpert and his team of engineers put four-wheel drive – previously only considered the reserve of machines of a more agricultural or working class nature – into an Audi saloon he did indeed change things forever. Ever since Audi won the Rally World Championship with the Quattro in 1983 no two-wheel drive car has ever done the same. It was legendary. So legendary in fact that to commemorate the success of the original, or Ur-Quattro as it was known, all subsequent four-wheel-drive Audis have been badged “quattro” (note the lower case “q”) ever since.
Perhaps that’s enough history. The thing is that very same opening line, albeit with the omission of the coupe bit, could easily be used to sum up the latest version of Audi’s near supercar quick RS4 Avant. It too shares the enviable attributes of being beautifully built, blindingly fast and four-wheel drive -although strangely it doesn’t bear the quattro script.
The hand built 4.2 litre 444 bhp V8 that lurks under its bonnet means it’s not exactly cheap to run either. The tax disc for the first year is £860 for starters, and despite Audi’s optimistic claims that it’ll do 26.4 mpg on the combined cycle, drive it daily with “enthusiasm” its exhaust note goads you with, and you’ll be lucky to see 20. Still, if you can afford the car…
Things have changed more than a little of course since Audi’s first foray with two driven axles. Today’s RS4 Avant may still retain hints of the Quattro’s styling – those squared-off “blistered” wheel-arches, that are these days filled with 19” alloy wheels hiding bin-lid sized wave brake discs and 8 piston calipers, couldn’t come from anything else – but the RS4 boasts comfort and technology that it’s digital dash-boarded, and cassette player equipped grand-father could only dream of.
The interior is a leather clad and carbon inlayed showcase of teutonic efficiency and ergonomics. Knurled aluminium knobs share space with beautifully clear and logically lay-out back-lit dials and switches; heavily bolstered seats hold you firmly in place behind Audi’s now trademark flat-bottomed, dimpled, steering wheel; and, should your purse strings stretch far enough, your entertainment comes courtesy of Mr. Bang and Mr. Olufsen.
The RS4 Avant sits 20mm lower than the altogether more humble specced A4 estates you usually see vying for space in the outside lane, and as a result feels all the better for it. Even with its personally tailor-able Drive Select settings set to Comfort the ride is a little on the taut side, but the trade-off is an ability (thanks to all kinds of elec-trickery, torque-vectoring and a host of clever drive-apportioning differentials) to corner, grip and sling-shot both you, your passengers and your Labrador down the road in a way that few other family friendly load- luggers can. And yet, should you require it to, it will cruise quietly, and needless to say effortlessly, while its S-tronic auto’ box slips up and down through its 7 ratios, all-day long.
The RS4 is the best of both Worlds then? A family estate with legendary grip levels, and super-car all rolled into one. Well Yes, and almost inevitably, No. It is blisteringly fast, especially when overtaking. It sounds magnificent. And it’s practical too – well, up to a point. The downsides are its thirst, steering that feels incredibly light at parking speeds and just a tad too sterile on the move, and the fact that try as you might it’s incredibly hard-work to drive this car slowly: The truth is the harder you work it and the faster you go in it , the better it actually feels.
With hindsight perhaps I’ll let you ponder over whether or not you think that last line is a downside or not. Whatever you decide, despite its faults the RS4 Avant will go down as one of the greats.
Audi R8 4.2 Fsi Quattro Coupe
Engine: 4163cc 8Cyl 32V petrol
Transmission: 7 speed S-tronic Auto, four wheel drive.
Power: 444bhp @ 8250 rpm
Torque: 317 lbft @ 4000 rpm
0-62MPH: 4.7 Sec
Max Speed: 155mph (electronically limited) 174mph (un-restricted)
MPG: 26.4 combined