Audi has gone and got the band back together by rolling out the latest-generation (fourth-generation) Audi RS4 Avant. The thing went on-sale last Friday in Australia and it sits in a segment of just two, it and the Mercedes-AMG C63 wagon.
For me, a fast wagon is close to automotive perfection in that it’s properly practical, thanks to the wagon shape and properly quick (and grippy), thanks to the grunty twin-turbo V6 under the bonnet and all-wheel drive. You can keep your fancy pants supercars.
But then, wagons just make sense full stop, but the world seemed to skip them on its way to the SUV craze. Half the vehicles people buy for ‘practicality reasons’ are way less practical than station wagons, but I digress.
What is the Audi RS4 Avant? Well, for a start, the arrival of this fourth-generation RS4 Avant heralds the largest Audi Sport range ever in Australia. Another pub fact? Across the last three-generations of RS4 there have been around 600 sales, the most sales for the last-generation RS4 Avant with 247. Moving on.
This new RS4 Avant sees the engine move from a V8 to the same downsized 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 as the RS5 (331kW and 600Nm) which is mated to an eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
The all-wheel drive system with self-locking centre differential is a good one, with a standard split of 40:60 front to rear in normal driving, but it can send up to 70% to the front or 85% of power to rear if needed. There’s wheel-selective torque control and a ‘sport differential’ which is an electronically controlled rear differential that can split torque (and almost all of it) to either one or the other rear wheel.
The new RS4 Avant (1790kg) weighs 80kg less than its predecessor, the engine is 31kg lighter, the body 15kg lighter and sundry other parts helping to reduce the unsprung weight, like the front and rear axles, the steering system, sport differential, quattro driveline, and if you cost-option the ceramic brakes, they to help save a few precious kilograms.
At 4781mm long, the new RS4 Avant is 62mm longer than its predecessor, 12mm shorter at 1404mm, and 16mm wider at 1866mm. Other measurements include the trademark blistered guards which are 30mm wider (on each side) compared with the standard S4 Avant.
And the boot is 15 litres bigger than before, offering 505 litres of storage space, or up to 1510 litres when you drop the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats, something you can do via levers in the boot. The tail-gate is powered and can be opened and closed via a kicking motion under the rear bumper (you lose this gesture-control if you cost-option the Carbon and Black styling kit ($11,900). According to Audi, the new RS4 Avant offers around $22,000 more in terms of standard kit than its predecessor.
What’s the interior like? This is premium, practical, performance styling at its very best, and few brands do it as well as Audi. This thing really is impeccably finished, as you’d expect. There’s soft-touch materials just about everywhere, sill lighting and mood lighting (up to 30 different colour schemes), a flat-bottomed steering wheel and grippy seats that can, via hydraulics both grip you tighter and massage your back at the same time.
Indeed, the front and rear seats are very comfortable. The front ones are adjustable in just about every way you could imagine with enough seat length that those with long legs will feel supported on longer drives. The steering wheel too is adjustable but it’s a manual adjustment, interestingly, and it’s a delight to hold.
The dashboard has a horizontal design theme with straight lines in contrasting materials emphasising a sense of width and space inside the front of the RS4; it’s a clever design trick.
There’s good vision from the front seat right around the RS4 with both front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and a 360-degree camera view making it easy to manoeuvre and park. All the pillars, A, B, and C are thin and the front windscreen stretches slightly meaning you won’t lose a pedestrian or a car at an intersection or on a roundabout.
There are two cupholders in the front and decent storage beyond them but the door bins don’t offer a bottle holder. But there are sundry other cubby and hidey holes to make this a properly practical interior, and the same goes for the back. An extra 13mm in the wheelbase has benefitted the back more than the front with a little extra knee room.
I climbed into the back with the front seat adjusted to suit me and I had enough toe (wiggle) and knee and head room to be comfortable; unfortunately, I didn’t travel in the back seat during the launch of the vehicle. The back part of the middle seat can be folded down to form an armrest for those in the back seat. While you could fit three across the back, it would be more comfortable for two adults.
There are ISOFIX for the two outboard seats and top tether anchors on the seat backs. The boot, as already mentioned, holds 505 litres with the back seats in use, extending to more than 1500 litres with them folded down. The boot is a good shape and the powered door opens nice and high, and the loading width measures one metre.
The infotainment system is a highlight and measures 8.3-inches wide. It’s not a touchscreen unit, instead you’ve got to use the rotary dial down on the centre console which is surrounded by shortcut buttons to deep dive quickly. But there’s more to the dial than just being about to toggle through different functions; the top of it is touch sensitive meaning you can pinch and zoom into the maps via the native sat-nav.
And there’s a free text search which offers suggestions (like Google does) as you start typing. You can also control the functionality via voice, but I didn’t get to try this on the launch. The system also offers Apple and Android phone connectivity to make the interface much simpler.
The RS4 Avant is standard with a head-up display which means you don’t have to look away from the road to see your speed or the next navigation direction. And, if you’re in manual mode, and manual mode is properly manual, you will even get a shift light.
Beyond this, segments of the speed illuminate green, orange and red as the speed increases. Shortly before the engine reaches its limit, the entire scale flashes red to indicate that you should change gear before it bangs into the rev limiter.
The analogue dials have been replaced by Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit which measures 12.3 inches and is projected in full-HD. This display can be customised to show the map as dominant with tacho and speedo reduced, or you can make them bigger, and a RS screen makes the tachometer the central image with a digital speedo at its centre, around it you can have things like torque and power, tyre pressure, temperature and g-forces.
What’s it like on the road? The 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 offers 331kW from 5700-6700rpm and 600Nm of torque from 1900 through to 5000rpm; yep, it’s a flat torque line from early in the rev range until very deep. And that means an eight-speed torque converter gearbox is fine; this isn’t some highly strung hot hatch that needs lightning shifts from a dual-clutch transmission…smooth is the best way to describe the transmission.
Indeed, it’s so smooth that when in D for Drive you literally won’t notice the shifts; if you keep your foot into it there’s not a moment’s hesitation between gears just a steady and rapid accumulation of speed. It’ll get to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and that’s mental, but it’s the in-gear acceleration that warps your brain and feels like a hand on your chest applying pressure.
Don’t get me wrong, few engine notes come close to the sound of a full-blooded V8, but the RS4 Avant’s V6 sounds pretty damn good at full noise. There are flaps in the exhaust system so as your neighbours won’t start writing letters of complaint that only open at high loads, although you can manually open the flaps via the Audi drive select.
Around town the thing is nice and quiet and just hums along thanks to the 600Nm of torque from 1900rpm; everything is effortless and the progressive throttle means you can creep the car along and not feel like you’re walking a dog straining at the leash. And this is one of the hallmarks of this thing. The brakes too are progressive in their action and strong.
Beyond the exhaust note, the Audi drive select allows you to choose from Comfort, Dynamic, Auto or Individual; and in the latter, you can tweak everything from the stiffness of the suspensions to the steering weight, engine and transmission response. At the launch, my co-driver and I fiddled around with these setting but found Comfort felt the most natural; you’d only use Dynamic on a race track, it’s far too firm (but not hard) for everyday driving.
Very few people this side of a V8 Supercar driver will ever get within spitting distance of the RS4 Avant’s limits. The local launch was out of Port Macquarie and across to Armidale, so, there was a lot of straight roads with long flowing corners with a middle section of around 40km that were tight and twisting. The straight stuff, the RS4 Avant ate up smothering bumps and ruts in the road in a way you wouldn’t have thought possible from looking at the standard 20-inch alloys (19s are available via special order) and the thin strip of rubber wrapped around them.
You could easily imagine yourself driving from Sydney to Melbourne and arriving feeling as fresh as when you climbed aboard. As the roads became more challenging the drive selector was slotted into Dynamic and then after a corner or two returned to Comfort. It’s just too firm and unnatural for everyday roads with the steering feeling heavy just for the sake of it. Comfort really is the pick and you get the impression that’s the mode the engineers intended owners to use 99% of the time.
As impressive and effortless as the thing’s oomph is, it’s the grip that’s the most astonishing when you’re pushing it. You kid yourself that you can feel the car’s electronics and mechanicals doing their thing to keep your stuck to the road but you can’t, it’s all so smooth. Tip into a corner and you don’t so much as feel yourself driving around the corner, rather it feels like the whole car is pivoting around its middle, if you get what I mean.
Now I don’t get car sick but the g-forces and grip the RS4 Avant can manage honestly saw me feeling like my colleague might end up wearing my breakfast. I was in the passenger seat and the bloke driving was one of the best driver’s I’ve ever sat beside; it was the sheer forces generated while cornering that were causing my internals to slosh about. And that really is the best way I can describe the gripping force of this thing.
The Audi RS4 Avant is very much a point and shoot sort of machine and while there’ll be those who whinge that it could be more ‘involving’ they’d be wrong. This thing is all about its brutal efficiency. But, as impressive as this thing is on the road, the RS4 Avant is intended to be as practical as it is quick. Sure, its pricey, but for me it’s just about the perfect wagon.
What about safety? There’s no NCAP rating for the RS4 Avant but it’s got just about every piece of active and passive safety kit in the Audi armoury. Indeed, Audi says there are more than 30 driver assistance systems.
The RS4 Avant all-wheel drive, of course, stability and traction controls, active lane assist, adaptive cruise control, exit warning system for all four doors so you don’t ‘door’ a cyclist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian detection at speeds up to 85km/h), parking system with 360-degree camera view, front and rear sensors and reversing camera and also Audi’s pre-sense rear which flashes the hazard warning lights quicker than normal if the system determines a following vehicle is in danger or running into the rear of the vehicle.
So, what do we think? For me, the RS4 Avant is better than a sports car or a supercar. It’s practical, comfortable, well-equipped and extremely quick…better still, it’s incredibly easy to drive it quick. I’ve never driven a car this quick that feels so confidence inspiring.
Words by Isaac Bober via Practicalmotoring.com.au Photos by Manufacturer