► New Audi RS4 Avant review
► Uses same 444bhp V6 as RS5
► 0-62mph in 4.1sec, £61,625 in UK
The 1990s comeback is already dying off: it’s now time to bring back the 00’s. The previous-generation Audi RS4 Avant had a rip-roaring, naturally aspirated V8 behind its giant grille – but you won’t be surprised to hear the latest, 2018 version of Audi’s medium-size, maximum-pace estate doesn’t.
Harking back to its roots of the original B5 RS4 launched in 2000, this B9 versions has succumbed to the downsizing-trend with a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 - the same unit fitted to its RS5 coupe cousin.
It's a very zeitgeisty update: smaller engine, bigger punch, lower emissions and thirst (on paper). Does it work? We've now driven the new RS4 extensively in the UK, so read on for our full Audi RS4 review.
Despite having 1269 fewer cc to play with, the V6 packs near-as-dammit the same power output as the retired V8 (444bhp) and a whopping 125lb ft more torque, while – most significantly – generating a quarter less CO2 on the test cycle, and eking out an extra 5.7mpg. Most of the weight-saving can be attributed to the downsized engine, weighing 31kg less than the preceding 4.2-litre V8.
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New 2018 Audi RS4 review: performance specs
The 2018 RS4 is 0.6sec quicker than its predecessor from 0-62mph, at 4.1sec (two tenths slower than the lighter RS5) and tops out at 174mph, if buyers spec the optional RS Dynamic package. Otherwise, it’s electronically limited to 155mph as standard. It feels every inch that fast on the road.
At 1790kg, you wouldn’t describe the 2018 RS4 Avant as lightweight, but it does weigh 80kg less than the outgoing RS4.
As the Quattro badges and widescreen wheelarches (so cool) suggest, all-wheel drive is standard, shuffling the torque split front to rear as required. During typical driving it’s 40:60 front:rear, with as much as 85% of torque directed to the front or 70% to the rear as the system detects wheel slip. We tested the RS4 on a slippery UK winter day and it coped with freezing conditions and a light dusting of snow with imperious ease. Traction is first-rate.
An electronically controlled Sport rear differential is an option in some markets, but will be fitted to all new RS4s in the UK as standard, with the ability to precisely portion more or less torque to each individual rear wheel as required.
All cars also feature torque vectoring by braking. It has a real agility and there's decent feel through the deliciously Alcantara-lined steering wheel; it won't talk like a pure-bred rear-drive AMG or M product, but this wicked wagon definitely feels worthy of the RS4 badge.
An eight-speed Tiptronic torque converter auto is the only gearbox option, in place of the old car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. There's a pair of slightly cheap-feeling plastic paddles nestling behind the feelsome steering wheel, for finger-flicking gearchanges.
Although the two-generations-previous 2005 RS4 was available as a saloon, estate and cabriolet, the current car will be sold only as an estate (Avant in Audi world), just like the outgoing RS4. The not-officially-confirmed-but-almost-certainly-happening four-door Audi RS5 Sportback will fulfil the same role as a saloon.
There's a decent boot, with a flat floor and easily enough space to swallow family luggage or a big dog (though maybe not both at the same time; you'll need the bigger Audi RS6 Avant for that...).
New 2018 Audi RS4 review: those wheels...
While 19-inch wheels are standard, the larger of the two options available are 20 inches in silver or black, wearing 275/30 Continentals front and rear. Opt for the Carbon Edition and a set of 20-inch, gloss-milled aluminium wheels shave a further 8kg in weight.
It has to be said, the RS4 has far more presence in real life than it does in pictures – those arches punch out an extra 24mm in width compared with the standard A4 Avant and sits 30mm lower. Those giant oval exhaust outlets manage to make it look lower as well as wider. The dark vents flanking the tail-lights aren’t actually real, disappointingly, but help to add even more visual width.
Audi reckons its wide-arched shape draws design inspiration from the Audi 90 IMSA GTO (check it out in our gallery here) – a good thing to draw inspiration from, even if it’s probably not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the RS4.
New 2018 Audi RS4 review: the interior
As per the regular A4, cabin fit and finish is hard to fault, and judicious use of aluminium and alcantara trim helps lift the ambience a little. If you step from an A8 into the A4, it is beginning to look like it's not quite latest-spec, but this is still one of the nicest cabins around.
The now well-established digital Virtual Cockpit TFT instrument panel sits behind the wheel, with extra RS-specific displays available such as boost pressure, tyre pressures, power and torque output, and a G-meter – which is probably the last thing you should be looking at while you’re cornering at any kind of meaningful g.
It’s augmented by a genuinely useful head-up display beamed onto the windscreen, which is pin-sharp, and, helpfully, includes an oil temperature readout along with the usual vehicle speed and sat-nav instructions – and, less usefully, a lap timer.
In finest fast Audi tradition there’s a pair of plush, bear-hug-bolstered (and very nicely quilted) sports seats up front, available in varying levels of cushion plumpness for the honeycomb-stitched leather.
What's the new Audi RS4 like to drive?
As you’d expect, there’s masses of lateral grip and traction, but it’s to the RS4’s credit that it doesn’t feel inert or anodyne like some fast Audis of old. It’s not as involving as an AMG C63 Mercedes, for instance, or a BMW M3 (not available as an estate), and it’s not the last word in driver feedback, but it is a car that can be rewarding to drive when you want it to be, and entirely undemanding the rest of the time – which feels very much in line with the RS4’s ethos.
To exceed the chassis' and tyres’ limits you’d have to be going faster than we’d feel comfortable on the public road, but you can subtly adjust the car’s attitude with the brakes and the throttle.
Driven normally, there’s plenty of front-end grip and all the traction you can eat, with torque-vectoring-by-braking helping out to carve a clean corner exit. It's something you can get used to - and perhaps even take liberties with - especially on wet roads.
Several of the cars we've tried were on 20-inch wheels and were fitted with the optional Dynamic Ride Control (DRC), with hydraulically controlled damping. In the firmest Dynamic mode, the ride is really quite choppy on all but the smoothest roads, and you’ll likely quickly tire of it. You have to fiddle with the rather inconveniently placed Drive Select buttons on the dash to change the mode - we wish it had a steering wheel toggle like the TT RS.
Comfort mode feels the best option for the majority of circumstances, and on British roads the RS4 is more effective at absorbing bumps than an RS5, with a less knobbly ride in this softest setting. For a near-1800kg car, the RS4 controls and hides its mass very well indeed.
The economy claims should be taken with a pinch of salt; we saw a low of 10mpg on one particularly thrashy drive cross-country! We'd anticipate mid-20s in day-to-day driving, with 30mpg+ feasible on a longer, more gentle cruise.
We didn’t miss the dual-clutch gearbox, the eight-speed Tiptronic shifting unobtrusively in auto mode and supplying gears when requested without fuss in manual mode. The only fly in the ointment comes during low-speed manoeuvres when it can be slow to engage between Drive and Reverse gears.
The optional sports exhaust makes a theatrical belching noise on upshifts under load, which adds to the sense of occasion but does sound a bit synthetic, as if it’s been carefully programmed to do so.
Otherwise the V6 makes a decently characterful sound: a muted rasp with a bassy undertone filtering into the cabin with more volume than the RS5.
We tried the optional ceramic brakes, which were very impressive – confidence-inspiring bite from cold, decent feedback through the pedal, and easy to modulate. But much of the same praise could also be applied to the standard steel brakes, coming in at 375mm up front and 330mm at the rear.
One option best avoided is the variable-rate Dynamic Steering, which, although better than previous iterations, still feels odd as it weights up in an unnatural way. The regular steering set-up works well on its own, with three levels of power steering weight to choose from (Comfort, Auto and Dynamic). Regardless of mode, there’s decent feel and feedback (by fast Audi standards, at least, and considering the giant front tyres, impressively so). Good news – RS Audis are becoming less numb (and more comfortable).
What's the UK price of the new 2018 Audi RS4?
You’re looking at £61,625 before options in the UK, rising to £62,175 from January 2018. So the RS4 Avant is very much on a par with the two-door Audi RS5 coupe, which currently starts at £62,900.
There’s also a £72,175 Carbon Edition, with various option packs bundled in and, as the name suggests, plenty of bits made from CFRP (carbonfibre-reinforced plastic), including details on the front spoiler, sills diffuser, mirrors and interior trim.
Those playing spot-the-difference will notice the standard-fit red brake calipers, rear privacy glass, matt aluminium radiator grille, Matrix LED headlights and black Nappa leather seats with red stitching.
The Audi RS5 coupe’s all-weather capability and physics-bashing performance crossed with the Audi A4 Avant wagon’s understated estate body (augmented by just the right amount of wheelarch steroid injections) is quite an attractive recipe.
As a max-performance, minimum-fuss estate car it fulfils its brief perfectly, albeit for a serious chunk of cash.
It’s as much fun to drive as the RS5 (in fact, subjectively, it actually feels better balanced), while enjoying a more unassuming image. It’s not a car that’ll give you goosebumps, but for many buyers it’ll make them very satisfied. Who wouldn’t love an all-in-one fast estate?
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