On the face of it, a hotted-up station wagon is a pretty good idea. A big engine, good brakes and great handling work just as well under a bodyshell that allows dogs, boxes and other junk to be lugged around when you’re not carving up a back road.
The Audi RS4 Avant has long been at the vanguard of the rapid wagon set, and while its updated turbocharged V6 engine represents a change of philosophy for the RS line, the essence of barking mad meets solid sensibility still holds true.
Based on the A4 platform, the exterior of the RS4 is wider, lower and more aggressive, with pronounced haunches front and rear that adds 30mm to the car’s width.
Combine that with well-proportioned 20-inch rims, a low-slung ride height, that huge grille and a subtle yet effective bodykit, and the RS4 Avant radiates a macho yet sophisticated veneer that works well to disguise its humble station wagon origins.
The interior, too, is a work of industrial art. The quilted leather on the bespoke RS seats and the dark palette of the cabin speak volumes about its intentions, while optional extras like genuine carbon fibre inlays bring a sense of Audi’s motorsport heritage into the RS4.
Specs and Value
The RS4’s 331kW, 600Nm 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox, centre diff-equipped all-wheel-drivetrain, adaptive shocks, dual-mode exhaust and big brakes are the same, yet you pay less for them.
It also sports LED headlights and taillights, RS-specific sports seat and steering wheel, Audi’s digital Active Dash with customised RS pages and auto headlights and wipers, while upgraded Matrix headlights, inductive phone charging and a heads-up display are part of a $3900 tech pack upgrade.
Speaking of extras, our tester has been optioned to the nines, though, and comes in at a smidge over $180,000 before on-road costs. These include $5450 worth of Nardo Blue paint, a $1200 carbon fibre engine cover, $1600 20-inch rims and almost $12,000 of carbon-impregnated styling kit.
For us, the rims really set off the RS4’s muscular flanks, and the amazing Matrix headlights are worth the cost of admission. A carbon fibre engine cover? Leave it at the dealership.
Only Mercedes-AMG offers up a genuine competitor to the RS4 Avant in the form of its C63 S Estate at $163,400. Its 375kW and 700Nm trumps the 331kW/600Nm RS4 for oomph, but the Audi adds all-wheel-drive.
Load-wise, the five-seat RS4 has a maximum load space of 505 litres with the seats up and 1510 with them dropped, beating the Merc-AMG C63 Estate’s 460L and 1480L.
It sports the longest wheelbase of all three RS cars at 2832mm, and it also sports the widest tracks (axle widths) of the trio. Not only does this give the Avant a solid platform to work from handling-wise, but means a bit more cabin room, as well.
Audi has equipped the RS4 with traffic-jam capable adaptive cruise control system, two ISOFIX baby seat mounts, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection.
It also comes with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers and head-level curtain airbag for front and rear, which help the RS4 score a five-star ANCAP rating.
Warranty and running costs
Audi – along with its premium competitors – still falls behind the rest of the car industry when it comes to length of warranties, only offering three year/unlimited kilometre coverage, spaced with 12 month/15,000km service intervals. The RS range doesn’t fall under a fixed-price service plan.
Against a combined fuel economy claim of 8.9 litres per 100km, we recorded a real-world figure over 430km of 10.6L/100km.
The interior of the RS4 really is a cut above, even when looking across the Audi line-up. It’s dark but not overbearing, modern yet stylish and packed with small touches that make it a joy to use. Proper buttons, a gorgeously chunky steering wheel and well-formed seats make it easy to connect with the RS4.
It’s not perfect, though. The trigger-style gear shifter is definitely trickier to use than a traditional gated shifter, and makes for slower shifts between forward and reverse. The older generation multimedia system lacks a touchscreen, and is thoroughly shaded by the system fitted to Audi siblings like the A7.
While the RS4 comes standard with a sunroof, it can be deleted at no cost, and that’s how our tester arrived. This means the roofline is a smidge higher, giving second-row passengers a bit more room. There’s plenty of toe space and shoulder room back there, though the middle seat would be squashy for an adult.
The 40/40/20 split/fold second row seats can be tumbled forward from the cargo area, which also sports a net and cargo tie-down hooks. The centre seat can be dropped, too, allowing for long items to be carried while still toting four passengers.
On the road
it’s obvious the RS4 is not as blunt an instrument of back road destruction as, say, the Mercedes AMG C63, but it still manages to deliver on the thrill-o-meter… just in a different, more subtle but effective way.
The twin-turbo V6 engine is strong and linear, and does its best work with more revs on board; in fact, the gearing of the eight-speed auto means that much of its best work is still to come despite the posted speed limit having long come and gone.
The RS4’s Dynamic mode doesn’t feel like it goes all the way to 11, for example, and while it’s not in your face like a helicopter mum, there’s a sense that that the car’s tractions systems have both second and third slips in play to stop you dropping the ball.
The ability to simply flatten the loud pedal once you’re past the apex of a corner is pretty hilarious, and an 85 per cent rearward power bias from the centre-diff based AWD system feels about right, especially when the clever rear limited slip diff comes into play.
It’s got presence like a distant thunderstorm, too, especially off-throttle, when a staccato ‘brrrrrrrb’ resonates out the huge rear tips on throttle overrun. It can become a bit tiresome at cruising pace, but it can be dialled down via the drive mode button.
Steering feel is okay-to-good but it lacks involvement, and the plastic shift paddles behind the steering wheel are a strange and disappointing oversight when it comes to tactility. The eight-speed auto, too, can be a bit conservative about allowing downshifts when you’re getting keen, but overall the RS4 Avant is still a cracker of a thing, and possibly the pick of the RS trio.
The RS4 Avant has long been the poster child for the A4 line-up, and its wagon body form only plays to its strengths as a practical yet entertaining everyday muscle car.