WHAT IS IT?
The 2018 RS4 is the flagship high-performance version of Audi’s impressive B9 A4, and like all RS4’s before it – bar the B7 – it is available solely in a wagon body style that Audi calls an Avant. The RS4 is the direct descendent of the very first Audi Sport model – the RS2 – that inaugurated the RS road car brand in 1994. It’s a model with almost unrivalled flexibility.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
There is something irrationally cool about fast wagons, and Audi is perhaps the most versed car maker in this field. Quite a lot has changed in the generational leap from B8 to B9 for RS4, and this is our first chance to drive Australian-spec cars on local roads to see how the new model acquits itself.
Read next: Audi RS4 vs Mercedes C63 507 Estate
The RS4’s only natural rival in terms of price, performance, prestige and packaging is the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate. It’s powered by a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 and priced a little higher at $159,711. Outside that you need to start looking at hi-po SUVs to find anything with similar bandwidth, though that form factor is arguably made for a different kind of buyer.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Few cars can boast the versatility of the Audi RS4. It is one of the best all-rounders on the market. Is it 50 percent more car than the $100K Audi S4? Ultimately, that’s for you to decide.
PLUS: Almost peerless flexibility; dynamic improvements; ride/handling balance
MINUS: No more high-rpm V8 theatre; somewhat lazy RHD configuration
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WANT to buy a fast Audi? No problem. There’s a broader range of Audi Sport models to choose from than ever before. Where the performance offshoot once produced only a single RS model at a time, more factories are now churning out more RS cars for more people. But it’s this one – the iconic RS4 – that started it all.
Read next: A quick history lesson in fast Audi wagons
Back in 1994 it was launched as a B4-based superwagon called the RS2, developed with a little help from Porsche. Today’s B9 RS4 draws a direct line down the family tree from that car, and there’s another Porsche parallel with the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 under its bonnet also being found in Panameras and Cayennes.
Yes, the RS4 has come full circle. Gone is the rev-happy free-breathing 4.2-litre V8 of the last two iterations, and in is a boosted bent-six like the RS4 of 2000. We already miss that lustrous 8250rpm redline but, emotional responses aside, the change is more good than bad.
Peak power remains at 331kW, but arrives sooner, as does its 600Nm torrent of torque. That’s 170Nm more than before, and the full dose is available from a scant 1900rpm through to 5000rpm. In regular driving and on track, the V6’s numbers are demonstrably more effective, not to mention more efficient. Claimed economy is 8.9L/100km, down from 10.7 of the V8.
Nought to 100km/h takes 4.1sec, making this RS4 seriously quick - and properly lively from behind the wheel. Its all-paw grasp of the road surface is hugely confidence inspiring, and sustains almost reckless cornering speeds. Less mass forward of the front axle means it’s now less prone to understeer, too; the V6 is fully 31kg lighter than the old lump.
Reach across to drive mode buttons that are still in a LHD position on the console to dial the systems back to Comfort. It’s here the RS4 makes another statement. The ride is impressively composed and compliant, especially given its standard 20-inch wheels. Audi seems to have decided the RS4 should be easy to live with, and that creates a neat point of difference to its only real rival, the firmly-suspended Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate. A somewhat muted exhaust note is one of the very few downsides to its heightened maturity.
The design-driven interior is immaculately finished and laden with all the fruit that’s expected for the $152,900 asking price. A honeycomb motif carries through to excellent sports seats with dynamic bolsters, active safety equipment has been prioritised and a digital dashboard and mighty B&O sound system are standard.
A panoramic glass roof is fitted by default for our market, but thankfully costs nothing to delete if the idea of putting 30kg of dead weight right at the top of a performance car rankles you. Optional extras include exterior enhancement packs in black, aluminium or carbonfibre, wireless phone charging, Matrix headlights, a head-up display, and Alcantara interior trim inserts that hopefully won’t look like old dishcloths in a year’s time.
Read next: 2018 Audi RS4 Avant quick review
Every car enthusiast has played the ultimate single car garage game, and a fast wagon is always hard to beat. It’s a formula Audi has been tweaking for years, and this RS4 might just be its best all-rounder yet.
Model: Audi RS4 Avant
Engine: 2894cc V6, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max Power: 331kW @ 5700-6700rpm
Max Torque: 600Nm @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 8.9L/100km
On sale: Now