When the B7 version of Audi’s go-fast RS4 Avant rolled into the MOTOR garage in 2006, there was a surprising lack of enthusiasm. To be fair, previous generations had been stiff, robotic, uninvolving things, which had clouded our mutual views.
Then we drove it.
History will show that the nat-atmo eight, combined with a new-found sense of chassis compliance and chutzpah from the muscly motor, will go down as one of the great wagons – indeed, great Audis – of all time, but those times have changed, and the launch of last year’s RS5, complete with the new-for-B9 2.9-litre V6, pointed towards a leaner, greener future for the RS4.
It sports both more power and torque than the B8 model that it replaces, though, generating 331kW and 600Nm from the twin-turboed six, and it’ll bowl over the 100km/h dash in a claimed 4.1 seconds – a 0.6sec improvement over the B8’s 4.2-litre V8 powered claim. It’ll also do 8.9 litres per 100km if you drive like Morley.
Based on the SQ5 engine but with a shorter stroke, the two turbos nestle in the so-called hot vee, and there’s one for each bank. It also uses port and direct injection, variable valve timing and lift, variable cooling and all the good stuff, and it’s 31kg lighter than the last-gen eight.
In fact, the entire car is 80kg lighter overall, despite being bigger, thanks to magnesium in the seat frames, more high-strength steel and lighter suspension parts.
It’s now backed by an eight-speed auto that replaces the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox… which was originally designed to replace the auto. Go figure… A two-stage sports exhaust is standard on Aussie cars, as is an electro-mechanical sport diff. There’s torque vectoring for all four wheels, too.
The RS4 Avant looks smaller and more compact on screen than it does in the metal, and even up close it’s more tuxedo than technical microfibre. Audi’s designers took inspiration, apparently, from the bonkers Audi 90 IMSA racer that terrorised US tracks on the 1980s, with the the ‘quattro blisters’ from the top of the 90’s guards inspiring a 30mm wider guard stance than the S4.
The rear diffuser and spoiler are unique to the RS4, along with a wider grille too. Lower and longer than A4/S4, it’s also wider. Twenty-inch rims are standard this time around as well, with 98 per cent of customers updating to 20s on the last model.
Optional 20-inch milled alloy wheels save another 2kg per corner for $1600 (but they look a bit underdone, if we’re honest), and you can have bigger, 8kg lighter carbon-ceramic front brakes for $11,900.
The stock brakes aren’t bad, though, with 375mm rotors and six-piston fronts teamed with 330mm rotors and twin-piston jobbies out back. The suspension, too, picks up the cross-linked adaptive dampers from the RS5.
Inside, the Avant wagon can lug 505 litres of stuff with the seats up and 1510 litres – or a set of track rims – with them lowered. The front seats are terrific, though their bulk detracts from the space in the second row, particularly for toes.
A perforated leather wheel and shifter wrap, and unique RS-spec carbon inlays separate the RS4 from the riff-raff, while the honeycomb pattern on the sports seats matches the grille. There’s also specific RS functionality for the Active Dash Display.
You can delete-option the sunroof, and there’s adaptive LED headlights, heated Nappa seats with adjustable side bolsters and massage, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen and tailgate gesture control all included in the box. In fact, Audi reckons it’s added more than $22,000 of additional stuff, at at $152,900 before on-roads, it’s just two grand dearer than the last of the B8s, and $16,000 cheaper than our fave B7.
Fanging it across a curvy, twisty highway test route in northern NSW, 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.
Its Dynamic mode doesn’t go all the way to 11, and while it’s not in your face like a helicopter mum, there’s a sense that the RS4’s tractions systems have both second and third slips in play. The ability to simply flatten the gas once you’re past the apex is pretty hilarious, and an 85 per cent rearward power bias from the ye olde worlde Haldex-based system feels about right, especially when the clever rear limited slipper comes into play.
It’s got thunder and presence, too, especially off-throttle, when a staccato ‘brrrrrrrb’ resonates out the huge rear tips on throttle overrun. It’s never loud – read; obnoxious – but it’s obvious you’re in something hotter than stock.
Steering is okay-to-good but it lacks involvement, and the plastic shift paddles behind the steering wheel are a strange oversight when it comes to tactility and interfacing. The eight-speeder, too, can be a bit conservative about allowing downshifts when you’re getting keen, but it’s still a burly cracker of a thing.
Audi’s calling it the only car you’ll ever need, but we’ll need more time in it to ratify that claim. There’s certainly a wide gulf between its softest and strongest modes, and that bodes well for a daily. At first blush, though, the RS4 Avant is a somewhat subtle but stylish bruiser that will turn only the heads that know what they’re looking at.
2018 AUDI RS4 AVANT SPECS
Engine: 2894cc V6, longitudinal, twin turbo DOHC, 24v
Power: 331kW @ 5700-6700rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, electro-mechanical locking rear differential, AWD
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
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