The 2018 Audi RS4 Avant is not the world's fastest station wagon, but I might have to argue that it should be the gold standard in cars that can haul arse and haul stuff. It fits everywhere, everything fits in it, and it's ready to rock your world at the drop of a gas pedal.
The Audi RS4 Avant has long suffered from little sibling syndrome. Overshadowed by its bigger, badder brother, the unbelievably fast RS6 Avant, in speed and size, the RS4 falls short of "ultimate wagon" territory but it is a firecracker in its own right. And some might even say its smaller footprint gives it an edge.
(Full Disclosure: I asked Audi very nicely for an RS4 Avant, and the company indulged me. Two trains and a bus later, I picked up at VW Group's Swedish headquarters with a full tank of gas. Also, yes, it's technically an "RS 4" but everybody knows it as "RS4" so here we are.)
Editors Note: some features may differ to Australian models
What is It?
The wagon variant of Audi's RS4 traces its roots all the way back to the iconic Porsche-co-built RS2 Avant of 1994, but the first "real" RS4 came around in 1999 with the B5 generation. Since then, there have been two additional generations of RS4 Avant, neither of which have come to the States, much to our dismay.
The new B9 RS4 Avant sports Audi's new styling language—and when I say new, I mean slightly tweaked at best—a twin-turbo V6 having ditched the lauded naturally aspirated V8s of the B6 and B7 generations, and a heaping helping of new technology intended to improve the whole experience of the car.
Alongside the RS3 sedan and hatchback, RS4 sedan, RS5 coupe and sportback, TT RS, and the surely-upcoming RS6 sedan and wagon and RS7 sportback, the RS4 Avant rounds out Audi's biggest-ever line of RennSport cars, recently rebranded as "Audi Sport," which is sure to include some heavy SUVs sooner or later because whatever god you pray to has forsaken us.
Previous RS4s were world beaters in a straight line thanks to AWD and mighty V8s, but were said to have left something to be desired in the corners and in daily driving. Pronounced understeer and a spine-shaking ride were often called out as defining characteristics of the RS4 ever since its introduction.
The new RS 4, however, brings the car into the modern era, though not much seems to have changed on paper besides the engine.
Specs That Matter
Look, I'm as sad as anyone that automakers are downsizing en masse to smaller, more heavily boosted engines, but it doesn't have to be all bad news. The 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 under the hood of the new R0 4 (and RS5 models, for that matter) packs a respectable 450 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, matching the previous model's power output but improving on torque by over 100lb-ft. Not to mention massively lowering the peak power RPM level.
The new RS4 has also ditched the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission of Audis past for a more traditional torque converter eight-speed automatic, which the company claims loses none of the responsiveness of the old gearbox but improves on fuel economy and low-speed crawling, a drawback of the old DSG setup.
The RS4 reaches 100km/h in just four seconds, which my butt-o-meter can confirm is pretty spot-on and tops out at 249km/h with the limiter engaged, and 280km/h derestricted. That makes it prime for Autobahn cruising and smoking many sports cars at stop lights, though we implore you to please never, ever street race. Audi also claims a 26.7 mpg average, but the way you’ll want to drive this thing all the time, that somewhat lofty number is likely out of reach.
Being a wagon, the RS 4 Avant is meant to haul cargo and itself, and with 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space (53.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat), this long roof does so admirably.
Oh boy, where do I start? I guess the styling is as good a place as any.
And yes, you read that right. I think the styling is great. I know, I know, it's pretty damn derived, considering how revolutionary Audi's designs were considered to be just a decade ago. But with big old hips, sharp creases along the body and on the hood, and huge, muscle-car-esque wheels, I think this RS4 is the best-looking yet, a final evolution of the design, if you will. Finished in the awesome flat Nardo Grey (the only paint that doesn't cost extra) and complete with carbon fibre accents and blacked out trim, this wagon splits the difference between head-turning and sleeper very nicely, catching the eye of gearheads everywhere but also curious glances from the average passerby without raising a ruckus when you don't want it to.
The interior is fantastic as well, a testament to just how well Audi can build a cabin these days. Some prefer the ornate look of recent Mercedes interiors, but I think Audis strike the perfect balance of business, tech, and design. Everything you need is just within reach of the steering wheel, and the awesome virtual cockpit is still heads-and-tails above equivalent systems from the competition.
The RS4 also makes you wonder why you'd need a bigger car (looking at you, RS6…), as there's plenty of space for four adult occupants and more than enough cargo room for the average human. Quite frankly, it's hard to find a fault with this thing at all, and I haven't even gotten to the driving experience yet.
OK, I guess I've got to nitpick a bit here. I dislike Alcantara in general, but I really, really hate it on a car's most common touchpoints, specifically the steering wheel and shifter. It's fine on the door inserts, and even sometime on the inner seat fabric panels, but the problem with Alcantara on things that you actually touch is that it gets dirty instantly and wears out within months, not to mention how much of a pain it is to clean.
Thankfully, Alcantara trim is just an option on the RS4, but do yourself a favour and just stick to leather. Leather is good.
Also, it's really hard not to miss the V8. I'm a big fan of the new boosted V6 on its own (more on that in a bit), but every time you put your foot down and there's just a millisecond of lag accompanied by an exhaust note that's two cylinders too tame, you get the slightest pang of sadness and nostalgia for days gone by.
But then the Audi splatters your eyeballs on the inside of the skull, and all is right with the world.
I know this is an RS model, and therefore expected to be on the hardcore side of things, but what arguably impressed me most about the new RS4 is just how damn composed it is in everyday driving. With the mode selector in "Comfort," the adaptive suspension soaks up imperfections in the pavement with grace, especially on the highway where the ride could almost be described as floaty.
Engine noise is minimized by closing the active exhaust flaps, and the gearbox effortlessly slides through cogs as you putter around town. If you blindfolded your passenger and sat them down for a drive in Comfort mode, you might be able to convince them this is just a garden variety luxury car.
The 8-speed automatic is also a superior transmission to the old DSG. Shifts are lightning fast when you want them to be, and smooth and easy when you don't, and the addition of a traditional torque converter has helped very low speed manoeuvring and parallel parking greatly. Watch out for those big-arse rims though when you do pull up to a curb, and check your mirrors always, as the hips of this thing are almost as wide as the mirrors.
The RS specific sport seats are a big plus as well, though for a car with this much kit, it would have been nice to see ventilation as well as heat as an option, but realistically you don't need it, especially where I was living in Sweden.
As much better as the RS4 has gotten at casual driving, it's taken leaps and bounds forward in the dynamics department, doing away with the oversprung and understeery characteristics of past Audi models. A clever five-link suspension setup front and rear as well as a new set of differentials has vastly improved turn-in and road holding in corners, and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system is as good as ever at keeping the massive tires plastered to the road with minimal drama.
Well, a very German reasonable amount of drama, I should say. The new AWD system has been allowed to play a bit more than before, and you can even get the tiniest bit of oversteer thanks to the ability to send a majority of the torque rearwards. Overall, it's a damn good driver when the going gets twisty, if not quite as sharp as the likes of the BMW M4, Cadillac ATS-V, or Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio, though none of those come in a wagon, now do they?
And as much as I miss the drama of a good-ol' naturally-aspirated V8, this new V6 is a damn fine engine, and even has a unique sound and quality all its own. You won't notice the drop in number of cylinders in terms of pace, and you'll definitely be thankful for the gobs of torque this thing makes at 2,000 rpm, rather than at basically redline. Launch control is hilarious to use too, especially on the unsuspecting passenger.
Dynamic mode gives the RS4 an entirely new character, as if the car has been awakened, and the whole experience becomes louder, sharper, and damn fun. In the past, you could have your speed cake, but with a side of understeer and a sore spine. Now, it seems you can have a much bigger slice of cake that's really super delicious, or however that saying goes.
The RS4 I tested was equipped with mighty carbon ceramic rotors, which bring the thing to a halt in a hurry but will set you back a pretty penny depending on the market. If you're planning on tracking your RS4 Avant—which, if you are, I salute you, you crazy son of a bitch—I'd say spring for them. But otherwise, I'm sure the standard steel rotors will do a fine job on a daily basis, and will save you close to 10 grand.
On one hand, this is a pretty expensive vehicle. Starting at around $152,900 in Australia, the RS4 Avant finds itself in some pretty prestigious company, including a fully-loaded Jaguar XF Sportbrake, which doesn't quite match the outright speed of the RS4, but does offer more space and a supercharger.
Start checking option boxes though, and things get pretty steep, fast and puts it in the same ballpark as the mighty Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon.
Considering the only faults I found were that the optional Alcantara touchpoints are shitty and that it would be better with a V8, it seems there's not much wrong with the RS4 Avant. Not much wrong at all.
In fact, I'd wager it might just be the best wagon in the world, if not one of the best all-around cars. One could argue that the RS6 is just a bit too big, and is insanely expensive considering you can have over 90 per cent of the same experience by just "stepping down" to the RS4. I'd also have it over the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, despite the Merc packing more horsepower and two more cylinders. I vastly prefer the Audi's styling and cabin, though when you're dropping serious cash on a fast, compact wagon, it's very much a matter of personal taste.
Before you rush to the comments to complain about why we're even bothering to review cars you can't buy Stateside, let me say this: I know. I feel your pain. It sucks. Maybe we'll get an RS Avant model someday, and with the wagon renaissance seemingly just beginning, it could be sooner than you think. At least the RS 5 Sportback is coming over, so you can have a stupid-fast Audi with the same engine, four doors, and a liftback, though I know it's just not quite the same.
For now though, when you lie awake at night, dreaming of the holy grail of unattainable wagons, it might be time to replace that "6" in your head with a "4."