RS 4 available only as an Avant

RS 4 available only as an Avant

View 3 related images

Audi Sport must have some of the best margins of any car company division. A range of RS models sits under the umbrella of this GmbH (limited liability company), with the newest addition being the super-fast, super-exclusive, super-expensive fourth generation RS 4 Avant.

When it came to planning for this new estate, Audi obviously took into account the preferences of buyers in the highly lucrative Chinese and US markets. And then it ignored them: there is no sedan with the B9 model series. There is an RS 5 Coupe though, this being the equivalent of the BMW M4 Coupe. Audi also offers the RS 5 as a Sportback and neither BMW M nor Mercedes-AMG has any equivalent.

Power is the same 331kW (450hp) which the old 4.2 V8 produced and torque is a thumping 600Nm.

What makes the RS 4 especially alluring is the fact that it can only be ordered in Avant form. After all, what makes something exclusive and for the few? Rarity and unavailability. Even in Britain, one of Audi's best markets, supplies of the new RS 4 Avant out of the Ingolstadt plant will be restricted so as to enhance desirability and protect resale values.

Before I was able to drive the car, preparation for disappointment was needed. The old model and the one before it were powered by that engine. The 4.2-litre V8 which loved being spun beyond 8,000rpm. The reward wasn't just goosebumps - it gave the car ferocious acceleration. Then, remembering that the first RS 4 had a turbocharged V6, perhaps Audi Sport knew what it was doing by ditching the normally aspirated V8? After 500+ miles in the new model, I can confirm that it is more than up to the task of maintaining and even building upon the reputation of this super-estate series.

The turbo V6 has pedigree. With a swept volume of 2,894cc, there is a strong case to be made for it being a Porsche engine, only improved. It sounds much better in this car than it does in the less powerful Panamera 4S and the Cayenne S. To be sure, I checked the bore and stroke and they're identical for all three. As in the Porsches, drive is to all wheels. An eight-speed hydraulic torque converter transmission is standard, Audi branding this a tiptronic.

The turbochargers are positioned within the V although they can't be seen as the EC-mandated squishy engine cover hides them. Audi continues to set the standard for under-bonnet presentation as even though the cover is plastic, it's nicely styled and the silvery bits look like metal. Power is the same 331kW (450hp) which the old 4.2 V8 produced and torque is a thumping 600Nm which is a gain of 170Nm.

Push this car as hard as you can, and still it feels safe. There is only ever the slightest bit of steering tug and that's only when performing a merciless charge forward with a mash of the right pedal. You'd never know this was a platform based on a front-wheel drive layout. Slip the chassis into dynamic mode by pressing a button and the suspension is firmed but never becomes nasty-uncomfortable. Knowing that the wheels on the vehicle provided by Audi were optional (GBP2,000) 20-inchers, this is miraculous work by Audi Sport. The standard tyres are 265/35 on 19-inch rims.

Performance? Top speed is 155mph but Audi will merrily charge you GBP1,450 to tweak the software and allow that to rise to a claimed 174mph. Other things which you can pay handsomely for are the sensational sports exhaust which is GBP1,200 well spent and that amazing system of springs and dampers which is called RS Sport Suspension with Dynamic Ride Control. That will set you back GBP2,000. A large glass sunroof which opens is GBP1,250, heating for front and outer rear seats is a snip at GBP300, tyre press monitoring is GBP250, and a head-up display is GBP900. Including these and a few other extras, the tested car cost GBP77,760 but without any options, the price is GBP59,740 plus on the roads of which GBP1,240 (gulp) is for road tax due to a CO2 average of 199g/km.

Aside from other distinguishing features, the wheel arches are 30mm wider than on an A4 Avant, quattro appears in large black letters on a silver background at the base of the black honeycomb grille, there are silver valances front and rear, the mirror covers are brushed aluminium and the exhaust exits via two large oval outlets.

I do not envy the team tasked with developing the fifth generation model. That is going to be one tough gig.

The RS 4 looks big and indeed it is longer than the previous shape model. It isn't too far off the old A6 Avant's length either. This does mean you get more room inside and nowhere in the interior have Audi and Audi Sport done anything but a terrific job. The sports seats grip perfectly but never squeeze, there is no silliness of cut-outs for racing harnesses which will never be fitted, the headliner feels beautiful as does every piece of plastic you see or touch, and the steering wheel too is perfect in shape and feel. The big screen is easily manipulated by the MMI controller and everything seems logical, the only letdowns being the usual intrusiveness and dumbed-down look of Apple CarPlay. Maybe it all works less aggressively and looks nicer with Android Auto?

The fact that the RS 4 was revealed earlier in the lifecycle of the original model than was the case with previous generations is interesting. The car was introduced to the public at last September's Frankfurt IAA, which was only two years after the debut of the A4 Avant. It began to be rolled out to various markets from earlier in 2018. I checked registrations for China and it is yet to appear in the data for imports. The R8, RS 7, RS 6, both RS 5s, RS 3, RS 3 Sportback, RS Q3 and TT RS all sell there in fairly low volumes (S cars do better) due perhaps to their high prices. No doubt the start of a drip feed of RS 4 Avants will soon start appearing in the monthly numbers.

China might wish for a sedan and be OK with the Avant as a second best alternative but there are no plans to export this car to the USA. Never say never though, as Audi of America has decided to take the RS 5 Sportback as an experiment. If the five-door hatchback finds favour, perhaps the wagon might follow.

As there is a space saver tyre below the boot floor, the only thing I could find to say about this car which is less than wonderful is the lack of electric tailgate closing. It opens electrically, but no matter how many times you stab the keyfob or a switch on the driver's door it refuses to close. So it's a climb out to shut the boot job. Yes, that's the level of perfection which Audi Sport has attained with the RS 4 Avant - that something so minor stands out.

I do not envy the team tasked with developing the fifth generation model. That is going to be one tough gig. By the time it comes to market around 2024, perhaps the Volkswagen Group might have developed an attractive electric super-wagon, made it sound as great as an RS 4 and found a way for owners to recharge it from guaranteed harm-free energy sources such as wind, tidal or solar. Oh, and the small matter of making such an EV profitable so that Audi stays in business. If that's the future, bring it on.

Key Vehicle Attributes

ModelAudi Sport RS 4 Avant
PlantIngolstadt
Production datesQ4 2017 to Q3 2022
Next Product ActionFacelift expected Q1 2019
PlatformVAG MLB Evo
SegmentD-segment large car
Producton statusIn production
Drive configurationAWD
Wheelbase2820

Source: PLDB/QUBE

Learn more about just-auto's PLDB database