Audi RS4 Avant (2018) review: Fast, furious and also mildly practical
Who said estate cars were boring? Anyone? Hello? Oh wait, they’ve all gone for a lie down after a drive in the new 2018 Audi RS4 Avant. The thrill-seeker’s load-lugger is back and raring to ferry the family (and all the luggage) from A to B faster than a bumper-sized rocketship. Just don’t forget to pack the sick bags.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? The ideal combination of performance and practicality, you might think. But apparently the market doesn’t agree, because there aren’t many direct rivals. Just the Mercedes-AMG C63. Why not? Who knows, but there’s clearly enough interest from punters, because this is the fourth generation of this particular model to hit the road, and it’s very different to the car it replaces.
Instead of the previous RS4’s naturally aspirated V8 engine, this one delivers its thrills via a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6, which develops a thumping 444bhp of power and delivers a monstrous 443lb ft of torque. That’s 125lb ft more pulling power than the outgoing engine and it makes for effortless overtaking, whether you’re on the motorway or flinging it around twisty mountain roads.
The RS4 has lost some weight for this edition – up to 80kg, with 31kg trimmed from the engine alone – and will whisk you from 0-62mph in a trice (that’s 4.1 seconds), although that will take a hit with the kiddies and the camping gear in the rear.
Audi RS4 Avant review: Inside and out
And that, in a nutshell, is the appeal of the Audi RS4 Avant: it’s a bit of a nutcase but it’s also very practical. It’s is an estate car, after all, so there’s a reasonable amount of leg- and headroom for two passengers in the rear, plus a 505-litre boot out back. Just make sure everything is tied down before you put the RS4 through its paces.
This is no stripped-down sports car, though. The car I was provided with was dressed to the nines with tech, with massage seats for both driver and passenger and all the usual Audi mod cons. Audi hasn’t yet started to push the toys from the 2018 Audi A8 in the year into the rest of its range, so you don’t get a touchscreen here with haptic feedback, but the Audi MMI infotainment setup is just as competent as it is throughout the rest of the range.[gallery:1]
A clear, crisp 8.3in display juts purposefully from the centre of the dashboard, right in your eyeline, and the controls are placed at your fingertips in the centre console below. It’s an intuitive, responsive system: a scrolling, five-way dial provides control of all the car’s systems and, unlike a touchscreen, you can use it without having to tear your eyes off the road for seconds at a time.
Audi’s media and satnav are excellent as usual, but for those who prefer to stick with Google or Apple Maps, there’s support for both of those systems too. Since they’re primarily touch-driven systems, it takes a while to get used to controlling them via Audi’s MMI dial, though, and there’s no integration with the digital dashboard display behind the steering wheel.[gallery:13]
The rest of the RS4 Avant’s in-car systems are pretty good, however, especially that 12.3in Virtual Cockpit screen. This can be tailored to your preferences; you can display a traditional set of dials, a rev counter with a g-force meter or a large satnav-dominated view with the speedometer and rev counter shrunk right down.
There’s also a decent heads-up display, which you can activate via a small combo dial and button to the left of the steering wheel; the dial allows you to adjust the height of the display on the windscreen and clicking it cycles through different options, which include satnav directions and a lap timer.[gallery:5]
As for the rest of the cabin, it’s as you’d expect: mildly sportified but not too pared back, with a three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel taking centre stage, red highlight stitching, carbon fibre, and flashes of Alcantara sploshed liberally around the cabin.
There’s even a decent sound system here, made by Bang & Olufsen, which comes as part of the £1,295 Comfort pack. This is just as solid as the car’s handling: thrilling, fun to listen to and rarely gets out of shape even when you turn up the heat.
Step out of the driver’s seat for a moment (although you won’t want to do that for long) and your eyes will be regaled by a surprisingly muscular-looking, attractive car. Again, it’s not overly outlandish, and won’t draw too much attention to itself in the supermarket car park, but there’s just enough here – aside from the giveaway RS logo – to hint that you’re driving something a little bit special.
At the rear, blistered wheel arches, a rear diffuser and twin oval exhausts give the car a purposeful look. Wheel arch vents at the front and rear complement big 19in or 20in alloy wheels, and a broader, squatter honeycomb front grille tops it all off.[gallery:2]
Audi RS4 Avant review: What’s it like to drive?
You can nitpick all you like about how the performance of the RS4 Avant compares with this car or that, but the bottom line is that this is one FUN car to drive. And once you’ve had your giggles, you can pop to Ikea, drop the seats and load a wardrobe in the back. It’s no McLaren 720S – it still weighs 1,715kg – but for its class, it’s a monster.
And this is a car that not only talks the talk but walks the walk, with a selection of driving modes you can really feel the difference between. “Dynamic” is what you want for the most engaging drive: it stiffens up the suspension and gives the steering a more direct feel; “Comfort” dials back on everything for a smoother, more cushy motorway cruise; while “Auto” sits somewhere in between.
It’s also possible to set up the driving style to your own liking using “Individual” mode. For general driving, if you prefer the feel of the Dynamic steering setup to the more detached Comfort mode, but want a plusher ride, you can set that up with a few clicks and spins of the control dial.[gallery:10]
Think of it as the Swiss Army knife of family motoring, with a blade for every style of driving. The Audi RS4 Avant does everything: it’s a fast car you can have fun with on twisty country lanes or the track; and it’s a comfortable, practical family car, good for short journeys and long alike.
Audio’s Quattro all-wheel drive takes care of everything for you, directing different levels of power to the front, rear, left and right side wheels through the car’s sport differential. No matter what the conditions, the level of grip inspires a huge amount of confidence. This is one car that’s reluctant to break traction, however hard you drive it – unless you start disengaging the car’s various safety systems, of course.
For a big car, there’s very little body roll, and phenomenal amounts of acceleration, thrust and grip. And all the while, the engine growls, grumbles and whines, accompanied by the sweet, sweet music of that sports exhaust, which spits and pops and snarls as you accelerate and brake.
And if you want to take a backseat for a while, there’s plenty of tech to help take the stress out of long motorway jaunts as well, with adaptive cruise control and active lane assistance to help you in start-stop traffic, and a bunch of safety-warning systems including blind-spot indicators and rear cross traffic alerts. The car isn’t shouty all the time, either; at motorway speeds, when you’re not accelerating or braking hard, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were driving a regular A4.[gallery:11]
Audi RS4 Avant: Verdict
But this is no ordinary estate, it’s special: a hard-driving, powerful, agile, safe and practical car, all wrapped up in one wonderfully crazy package. And if you want that sort of thing, there aren’t an awful lot of alternatives. Mercedes makes one – the AMG C63 estate – which by all accounts (I haven’t driven one) delivers a slightly more engaging drive, but the extra peace of mind that the Quattro all-wheel-drive system provides might tip you in the direction of the RS4 Avant anyway.
One thing’s for sure: it’ll be mighty hard going back to my lumbering 1.7-litre diesel estate after experiencing the force of nature that is the Audi RS4 Avant. For proper do-it-all practical performance, it doesn’t get much better.