I will never forget the second-generation Audi RS4 Avant. Four years ago, I wrote (and really believed) that it is the ultimate everyday supercar – fast, classy, agile, just the right size, and fast. Its handling is exquisite, too, which is no mean feat considering that the rest of the A4 range during that time were criticised for their nose-heavy dynamics.
Unfortunately, I never got to own an RS4 Avant. At around $350,000 then, it was too expensive for me. The final obstacle to buying it (with a huge loan) was that by the time the B7 RS4 was launched, it had barely a year left of that generation’s shelf life.
It was thus with great anticipation that I picked up the third and latest incarnation of the RS4, now only available as a wagon and understandably so. The Avant looks far more attractive than the rather sombre saloon, and the RS4 restyle makes the estate even more fetching (while it fetches and carries).
“Fronting” the car is a huge, hexagonal single-frame grille with a honeycomb inset finished in high-gloss anthracite and a distinctive front bumper that has a splitter edge like a racecar. Fabulously flared wheel arches differentiate the RS4 from lesser A4s. Fantastic indeed are the sharp horizontal upper edges of the rear fenders – reminiscent of the original 1980 Audi Quattro.
The rear end is dominated by a “two-hole”, quad-exhaust system integrated into an upturned diffuser. A discreet roof spoiler ensures necessary downforce, without detracting from the car’s understated sportiness.
Black dominates the interior, with the exception of the roofliner. The test car was fitted with the optional RS5 front buckets. Though expensive at $14,646 for a pair, these seats offer superb support and are a “must” for those who enjoy attacking corners on track days. The standard sports seats are more practical, though, and they offer a wider range of adjustments, including for the thighs.
RS-specific items include a special gear knob, a “piano”-finished instrument cluster bezel, red stitching, carbon inlays and two delicate bars for the door openers.
The extra bits make the RS4 cockpit feel special, but what really sets it apart is the way it drives. Start the engine and the deep-throated roar of the 450bhp 4.2-litre V8 is music to the ears of any enthusiast. This auditory feast is accentuated by the optional sports exhaust system fitted to the test car.
Leave the Audi drive select in Comfort or Auto mode, and the RS4 can potter around town happily, with no hiccups at all. I’m acutely aware of the tremendous power available at the mere tap of the accelerator, but so comfortable are the seats and so crystal-clear is the hi-fi audio that I almost wouldn’t mind just commuting at city speeds.
On an open stretch of road, I mesh the throttle pedal and appreciate the soul of the RS4 straightaway. Its V8 growls deeply but politely as I rev it past 4000rpm, with the crescendo building up dramatically as I approach the engine’s heady 8250rpm redline.
The throttle response is always instantaneous, accompanied by immediate reactions from the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. This car is speedy, but I’m equally impressed by the sheer fluidity of the suspension. Both Comfort and Auto modes provide a level of suppleness and refinement quite unexpected of an out-and-out sports wagon, yet the body is well-controlled over bumps and undulations. However, I prefer Auto to Comfort as the latter is a little underdamped for my liking.
Select the Dynamic drive mode and the character of the RS undergoes a drastic transformation. The exhaust barks in an intimidating yet adrenalin-inducing manner, the gearchanges become lightning-quick, the suspension stiffens up considerably and the steering feels even meatier.
It steers faster, too. But I find the directness and feedback rather unnatural, so unless I’m driving flat-out to (or on) the Sepang circuit, I would prefer to set the steering to its regular Auto mode, which is purer and has less artificial weighting.
The Dynamic drive mode is ideal when thrashing the car over twisty country roads (like those in ulu Lim Chu Kang). The RS4 always has a secure “on-rails” sensation, with neither nose-heaviness nor understeer round corners. With the RS4, Audi has taken its drive select system to a whole new level – the difference between the three modes is palpable, with the driver behind the wheel spoilt for choice in terms of damping and driveability.
Another reason for the brilliant handling of the RS4 is its (optional) Dynamic Ride Control, which employs oil lines and central valves to connect diagonally opposed pairs of shock absorbers. During on-the-limit cornering, DRC boosts the stability of the outside front wheel, thus keeping the RS4 even more steady. It’s pricey at $11,896 but DRC is a must-have option, in my opinion. It should have been included in the default specification, but charging extra for goodies like this one is normal for German automakers, I guess.
What is standard equipment is the RS4’s rear sport differential. It’s a torque-vectoring device that greatly increases the agility of the car, by sending more power to the inner rear wheel during aggressive cornering, thus minimising understeer.
For all its brilliance, the new RS4 is not without its flaws. For instance, I cannot understand why Audi refuses to fit a proper left footrest for the driver. Not only does it give extra ankle support, it would actually help drivers like me who habitually use left-foot braking when driving auto cars. Another “flaw” is, at this price level and considering the RS4’s top-of-the-line status, electrical opening/closing of the tailgate should be thrown in, rather than a $3012 optional feature!
The greatest feature of the RS4 is still its 4.2-litre V8. It could be the last of Audi’s naturally aspirated mega-engines, now that the RS6 and RS7 are using a twin-turbo 4-litre V8. Yes, the classic 4.2 motor is less sophisticated and less economical, but its soaring redline and soul-stirring soundtrack are unforgettable. The way it revs is also beautifully linear and simply beautiful.
With the amazing new RS4 Avant, Audi has truly aced it. To me, this is the ultimate vehicle for all seasons and reasons, with a unique performance spectrum that few cars can match. And it’s a practical four-seater wagon to boot! Suddenly, the $476k price tag looks less outrageous and almost tempting.
This story was first published in the July 2013 issue of Torque.
2013 Audi RS4 Avant 4.2 (A)
ENGINE 4163cc, 32-valves, V8
MAX POWER 450hp at 8250rpm
MAX TORQUE 430Nm 4000-6000rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 4.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 9.3km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 340g/km
Check out the even madder Audi RS6 Avant here
Audi RS5 Coupe has Porsche 911-slaying performance.