Tom Ford12 June 2012

Top Gear drives the new Audi RS4

A practical estate with four-wheel-drive. And a 450bhp V8 that revs to 8,500rpm. Tom Ford reports...

Audi RS4 Avant

A fast Audi Avant. There's a joke about a surprised Labrador coming somewhere in here isn't there?

If we were sticking to the script, then yes. We'll see. The RS4 Avant is only coming in this estate form this time (last generation also included a saloon and a convertible), ostensibly because Audi doesn't see the point when the RS5 Coupe/convertible deal with the kind of issues that those customers might face. It gets a single-frame front grille, the shiny new headlights from the recent facelift, bumper tweaks front and back, side skirts and rather lovely squarish-squircle arches so beloved of Audi RS fans. It's subtle like it should be, but tough. Got some punch too: it may be a practical estate, but it's a practical estate with a naturally-aspirated V8 that revs to 8,500rpm, hits 62mph in 4.7 and 155 or 174mph top end depending on which limiter you pay for.

That's quick. I guess we're talking Quattro four-wheel drive to make it work?

Yup. As you might have guessed the RS4 is more of the same from the RS brand, so you get all-wheel drive with a basic 40/60 torque split front to rear. Get slip from either end and up to 85-percent of the shove can be shovelled to the rear wheels, or up to 70-percent to the front. There's also a sport differential that allows torque-vectoring across the rear axle - which also operates when you come off the throttle - so you get a measure of self-steering dynamics if you're on a surface with varying grip levels. It works. Grip is huge - especially in steady-state, long corners, and you can make it oversteer if you so wish. Well, a bit. It's a bit understeery if you just lob it too-fast into a corner, but hey-ho - you expected that, right?

Manual or auto? Which to choose?

You can't. Choose, that is. The RS4 comes only with a re-jigged version of Audi's ‘S Tronic' dual-clutch gearbox with little paddles behind the wheel. It's great in auto, fun-ish in manual mode (paddles or sequential lever) and blips the throttle on downshifts. It also gets launch control, which is a reliable way of kicking sand into the face of hot hatch owners without actually needing to be very good at driving.

Gallery: the new Audi RS4 Avant

Bet it sounds good though, because RS cars always do...

Pleasingly, rev this thing hard and it sounds ace. Not quite as deep and thrumbly as the old RS6, but once the exhaust flaps have flopped open, a raspy bellow that chuckles through the exhaust on the overrun. It's lovely. Sounds best through the optional sports exhaust - it's the one with the black tips to the tailpipes.

And that engine?

Is... interesting. Now that this car only comes as an estate/Avant, you start to question the relevance of a super-high-revving V8. One of the few cars that feels, oddly, like it could do with a turbo to give it some real depth of shove lower down the rev-band. Max torque is at a relatively high 4-6,000rpm (when a diesel engine has usually dropped off), and max power is way, way, way up at 8,250rpm (redlined at 8,500rpm), so the delivery is strange in what is a big - 1,795kg - estate. You really have to hammer the shenanigans out of it to get it to go. Fast as flip when you do, but crikey, it takes some working.

Options?

Carbon brakes save a bit of weight (4.5kgs) but probably aren't worth it for the road. The ‘Sport Package' offers Dynamic Ride Control, dynamic steering, a sports exhaust and 20-inch rotor alloys for £2,250. That's definitely worth it - option all the bits individually and it saves you nearly three grand. I liked the sports seats. Everything else was just very ... black. Other stuff? Everything you can get in any other Audi saloon, you can get in here.

So should I buy one?

Ugh. This is a toughie. I'm just not sure the delivery suits the car. This is a collection of very lovely elements that just don't quite gel together. When you roar around in a C63 AMG Estate, you feel like it's part muscle car, part wardrobe - the RS4 really needs it's neck wringing. Which doesn't - somehow - feel right. It's an impressive bit of kit, but the RS6 feels somehow more convincing with a bit more deep-chested brawn. If you live somewhere that regularly gets snow, then the RS4 might make a deal more sense, because traction and delivery are exemplary. But I must have mislaid the keys to my house in Switzerland... and I don't have a dog. Anymore, anyway...

The cost

Price: £54,925

The numbers

4,163cc V8, 450bhp@ 8,250rpm, 430Nm@4-6,000rpm, 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, 155/174mph top speed (limited/higher limiter), 26.4mpg (combined), 249g/km, weight: 1,795kg

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