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Car Review

Audi RS4 Avant review

£63,265 - £80,865
710
Published: 10 Oct 2023
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This reworked RS4 shows how committed RS GmbH is to creating cars of real character. A bit uptight, mind

Good stuff

Looks great, unflappable all-weather pace and performance, impregnable build quality

Bad stuff

Thirsty if you up the pace, the BMW M3 Touring exists

Overview

What is it?

You need to ask? It’s the fast Audi estate, the spiritual successor to the RS2 that kicked it all off 26 years ago with a car that accelerated to 30mph faster than a McLaren F1. OK, so the RS6 Avant is the horsepower daddy but we’d argue that the smaller and lighter RS4 is more fleet of foot and therefore even more desirable.

It’s been around since 1999, when it used a 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6, before going nat asp V8 for a few thunderous golden generations before efficiently downsizing à la mode in B9 form (to use internal Audi code) and running a 2.9-litre biturbo good for 444bhp. That stays for this latest incarnation, a face- (and bottom-) lift that eschews power hikes in favour of a judicious mission optimisation.

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This is all about finessing the chassis and powertrain, to deliver a car that’s more nuanced even if there are still elements of Ingolstadt sledgehammer to its character. Audi highlights weight reduction and improved driving dynamics, which sounds good to us.

And visual tweaks too, right?

Oh yes. Following on from an A4-range wide overhaul, Audi added darkened Matrix LED headlights, which intensify a visage that was hardly lacking in aggression anyway. The single frame grille is wider and flatter, the RS-bespoke front air intakes are bigger than ever, chrome slits bisect the tail-lights, and the whole lot issues a comprehensive rear-view mirror fast lane, um, ‘flip you’.

The ur-Quattro through-line is taken care of via front and rear wheel arch tumescence (30mm wider compared to the stock Avant), and the (cosmetic) air vents on the bonnet’s leading edge. You’ll search far and wide for a more resolutely planted looking car than this, even on its standard 19in, 10-spoke Audi Sport alloys (the Carbon Black and Vorsprung trim get 20s as standard, otherwise they’ll cost you £2,100).

Audi claims aesthetic kinship with the fabled Eighties IMSA 90 GTO racer, possibly the most deranged car in its entire back catalogue. Cool.

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Anything else to move the game along?

Elsewhere, the changes are all in the small print. New software promises faster shifts in the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox, a wider torque curve (442lb ft between 1,900 and 5,000rpm), and there are quicker reactions and a more rearward bias in the quattro hardware, plus revised software for the passive anti-roll set-up and the adaptive dampers.

All the safety, driver assistance and connectivity has been brought right up to date, with an RS-specific Audi Virtual Cockpit (sounds almost quaint now, nearly a decade after it first appeared in the TT v3.0), and Audi’s MMI touchscreen operating system. There’s also an eye-popping range of colours available. If you’re prepared to pay for ‘em…

You’ve not mentioned the car in the pictures, the Competition model.

Well aren’t you eagle-eyed? There’s a good reason for that: Audi only allocated 75 examples of the RS4 Avant Competition to the UK, and they’ve all long since sold out.

The Comp brought grippier rubber, new gearbox mapping and coding for the ECU, an active rear diff and fixed steering ratio to the party, plus a stupendously complex suspension. The result? 0-62mph two tenths quicker than standard. Which doesn’t sound like much, but the effect on handling - and therefore enjoyment - was transformative. It’s the best version of the RS4 to date. How dare Audi make so few, so late on in its life.

What’s the RS4 up against?

The usual suspects, of course: there’s the estate version of the Mercedes-AMG C63, and the new BMW M3 Touring. The latter in particular is a huge problem for the RS4 these days given they’re a generation apart, literally and metaphorically. It’s like comparing a Nokia 3310 with the latest iPhone.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

The RS4 is visually distinctive, impeccably engineered and has the pace to exceed the requirements for any self-respecting supercar

The RS4 shows how committed RS GmbH is to creating cars of real character, as opposed to machines that you simply point down the autobahn. Whatever the weather. The people running the show over there are young and enthusiastic and their cars have an impressively evolving bandwidth, including considerable potential to entertain.

The RS4 is visually distinctive, impeccably engineered and built, and has the pace and capability to exceed the requirements for any self-respecting real-world supercar. Hard to fault in an objective sense, then. Yet it still feels a bit uptight, and not completely comfortable with the more extrovert aspects of its remit.

That’s become even more stark with the arrival of the extremely capable BMW M3 Touring, although the limited-run RS4 Comp gives us hope that Audi can hit back when its replacement hits showrooms.

The Rivals

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