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Audi RS4 Avant

Overall verdict

The Top Gear car review: Audi RS4 Avant



What is it like on the road?

The R8 was probably the first high performance Audi to introduce suppleness to a chassis lexicon in which ride comfort was apparently an alien concept. Since then, the company regularly flies its engineers to the UK during final sign-off, the crucible of distressed bitumen and asphalt. Props to Audi UK’s press operatives for inviting us to try the RS4 on one of the few roads worse than anything we can provide: the ribbon that carves through Morocco’s magnificent Atlas Mountains. Majestically scenic, some of it is actually fabulously well-surfaced, and it’ll be brilliant when it’s finished (sometime in 2120). For now, the problem is that you can go from smoothly grippy stuff to a rutted Paris Dakar-style track in the space of five minutes – sometimes even less, and often with a JCB chomping through the mountain-side for added jeopardy – which is a hell of a way to prove out the RS4’s quattro prowess and multi-link front and rear suspension.

Like the new RS6, though, this thing is a revelation. The RS Sport suspension sits seven millimetres lower than the S4’s set-up, and it’s very well judged. Things get more complicated and even better if you’ve ticked the optional Dynamic Ride Control box. It works in a manner similar to the system in the McLaren 720S, using three-mode dampers that are linked diagonally with hydraulic fluid. As in the latest RS6, this is another highly rapid Audi in which the chassis’ compliance actually trumps its lateral grip in the top 10 of reasons to be impressed by it. Its everyday useability is terrific.

Which isn’t to say that this isn’t a car of considerable dynamic competence. Although it weighs 1,745kg, it warps between apexes with palpable conviction and doesn’t fall over itself when it gets to them (it’s worth noting that the 2.9-litre TFSI engine only weighs 182kg). Steering feel is probably one of its weaker points, but its front end poise is terrific, and an electronically controlled rear differential means the back end obediently follows suit (RS-only variable ratio dynamic steering is an option). It’s meticulous and precise, its quattro AWD meting out torque in a mostly 40:60 front to rear split, with torque vectoring in the mix to further sweeten its cornering chops. Braking is by 375mm front, 330mm rear steel discs as standard, with ceramics as an option (which also save 8kg in unsprung mass – they cost £6,150); the standard set-up isn’t wholly feelsome but is easily good enough. This is a car that is singularly unflappable, as well as more than fast enough for any sane human: 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds, and a top speed of 174mph (with the electronic restrictor removed).

But here’s an old-fashioned thought: does it get the heart pumping? Not in the way a Mercedes-AMG C63 or, if we discount the estate element, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio does. The RS4’s engine doesn’t ripple with the same frenzied character, although the (optional) sports exhaust ramps up the drama. Audi’s Drive Select offers six different profiles, influencing the engine and transmission, steering, suspension, and the quattro sport differential. Although you can customise the RS1 and 2 modes, it still doesn’t feel like a car in which you’d be inclined to go into ‘hoon’ mode for the sake of it (unlike the C63 or Alfa). And you’ve got to stick the ’box in manual mode to get the best out of it, regardless of the software tweaks. It’s plenty smooth enough left to its own devices, but never quite where I wanted it to be once we got a move on.