2018 Audi RS4 Avant review

It's lost two cylinders and that soundtrack of angels fighting to the death, but the new Audi RS4 Avant has gained so much more.

Go on. Thump your chest. Cry a little. Write a eulogy for the death of the 4.2-litre V8 that once hulked under the bonnet of the Audi RS4. Get it out of your system, have a cup of tea and a lie down. And then, when you’ve driven the all-new 2018 Audi RS4 Avant, start celebrating. Because, despite the loss of two cylinders and 1.3 litres of displacement, this thing is epic.

Make no mistake, I loved the previous B8-generation RS4 with its snarling bark and even more menacing bite. It was, and remains, a glorious thing. Its 331kW and 430Nm married to its rev-happy nature made for an aural delight and a 0–100km/h sprint time of 4.7 seconds. Quick then, but certainly not best in class. But what it lacked in outright pace, it made up for with a sonorous sound so maniacal it couldn’t help but put a smile on your face.

But the march of time halts for no-one, and inexorably the gods of change bring with them a new dichotomy. In automotive terms that means making more with less. And in that regard, this new RS4 family hauler passes with flying colours. Save your tears for another day and consign that eulogy to the bin. This is a proper performance car, and more importantly, a worthy addition to the RS4 Avant lineage.

Under the hood lurks Audi’s 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 with outputs of 331kW and 600Nm. That’s the same power as the outgoing V8 and a healthy 170Nm more torque over the B8-gen RS4. That power is transmitted to Audi’s quattro all-paw system via an eight-speed tiptronic torque converter transmission. Feel like taking on the traffic light grand prix? Standstill to 100km/h is dispatched in a claimed 4.1 seconds – 0.6s quicker than the V8 Avant it replaces. Top speed is limited to 250km/h.

If that all sounds strikingly familiar, it’s because it is. Dig under the skin of the new Audi RS5 coupe and you will find the same powertrain with the same outputs and a slightly quicker 0–100km/h time of 3.9 seconds. Although, if we’re being honest, judged by the seat of the pants, the RS4’s claim of 4.1 seconds feels conservative.

It’s similarly priced too, the RS4 Avant asking for $152,900 plus on-road costs to make a new home in your garage. That’s favourable against the outgoing model that rolled out of showrooms for $151,010.

As expected, local deliveries of the RS4 Avant feature plenty of standard inclusions, both decorative and functional, sometimes both.

Out front, the RS4 Avant sports adaptive LED headlights, while at the rear, dynamic indicators have become something of an Audi signature. Staying at the rear, the RS sport exhaust looks as mean as it sounds. Red RS-branded brake calipers are encased inside 20-inch Audi sport alloys.

Under the skin, the RS4 scores a sport differential and dynamic ride control with adaptive dampers. Inside, there’s a panoramic sunroof (which can be deleted at no cost), privacy glass, RS sport heated front seats finished in Nappa leather with the now obligatory honeycomb stitching, featuring pneumatic side bolster adjustment and lumbar support with massage function.

There’s a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, while the Virtual Cockpit adds a host of RS-specific features such as g-force meter, torque and power readings, and if driving in manual mode, the centrally displayed tachometer will keep you entertained with shift lights.

Audi claims there are 30 safety and driver-assistance systems shoehorned into the RS4 Avant, including adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, Audi side assist with blind-spot warning, tyre pressure monitoring, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver-attention assist, high-beam assist, active lane assist and 360-degree cameras, while eight airbags provide plenty of coverage for occupants.

Inside, the RS4 is typical Audi: clean, functional, comfortable. We often talk about a typically Audi cabin, and this is. But there is a quality to the materials and the fit and finish that is, as you would expect, a class above other Audis down the food chain.

The RS-branded leather seats offer plenty of support, hugging you snugly, with the aforementioned lumbar support and, for those so inclined, massage function. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach, although here a bit of cost-cutting sees it manually, not electrically, adjustable. Still, it feels lovely in hand.

RS logos everywhere remind you this is no ordinary Audi. And it isn’t.

Push the start/stop button and that lovely twin-turbo V6 barks into life – yes, barks. It’s raucous and loud, if not as menacing as the outgoing and ageing V8, but it speaks of an undeniable purpose. Dry your tears, allay your fears, because this is the real deal.

With a sedate start to our drive loop, the RS4 behaves in a manner befitting a German luxury hauler. The ride is pliant and comfortable, despite Audi’s hot wagon sitting on 20-inch alloys. Sure, it’s on the firm side, but not to the point where a trip to your local physio’ is needed to realign your spine.

Out on the freeway, the RS4 is happy to hum along quietly at 110km/h, displaying behavioural qualities more in keeping with its tamer A4 sibling. But, flick the drive selector from Comfort to Dynamic, and this is easier than ever thanks to a small 'star' button on the steering wheel, and the RS4’s reason for being becomes immediately apparent.

With a howl and growl, the twin-turbo V6 spools up and unleashes a seemingly endless supply of power and torque.

Let’s talk about torque. There’s 600Nm of it, and it’s available from 1900–5500rpm in the rev range. And it just doesn’t disappoint. Cruising along at 110km/h in seventh, mash the right pedal for a burst of acceleration and the wagon leaps forward with a ferocity that takes you by surprise. Every single time. It just makes you laugh. And squeal.

It sounds good too, although of course not as sonorous as the V8 it replaces. There are satisfying growls, though, and the bangs on up-changes are intoxicating. Using the paddle-shifters to shift between cogs is satisfying and visceral. However, it’s almost redundant – that’s how good that tiptronic auto is.

And she knows when you’re up it for the rent, happily running out to redline without auto-shifting cogs. One section of particularly twisty and aggressive driving saw the old ’box not shift out of third. It just knew that it was the best gear for right here, right now. Remarkable.

Conversely, in normal traffic she shuffled effortlessly and seamlessly through the ratios, humming along nicely all while sipping minimal fuel. Audi claims eights, and we reckon you could probably go close to that with a mix of highway and city traffic. Our spirited drive recorded high 12s, and that was with the auto ’box screaming along at 6500rpm for long stints.

Lag? Forget it. There is none, those twin turbos spooling easily and freely in tandem to provide instant throttle response.

Dynamically, too, that quattro all-wheel-drive system comes into play, delivering the right amount of torque to the right wheel at any given time. Anchored by a mechanical centre diff lock, the RS4 in sedate mode, or what Audi refers to as ‘regular’ driving, distributes torque between the front and rears 40/60. But dial up the attitude, and that transfer can range up to 70 per cent to the front and 85 per cent rearwards, as required.

Further, the sport differential, with specific RS tuning in this application, distributes torque between the rear wheels, sending power to the wheel that needs it most. Get on the gas mid-corner and (such is the stability of the RS4) the sport diff happily shuffles most of the V6’s torque to the outside wheel, effectively eliminating understeer. Find yourself with a little bit of oversteer on your hands, and the diff will send torque to the inside wheel to give you a helping nudge.

All that mechanical trickery adds up to one thing, and one thing only, and that is you, the driver, being in possession of a self-belief – a confidence that allows you to extract the most out of the Avant. It simply holds the road, its snout hunkering down and going exactly where you tell it. Mid-corner bumps are absorbed and dispatched with barely a ripple, and if you can get this thing to break traction you’ll be doing well. The steering is direct and precise, too, although it does lack a little feedback. Not a deal-breaker, though.

And the standard-fit brakes just keep on giving. There is no hint of fade, no long pedal, just a reassuring retardation of speed every time you stomp on the middle pedal.

The Avant feels agile, too, despite its family-hauler shape and dimensions, not to mention its 1790kg kerb weight that, if it sounds portly, is actually 80kg down on the model it replaces.

In short, the RS4 Avant is epic. The power. The torque. The grip. The appetite for speed. The relentless pursuit of corners. There is no weak spot in its power delivery. It is simply prodigious.

Factor in the wagon’s practicality and we have the makings of the ultimate, yet sensible, mid-life crisis. There’s 505 litres of boot space with the back row in play, expanding to a handy 1510 litres with the second row 40/20/40 split-fold seats stowed flat. There’s a neat little feature, too, the carpeted boot floor, which when lifted out and flipped reveals a durable plastic side – ideal for those muddy sports shoes or filthy camping gear. Practical and clever.

That back row, too, is plenty comfortable for all but the tallest of adults, helped no doubt by this generation gaining 13mm in cabin length and 11mm in shoulder room. Pick those gains with the naked eye? Not on your life, but like so much in life, the smallest things can make a big difference.

You’d think losing a couple of cylinders would stifle the life out of what was a heroic family wagon turned muscle car. And while it’s true some of the sound of that musculature has been neutered, this new iteration of the Audi RS4 Avant is a worthy addition to the lineage that dates back to 1994. Forget about the growl of the V8, it’s gone forever, and spare me your tears at losing just one small element of what made this car so special, but do not underestimate this car.

It may lack the aural theatre of its predecessor (only just, mind you), but makes up for it with a superbly dynamic driving experience, at once blindingly fast and supremely capable. Throw in decent dollops of practicality, and this iteration of the RS4 Avant is a triumph.

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