Yes, the V8 engine is gone, but so too is the ageing lack of pace offered by the much-loved powerplant. The new Audi RS4 Avant heads into the future, by going back to it, with V6 power.
Quit your whining about a lack of soul and don’t waste your time with a sad lament about the end of the V8 engine. The 2018 Audi RS4 Avant is a clinical performance weapon that flies under the radar – until it blows the radar to bits, that is.
As you’ll see in the accompanying video, I’ve come up with a nifty solution for those of you who simply can’t cope with the new RS4 and its ‘soul destroying’ lack of a V8 engine – buy a second-hand RS4. In fact, I’ve got a very good mate who owns an old model and he won’t ever sell it – good on him too. It’s a monster. A monster I fell in love with all over again, every single time I tested one.
While I love naturally aspirated V8 engines of all shapes and sizes (and specifically the Audi’s bellowing bent-eight), I’m also realistic about the future that must forge ahead without them. Whether we like it or not, that's where performance motoring is going. And I therefore embrace the second-hand V8 bargains that sit in the used car market for those of us that need a naturally aspirated V8 in our life.
However, unless you like your RS4 Avant slower and with less torque, the future is now. Right now, in fact. Time moves on, things change, and we’re not far away from the end of the naturally aspirated performance engine as we know it in every sense. And this new RS4 ratchets things up quite a notch in a number of different areas.
Let’s not forget either, this is a return to the RS4’s heritage. After two generations of V8 motivation, the RS4 returns from whence it came. And, make no mistake, it needed to. Forget the ear-pounding soundtrack for a minute, and that beautifully linear power delivery only a naturally aspirated V8 can provide, and the harsh reality was that the old car had become slow, heavy, and couldn’t keep up with the high-tech competition.
The RS4 Avant is back, though – back at the head of the pack technologically, and back where it belongs.
Read our pricing and specification guide for the full details, but the important price figure is this – $152,900 before on-road costs. It’s a fair wedge of money, sure, but you’re getting a hell of a lot of performance for the outlay too.
There’s plenty of standard sports-focused kit for Australian-delivered cars – as is Audi’s local arm’s want – and that means RS4 Avant buyers in Australia get a solid value proposition, as well as a vehicle that doesn’t need a hundred options boxes ticked. Highlights include: a sports differential, dynamic ride control with adaptive dampers, RS sports exhaust, 20-inch alloy wheels, and RS sports seats. As Rob Margeit noted in his local launch review, though – manual steering wheel adjustment for $150K? Really?
The 2.9-litre V6 twin turbo is a masterpiece of design and power generation, and its numbers are healthy too – 331kW and 600Nm. While power remains the same as the old engine, torque climbs by a whopping 170Nm. As ever, Audi’s quattro system (the original and still the best AWD system in the business) gets power to the ground in concert with an eight-speed torque converter auto. DSG? No thanks, not here, and the RS4 is all the better for it in my opinion.
0–100km/h is easily dispatched in 4.1 seconds, more than half a second faster than the old car, while top speed is limited to 250km/h. Needless to say, you’ll approach licence-endangering speed in Australia very, very quickly. It feels bloody fast too. If you get the chance to properly launch one on a racetrack, the horizon starts approaching very quickly.
The cabin is once again an exercise in understated cleanliness, thanks in part to the inclusion of Virtual Cockpit. Unlike the R8 RWS I tested recently, the RS4 isn’t as heavily driver-focused, and as such, there’s a central tablet display that allows the passenger to control the infotainment should they wish to.
The seats are supportive, firm but not uncomfortable, and crucially offer enough support even on the racetrack. They manage to straddle both ends of the spectrum; something many manufacturers can’t quite execute. Audi sport seats are usually high quality, and the RS4’s look as good as they feel.
Seats and steering wheel – the two big touchpoints on any vehicle, and they become more important the more money you’re outlaying, because buyers expect a quality interaction. The steering wheel is perfect for both road use and track action too, and everything about the cabin feels special enough to justify the asking price.
Fire the engine into life, and I challenge you not to smile at the raucous V6 as it settles into a nasty idle. Sure, it’s not as tough as the V8 at idle, but no V6 is for starters, and this sounds as good as any performance V6 I’ve heard recently. There’s an angry side to it, a little snarly, passive aggressive almost – I like it.
While the all-important numbers tell part of the story, there’s more to this new RS4 than data alone. The key seat of the pants experience that comes from a spirited drive – especially on-track as we did for our video – is the sense that the increase in pace extends well beyond a simple lift in the torque rating or 0–100km/h improvement.
The RS4 Avant feels sharper, more direct, more planted, lighter over the nose, and more willing to be worked hard into a corner than the old one ever did. It’s lighter on its feet, better balanced, and delivers more feedback through the wheel than the old one too. The steering isn’t completely fault free, but that’s an Audi/AWD thing that seems to be par for the course.
While few RS4 Avants will ever be driven in anger at a racetrack, the level of grip at the limit is unbelievable for what is intended to be a family hauler. Unless you deliberately provoke understeer, the RS4 rockets into and out of corners with assurance – it’s that impressive.
While some of you may lament the loss of the V8 engine (purely for its sonorous qualities, let’s be honest), you’ll quickly forget that the first time you fire into a corner and feel how sharp the front end is. The quattro system plays its part here too, of course, but the grip on offer and the way in which you can use that grip is staggering. This might be first and foremost a family conveyance, with plenty of storage space, but good lord is it fast.
It’s relentless too. Fire out of the hole, keep the throttle pedal buried, and the RS4 Avant thunders toward the horizon with just the slightest lift of the nose. The turbocharged engine keeps punching mercilessly through the mid-range, delivering body blow after body blow, knocking the V8 out of the park and grinding it into the dust. I love that V8 engine, I really do, but it cannot match this new six for sheer pace and power delivery.
While it’s human nature to slip on the rose-tinted glasses and remember ‘the good old days’, there’s nothing to fear when the future includes performance wagons like the new Audi RS4. It’s better by every measure than the car it replaces, and in that sense, buyers get the very best that Audi can currently concoct rather than a compromise. It’s a sensational wagon, no matter how you judge it.