In an urban world where conspicuous consumption and a “mine is bigger than yours” mentality is rampant, is there a place for a subtle alternative – a vehicle that modestly whispers its intent, and then over-delivers?
In my quiet suburban Sydney street live three oversized and sinister Mercedes-AMG biturbo SUVS.
Two are steered by mums and used mostly for the school run, the third is a pleasant high-flyer’s commuter runabout. The daily usage possibly sends a mere 40 tonnes of carbon spewing into the atmosphere. If the three ever fire up together, the local Richter needle gets a nudge.
But if a paucity of taste – and some might say strange priorities – are not factors in your world, why wouldn’t buyers instead consider a performance wagon, say an Audi RS (for RennSport) Avant?
The RS 4 Avant scores big time in the old “Dream Garage” routine. You know, when you are asked to nominate just one vehicle, but only one, to put in your garage, and it has to meet all your needs. The versatile performance wagon pops up frequently.
But, there is a hurdle. The Avant has to attract people who don’t want an SUV. So, no need to tow, no need to intimidate, no need to carry up to seven, a possible need to dirty the tyres, and all the usual factors.
The Avant – 4 and 6 – has never sold here in rich numbers. But those who buy the Audi wagon are faithful beyond belief. The loyalty factor is worth acknowledging; devotees and brand aficionados relish and appreciate the attributes of the wagon, its impeccable road manners, its versatility. Opera, school run, farm or racetrack.
Then there are its delightful luxurious look-and-touch cabin features, its comfort, and associated technology. And the feeling that it is ready to work with you rather than rebelliously confront the driver.
The S and RS badged Audis began as pepped-up variants of regular mainstream car models in the line-up. Audi’s first RS model in 1994, was a five-cylinder turbo of 232kW, making it the world’s first high-performance car with five seats and large luggage compartment. Though not available in Oz, its reputation quickly reached these parts. Soon the RS models were in demand here.
Powerful engines, tweaked track-friendly suspension, brakes and wheels/tyres and just a hint of menace in the styling were the RS characteristics. With Quattro all-wheel drive. The RS magic has since spread to some of the SUV Q-fleet, adding rocket-like acceleration and even largely overcoming the dynamics challenge posed by size and weight.
Smart buyers comfortable with the size of their man and lady bits, and who still enjoy driving, will always opt for the Avant over one of the tanks on the market, Audi or others. The Avant doesn’t have the handicap of excessive weight, excessive girth and height, and, well, excess…
Mounting a case for the RS 4 Avant is pretty easy. Just drive it. Choosing a sporty SUV ahead of an RS Avant is like Charlie Teo using an axe instead of a scalpel.
The just-launched 2021 RS 4 Avant commands admiration without over-reaching into glitz and ostentation. Compared with its predecessor, the RS 4 (available only in Avant wagon form) gets keener pricing and improved value from new features. Presentation inside and out also gets a lift.
The latest design language from the brethren RS 6 and RS 7 have been inherited by the new RS 4 range (plus the simultaneously launched five-door RS 5 Sportback and two-door Coupe, built on the same platform).
A restyled front includes bolder new RS bumpers, single frame grille and matrix headlights which increases night-time penetration. Cleverly, the matrix LED beam detects and subdues lights from oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front but continues to fully illuminate other areas between and alongside. The lights also have coming-home and leaving-home functions. But no Audi laser light, a feature on the RS 5 models.
Wheel arches are flared by 30mm on RS 4 (compared to the regular model), accommodating bigger, fatter wheels and tyres.
The rear has striking diffusers and the signature oval pipes in black at the exit of the sports exhaust system, alerting those in your postcode to the cheeky behaviour of the 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo, a boisterous bunch of joy hooked up to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.
The bare facts are these: the V6, co-developed by Porsche belts out 331kW peaking between 5700-6700rpm, and 600Nm, which is available from 1900-5000rpm.
Very different from the big revving and peaky V8 that some pine for, today’s pleasing reality is that the V6 provides way more torque across a muscled-up and broad mid-range.
Helped by the slick-changing Tiptronic with a conventional torque converter automatic gears, the V6, with its instant pulling power, makes for easy and effortless motoring in any conditions
In manic RS mode, it’ll fire the 1745kg (unladen, 1820kg with driver) rig from rest to 100km/h in 4.1 sec, or two tenths slower than the slightly lighter RS 5 pair.
Riding on a firm yet pleasantly determined RS Sport five-link front and rear suspension, the five-seater RS 4 Avant’s clear attributes over bigger, taller, heavier weapons are unflappable poise and reassuring manners.
Modern technology is an ally here.
The Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive sport rear differential with self-locking mechanical centre diff adjusts constantly to the varying conditions and driving habits. In cruisy motoring, it tends to favour rear drive, though the ever-changing drive split can go as high as 70 per cent at the front and 85 at the rear. All seamless.
Also available is an optional dynamic ride control with adaptive dampers feature for $4400 extra.
The brakes need to be startling to handle this level of performance. They’re 375mm x 36mm rotors managed by six-piston fixed callipers up front with 330 x 22mm rotors and two-piston floating callipers at the rear. One complaint: the brake pedal sits on a slightly higher plane to the throttle, meaning the driver must elevate his foot in the switch of pedals. In Audi fashion, optional carbon fibre-reinforced ceramic fronts – bigger 400x38mm rotors with six-piston callipers – save 6.5kg in weight but set you back $13,600.
Electromechanical steering with speed-dependant power assist firms up as you crank up the pace, working well with the last line of defence – 275/30 R30 97Y XL (extra load) Hankook Ventus S1 Evo 2 rubber fitted to forged aluminium 9.0J x 20-inch wheels in gloss black. They grip like a circus acrobat.
Audi’s usual Drive Select programs are in this case limited to comfort, auto and dynamic. But there are more extravagant tuning preferences available. These are easily locked in and accessed via a convenient RS button on the just-right pin-cushioned leather wheel, bringing into play either of two pre-configured driver predilections, RS1 and RS2. Added fun at the tap of a button. Exemplary ride control meets dazzling high-speed stability and composure.
This is an absolute delight to drive and so reassuring – the accuracy and feel of the steering, the well-resolved suspension, strong braking, and the tenacious grip of the tyres.
For most situations, though, the comfort mode is ideal. It’s not cushy – and still offers all you want unless you’re pushing very hard. There’s no measurable pitch or lean when hooking into a series of tight corners. But even in the comfort setting, there is some conduction of vibration to the steering from all but smooth tarmac.
Yet, the RS 4 Avant is as tractable and as docile as you want at times. Even quiet(ish).
The pipes play a sweet, growly tune, with a sharp blurty outburst on the upchanges and an eruptive bellow and series of crackles on the downshifts and overrun. Not as evocative perhaps as the earlier V8-engined RS 4s – maybe the extra surge and punchy torque of today’s version leaves the supersonic boom in its wake.
The driver-focussed cabin is a nice environment in which to be ensconced. The interior is predictable Audi shades of black with grey. Front-seat occupants enjoy the feeling of being hugged by the splendid RS Sport seats including pneumatic adjustment of the side bolster and lumbar support. The buckets are covered in fine Nappa hide with contrasting honeycomb patterned stitching and RS embossing. More importantly, you stay firmly planted when getting creative at the wheel.
This facelifted model gets a new-gen MMI navigation-plus infotainment system with a slightly larger 10.1-inch touchscreen (with acoustic feedback) which does away with the old rotary scroller. The nav uses Google Earth and is a breeze to operate.
A revised virtual cockpit display in front of the driver offers choices of presentation including a new hockey-stick shaped runway tacho, redlined at 7000rpm.
The latest Audi smartphone interface (with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) can also connect to a second phone via Bluetooth, while the Bang & Olufsen 3D sound with 19 speakers and 755 Watts is a spectacular earful.
Operated by user-friendly rotary dials, three-zone air is standard, and in cold weather, those in the front and outboard-rear seats can warm their tails with heated pews.
The RS Avant also has standard inlays of a mysterious surface called aluminium race, anthracite. Think of it as a Kevlar look with aluminium sheen. Optional inlays in carbon twill or matte carbon twill can be ticked too; $1400 each.
Illuminated front door-sill trims with aluminium inlays and RS emblem let you know you’re aboard something special in the Audi world.
Equipment levels have been boosted in this refreshed model. New are 20-inch Audi sport wheels, metallic paint, black exterior styling package with black mirrors and roof rails, and the previously mentioned matrix LED headlights.
There’s also a whole array of other standard stuff, some worthier than others. Red RS brake callipers, gloss black exterior appearance package, head up display now on the RS 4, panoramic sunroof, Audi smartphone interface, wireless smartphone charging and flat-bottom RS multifunction sport steering wheel. There is also park assist (your RS will park itself except for the braking).
Safety gear includes eight airbags along with a whole formidable suite of active safety and driver assistance systems: lane-change warning (side assist) with blind spot warning, Audi pre-sense city with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver-attention assist, exit warning, Audi pre-sense basic, pre-sense rear, multi-collision braking, rear cross-traffic assist, collision avoidance assist, turn assist (which stops you from turning into oncoming traffic at low speeds), 360-degree cameras with front and rear parking sensors, active lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise with stop and go and traffic jam assist (meaning you probably won’t have to touch the brake even in heavy snarls).
If this is not enough, Audi offers a few optional packages including RS Design red stitching and trim and carpeting embellishments ($3400), carbon styling consisting of front spoiler, sill extension inserts and rear diffuser insert and mirror housings in carbon, roof rails in matte black ($11,200) and matte aluminium-look roof rails, front spoiler mirror housing and rear diffuser (no-cost).
To mundane matters; fuel consumption is quoted at a city/highway average of 9.5 L/100 (using 98 RON), slightly thirstier than the RS 5 Coupe and Sportback. We managed 10.3L/100km, which included the occasional expression session.
Moving to mundane yet important matters, the Avant will take 505 litres of cargo behind the second row, which stretches to 1495 litres with the second row flattened. Included are a luggage net and blind, and electric tailgate with compartment gesture control.
Servicing is 15,000km or annually, whichever comes first. The RS 4 Avant is offered with the Audi service plan package, priced at $1950 for three years and $3050 for five years. It is covered by the brand’s three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Rivals? There is really just one – until the M3 Touring arrives – positioned in that rare performance-luxury traditional wagon niche and that’s the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate 375kW/700Nm 4.0 twin-turbo V8.
Rear drive and good for zero-100km/h in 4.0 secs, the Merc is at $168,535 MLP, about $20K costlier.
The price of the facelifted Audi RS 4 Avant is $147,900 before on-road costs, a reduction of $4629 – but buyers should also consider the total added value of $3400.
Overall, it’s a spectacularly rapid, tastefully styled, versatile wagon that manages to be comfortable and perfectly acceptable for daily use while wooing the enthusiast driver.