The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0
The split personality of the latest Audi RS4 is something to be applauded. At cruising pace and around town it remains refined and comfortable. But at the flick of a switch and it turns into a completely different animal - loud, responsive and heart-stoppingly quick.
Reasons to buy
- Supercar performance
- Spacious interior
- Extensive standard equipment list
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
Audi has always had a way of adding a bit of sparkle to what are ordinary cars. Take the RS2 of the 90s. To many it’s simply an estate car with a bit more oomph, but to Audi aficionados it’s gained cult status, something it’s hoping to emulate with that latest version of the RS 4 Avant. Whereas the previous generation RS 4 was available as a saloon and estate, Audi is only offering the 2012 model as an Avant, estate to you and me, and for what it justifies as some very good reasons. It claims that many of its customers who wanted an RS saloon will have moved over to the RS5 coupe, and with hot estates generally outselling their saloon counterparts, sticking with the former seemed to make sense. The RS4 Avant is, put simply, the rocket ship version of the A4, and one look at the styling tells you all you need to know. There’s a more imposing front grille with trademark honeycombed trapezoidal grille and matte aluminium frame, as well as a lower bumper with huge air ducts. At the rear, the sporting characteristics continue, with dual exhausts either side of a racing car style diffuser, as well as a redesigned bumper. Elsewhere, blistered wheel arches and ten-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels, and roof spoiler complete the RS’ imposing look.
What's the interior like?
Audi has gained a reputation for offering some of the best interiors in the business, and the RS 4 is no exception. It remains premium but with hints of sportiness like the chunky, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and RS4 badging scattered throughout the cabin. The dashboard is beautifully and logically laid out, with excellent cabin materials and standard leather/Alcantara seats that are both comfortable on long journeys and supportive when driving at pace. The centre console is slightly angled towards the driver, which makes it easier to control Audi’s multimedia interface – which operates the climate control, sat-nav and stereo. All of these are operated via a rotary knob, which, out of all the systems in the executive market, is one of the most intuitive to use. Getting comfortable is easy as there’s a full range of adjustment on both the steering wheel and seat, and there’s good all round visibility.
How practical is it?
By offering the RS 4 as an estate only, it makes it one of the most practical performance cars on the market, meaning the tip run can be done in record time. With the rear seats up, the boot offers a more than usable 490 litres of space which grows to 1,430 litres when they’re laid flat. The boot also comes fully loaded with nets and guide rails to stop fragile items sliding around. Rear passengers will find leg room rather limited, and there’s only enough space for a couple of adults to sit comfortably in the back, due to the central transmission tunnel which runs through the length of the car.
What's it like to drive?
The A4 Avant chassis has been heavily revised for the RS4. It rides 20mm lower than the standard model, and incorporates lightweight aluminium in its multilink suspension. Audis Driver Select package allows the driver to switch between comfort, automatic and dynamic settings depending on their mood and the conditions. Opt for comfort, and on motorways and at more moderate speeds, the RS4 is just as easy to use as any lower powered A4. It’s comfortable, refined and floats over imperfections in the road. Switch to dynamic mode, and it turns into a completely different animal. The suspension stiffens up, the throttle response becomes more immediate, the steering offers more feel and the gearbox speeds up. The exhaust volume also breaks into a crescendo, especially when lifting off the throttle is accompanied by a thunderous boom before accelerating. Opt for the Sports pack and driving at pace is even more engaging still. It includes Dynamic Ride control, dynamic steering system, sports exhaust and wider alloys. We only found this necessary for drivers who are more inclined to push the limits of the car on a track, rather than a spirited country lane blast. Audi has made a name for itself with its Quattro four-wheel drive system, and the RS4 Avant is no exception. It features Audis clever crown gear centre differential which splits torque 40:60 front to rear but can send up to 85 per cent of power to the rear wheels, or up to 70 per cent through the front wheels, and a sports diff, which varies torque through the left and right rear wheels.
How powerful is it?
Put simply, the RS4 Avant will shame many supercars. It’s powered by a revvy 4.2-litre V8 which pumps out 444bhp at 8,250rpm, 30bhp more than the previous model, and maximum torque of 317lb/ft between 4,000-6,000rpm. Use the launch control and it will accelerate from standstill to 60mph in under 5 seconds, and keep going to a limited top speed of 155mph, although this can be extended to 174mph with the Sports pack. It’s not quite as extreme or intense as the Mercedes C63 AMG, instead power comes gradually rather than in immediate bursts. The sequential seven-speed S tronic gearbox can be controlled manually, using paddles on the steering wheel or via the gear stick , or in full auto. Accelerate hard and the changes are smooth and immediate, but even at a more laboured pace, the gearbox remains one of the best. All that forward momentum wouldn’t be any good if it wasn’t able to stop, and thanks to internally ventilated wave brake discs, it gives more reassurance when travelling at pace. For track day enthusiasts carbon-fibre ceramic discs are available for even more hardcore stopping power.
How much will it cost me?
If you’re in the market for an RS of any kind, you’ll need deep pockets as running costs won’t be cheap. It is less expensive to buy and run than the equivalent Mercedes C63 AMG estate, but you’ll still be refuelling at regular intervals. Drive it conservatively and it will return around 26.4mpg, but this is not a car to be driven conservatively, so more realistically it will return and mpg figure in the late teens. It’s also greener than the Mercedes and BMW too, emitting 249g/km of CO2. Audi’s are generally on the expensive side but hold their value well, and because of the special nature of the RS 4 Avant and fewer numbers, it should be safe money retaining around 40 per cent of its value after three years.
How reliable is it?
While all Audis have built a strong reputation for reliability, there were reports of suspension issues. However all Audis are built to a high standard, and common gripes are few and far between. Should there be any problems, Audi’s aftercare has built a good reputation for looking after their customers.
How safe is it?
The RS 4 Avant builds on the safety record from the A4, which scored a full five star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. As well as more powerful brakes, it comes armed with ABS, electronic stability programme, traction control, brake assist with EBD, and a host of airbags including front driver and passenger, and side and curtain airbags.
How much equipment do I get?
The RS 4 Avant is the most expensive model in the A4 line-up and is loaded to the hilt with equipment to keep the occupants amused. Technical equipment includes the RS 4 sports suspension, Quattro sports differential, electro-mechanical power steering, Audi Drive select system, cruise control and parking system plus. Other standard equipment includes Audi’s Music interface ipod connection, DVD satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connection, climate control and leather/Alcantara upholstery. There are five upholstery customisation packs available which varies the trim materials, and three driving packages, including a sound pack, a technology pack and sports pack. Other optional extras include front ceramic brakes, a sports exhaust system with black tailpipe trips, sports suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control, 20-inch V-spoke alloys, carbon engine compartment cover, and RS 4 bucket seats for driver and front passenger.
The RS4 Avant is a real Jekyll and Hyde kind of car. On the one hand it’s compliant, refined and comfortable, but at the touch of a button it turns into a completely different animal that’s just at home blasting down country lanes or hurtling around a race track. There were concerns from Audi officianados that the latest RS4 wouldn’t live up its RS predecessors, but they can rest easy.