The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
The RS 4 is a technically excellent, very fast estate car that offers great performance and very usable practicality. However, disappointing steering feel means it doesn’t have the excitement that some will crave. If that’s not a priority for you then it’s a brilliantly engineered machine, but those after thrills in their estate car should look towards Mercedes-AMG’s C63 Estate instead.
Reasons to buy
- Well made
- Comfortable and practical
- Very fast and agile
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?
Looks, as we always say, are subjective, but those looking for a blend of subtlety and performance intent should be pleased with what Audi has put together with the RS 4 Avant. The bodywork of the A4 estate has been massaged and sculpted to create a car with a wide, low look while still maintaining the practicality required of it. To the uninitiated, it could still pass for a regular A4. There are two versions of the RS 4 Avant, with the basic edition riding on 19-inch alloy wheels and brightening the way ahead with full LED headlights. Big oval tailpipes complete the look. Opt for the Carbon Edition model and you’ll get 20-inch alloys and very clever Matrix LED headlights, which maintain full beam at night while putting oncoming cars in shadow and tracking them as they pass, meaning superb visibility without dazzling other drivers. Nardo Grey paint is standard, but all other colours, you’ll have to pay for. The Carbon Edition gets a wider choice of standard paint, and also gets carbonfibre parts such as the front spoiler and sideskirts.
What's the interior like?
There’s not much in the world that’s as bulletproof as an Audi interior, which in our book sets the standards for both build quality and the materials used. The RS 4 Avant is no exception, with a rock-solid, premium feel. Up front, the driver and passenger get extra-huggy, leather-wrapped sports seats to keep them in place during the expected hard cornering. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is standard, comprising an 12.3-inch colour screen in place of a regular instrument panel, which displays everything from sat-nav or music playlist to a G-force meter and trip info. This works alongside an 8.3-inch screen in the dashboard that shows similar information, controlled by a dial by the gearstick. Called MMI, it’s one of the most straightforward systems on the market and we like it a lot.
How practical is it?
If you’re buying the Avant version of the RS 4 then practicality is likely a priority of sorts, and you shouldn’t feel short-changed. As well as a roomy front, there’s plenty of space for two adults in the back, although a high transmission tunnel severely limits leg space for a third rear passenger in the middle. The boot is a good size – and slightly larger than that of this car’s chief rival, the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate – and the rear seats fold down to create extra load space should you need to load up with flat-packed furniture. Inside the cockpit there’s a range of cubby holes and door pockets, none of which is enormous, but they’re plentiful enough to cope with everyday odds and ends that you want to keep dotted around. There are two decent-sized cupholders too.
What's it like to drive?
The RS 4 Avant treads a line between being a sports car and a family estate car and in many respects it does this very well. Clever adaptive suspension can be set to either Comfort or Dynamic mode, offering different levels of stiffness for either relaxed or spirited driving. Based on our experience so far it’ll soak up the worst lumps and bumps in the road surface very well even on thin-profile tyres mounted to the optional 20-inch wheels, but we’ve yet to sample the car on neglected British B-roads. Handling is impressive, with huge amounts of grip from the tyres and incredible composure through even the twistiest of bends. The downside is that the steering feels numb and artificial, and really hampers the enjoyment you’ll feel when a great driving road presents itself. This stops the RS 4 Avant providing the real thrills and big grins that many buyers will want from it.
How powerful is it?
The previous generation of RS 4 was powered by a mighty V8 engine, but in the name of fuel economy, Audi has downsized to a twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 for this version. Performance fans need not fear though, because it offers the same amount of power – 450 horsepower – and even more torque, which makes for scintillating progress when you put your foot down, aided by the immense traction provided by four-wheel drive. In cars fitted with the optional sports exhaust, it also makes a fantastic noise, which meant we didn’t yearn for a V8. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is also excellent, both in Comfort and Dynamic modes, and always selected the gear we wanted. Should you wish to swap cogs yourself, you can do so quickly and easily using paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.
How much will it cost me?
This kind of performance doesn’t come cheap, either in purchase price or the amount you’ll shell out at the petrol station, but when compared against its main rival – Mercedes-AMG’s C63 Estate – the RS 4 Avant represents very good value. In its basic form it’s cheaper than the Merc, and it’ll hold its value better which is good news when you come to sell it on. Although the Audi has slightly worse fuel economy, it should cost less to service and repair, all of which means that overall costs are considerably lower than the C63 over an ownership period of three years or 60,000 miles.
How reliable is it?
Audi doesn’t have an historically brilliant reputation for reliability, sitting in the bottom half of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, which ranks manufacturers by their performance. More recently, the brand came last but one in JD Power’s 2017 Vehicle Dependability Survey, which doesn’t suggest that things have improved. However, Which? magazine’s owner survey gave Audi an average score – not great, not bad – so it’s not entirely doom and gloom. Should anything go wrong with your RS 4 Avant, Audi offers a standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
How safe is it?
The A4, upon which the RS 4 is based, received the maximum five stars in a crash test by safety organisation EuroNCAP, making it officially pretty safe. The RS 4 Avant comes loaded with safety tech, including a collision avoidance system that will automatically apply full braking force in an emergency. It also comes with a blind spot warning system, and numerous other bits of technology that, among other things, will warn you of oncoming traffic when reversing out of parking or opening the door. It’ll even call the emergency services automatically should you have an accident. If you have kids, you’ll be pleased to hear the RS 4 comes as standard with two Isofix child seat mounting points in the back, and a third on the front passenger seat. Rear side airbags are available as an option.
How much equipment do I get?
As you’d expect for a high-end car, the RS 4 Avant is available with lots of equipment, and it comes well stocked as standard, although there are plenty of extras to spend cash on. Two versions are available; the standard car and the Carbon Edition. As standard you’ll get electrically operated, heated front sports seats and most of the interior entertainment goodies, including the digital dashboard. Major options include the Comfort and Sound pack, which gets you a Bang & Olufsen sound system and rear-view camera, and a panoramic sunroof. Either will cost you north of a grand. Opt for the Carbon Edition and you’ll get extra swanky Nappa leather on the seats, a sports exhaust for extra noisiness and nicer interior lighting.
The RS 4 Avant is best treated as an A4 estate with impressive agility and lots of added oomph, rather than as a bona fide sports saloon with a big boot. It feels too sensible and restrained to really light a fire under your backside when you want bonkers performance. If that’s your aim and you really need an estate car, then the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate might be more your thing. But if you’re after something a bit more subtle and a bit more grown-up, then there’s a great deal to like about Audi’s fast wagon.