There aren’t many cars that can do it all – but the RS4 has such a sensational range of ability, it certainly gets close. It has the kind of performance to keep up with supercars, grip that gives you supreme confidence no matter what the weather and a thrilling engine note to boot. Factor in a practical estate body with lots of space, and a beautifully made, gadget-laden cabin and you've got a car that's full of appeal.
Lottery win Ferraris and Lamborghinis might be fun for the odd Sunday outing, but what if you could have a practical, four-wheel drive family car with almost the same performance – and use it every day?
Ever since the original RS2, fast estates like the Audi RS4
have developed a cult following, often finding a space in the garage of super-rich enthusiasts alongside much more exclusive metal. But aside from the R8, RS Audis have fallen off the boil lately. Both the RS5 and TT RS have been disappointments. So how does this third-generation £54,925 RS4 shape up?
This time around, the RS4 is only available as an Avant – Audi reckons buyers of the old saloon and cabrio versions have migrated to the RS5.
Car group tests
We reckon that’s a good thing – the Avant body boasts 1,430 litres of space and it looks fantastic in RS spec. There are big air intakes in the aggressive front bumper, bulging squared-off wheelarches, standard 19-inch alloys and a rear end that features huge chrome exhausts and a roof spoiler.
The technical specification is just as mouthwatering. Up front is an RS5-derived 444bhp 4.2-litre V8, which drives all four wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic gearbox. Like the RS5, there’s also a centre differential - which splits torque 40:60, but can send up to 85 per cent to the rear wheels - and a sports rear differential, which varies torque left and right.
That’s not it, though, because engineers have also dropped the ride height by 20mm and fitted uprated brakes. If you want to go a step further, you can add ceramic brakes and the £2,250 Sport Package, which includes Dynamic Ride Control adaptive dampers, dynamic steering, 20-inch ‘rotor’ alloy wheels and a sports exhaust.
On the road, the RS4 Avant is incredibly fast. With 430Nm of torque and a launch control system, it rockets off the line and sprints from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, which is only a tenth down on its closest rival, the 451bhp Mercedes C63 AMG Estate.
The 4.2-litre engine is phenomenal in its response. It really is supercar fast, while the noise it makes is incredible – a sensational V8 rumble, which is punctuated by pops and bangs from the exhaust when you lift off. The seven-speed S tronic gearbox is so swift and smooth that there’s the minimum pause in acceleration as it rips up through the gears.
Where the RS4 really stands out, though, is on twisty, greasy and bumpy road. Here you really feel the benefit of the quattro four-wheel-drive system and all those clever differentials: you can accelerate hard and early knowing that all that punch will be translated into forward motion. A rear-drive car like the C63 would just light up its rear tyres.
Traction is so total on the public road that you’d have to be going very fast indeed to even induce a slide – torque vectoring does a great job in pulling the car around a corner and aiming the car down the next straight. With incredibly strong brakes, this is a fast estate that looks after you every step of the way.
Thanks to Audi’s Drive Select system, you can play with the settings of the steering, throttle, gearbox and suspension. As ever with Audis of late, though, the steering is too heavy and lacking in feel in Dynamic mode, so it’s best to switch it to Comfort, which takes away some of that heft and makes it feel more natural.
The RS4 always feels its 1,795kg weight in corners – as does the C63 AMG – but that heaviness helps make it a great cruiser. It always feels rooted, particularly on the motorway, and if you put the suspension in Comfort mode it soaks up bumps pretty well, even on the optional 20-inch alloys of our test car.
There’s no shortage of standard equipment, either. You get sports seats and a DVD sat-nav, and about the only option you’d probably want is the £1,420 Technology Package, which upgrades the sat-nav to a hard disk-based system with Google Maps and Street View and music storage, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera and lane keep assist.
Is this latest RS4 worthy of a place in a car enthusiast’s dream garage? It offers incredible performance, grip and all-weather usability, which all adds up to a very desirable car indeed.