2018 Audi RS4: Driven

There's a bizarre irony in travelling hours from snowy, slushy, sodden Britain to sunny Spain for the launch of an Audi RS4. Here, after all, is a car that's sold on all-weather, any condition performance - where better to let it shine than in the UK on the kind of dank December day that we specialise in?

It seems particularly inappropriate to travel anywhere when the plane is delayed. Because you're never late in an RS4, are you? That's the point of them. They're usually subtle enough to avoid unwanted attention, imbued with all the traction and grip you could ever want, and potent enough to render anything else on four wheels fairly redundant.

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So far, so mismatched for the RS4's launch event. Still, Malaga makes for prettier photos. And journalists do love their Avios. Really love them, in some cases. Here, then, is what the Audi RS4 is like in conditions it'll rarely ever face back home and on roads smoother than Brosnan's Bond.

Design and styling

Oh heck it does look cool. Nothing unfamiliar for this RS4, of course, and nothing that will redefine automotive design, but that doesn't stop it being a smart, assertive, purposeful fast estate. Some additional width here, a new bumper there, a pair of chunky exhausts and - bingo - another fast Audi stencil done. Who's to complain when this is the result? Predictable though they are, the RS4's handsome good looks do offer a key advantage over the Mercedes-AMG C63.

Yes, that Mercedes already. And we mention a subjective plus point so early because the Mercedes appears to have a great deal going in its favour on paper: more cylinders, more power, more space, and rear-wheel drive only. Probably depends on who you talk to about the benefits of the last observation, but you see what we're getting at...

Point being that the Audi isn't going to have it easy, despite being as inextricably linked with fast estates as Nando's is with chicken; it's been doing it so well for such a long time that it's become a cliche, but then you do keep going back... The Mercedes, building on the fabulous legacy of the W204 C63, offers a magnificent V8 and a compellingly broad dynamic repertoire to battle the Audi. And who cares about the history when you have 510hp? The RS4 may have only one key rival - where the RS5, with which so much is shared, faces the M4, RC F, Giulia, et al - but what a rival to have.

Engine, performance and drive

We'll skip interiors - because they're both pretty lovely, in truth, and you're not here for that - and get straight to the driving. The powertrain is carried over unchanged from the RS5, so the 2.9-litre, 450hp twin-turbo V6 (without any Cosworth input for this V6 RS4, sadly) and eight-speed auto ensure some very competitive numbers: 62mph in 4.1 seconds, more than 30mpg, less than 200g/km and an optional speed limiter raise to 174mph if you're feeling particularly impressionable in the dealership that day.

As in the RS5, however, it doesn't feel like a spectacular powertrain. Gosh it's good, and just a few years ago would have been magnificent, but such is the pace of development and the standard currently set that the V6 doesn't shine. It lacks the furious top end of the M cars or the AMG's melodic thunder, the RS4's offering instead less memorable: eager, willing, fast and responsive, just without a single facet that's better than a rival. Very, very good simply isn't the best, sadly.

It does at least ensure that this RS4 is effortlessly fast; ratios swapped silkily and considerable speed nonchalantly maintained. Cool though an 8,500rpm V8 in anestate car most certainly was, the eminent suitability of a torquey twin-turbo in a family bus is hard to ignore.

Driving time is limited - blame that flight - though a route with the RS4 does include the fabulous A-7000 near Malaga. While typically much better surfaced (and quieter) than a typical British B-road, it provides a stern test.

Wheels and brakes

Perhaps the strangest revelation of all is that this RS4 feels better to drive than an RS5. Not night and day of course, but a fraction keener, that bit more composed and a tad more enjoyable in key areas. (For reference our test car had the optional 20-inch forged wheels and RS Sport suspension plus, but the standard brakes and the Sport Differential that UK cars will have). There felt to be more authority to the RS4's body control compared to an RS5 - though of course it may simply have faced an easier test - the rear torque vectoring/brake nibbling combo worked a bit more effectively, and the gearbox was more decisive in all scenarios. On this experience - admittedly a very different one to the RS5 test - the RS4 felt like an RS5 facelift might; it's like what you know, just with a 10 per cent or so improvement across the board. Certainly one to investigate in the UK, that's for sure.

Moreover, this dynamism comes in an estate body (in case that hadn't been made obvious). And, let's be honest, expectations are a little bit lower when it comes to a wagon. See Audi launching the RS5 before this, Mercedes getting the E63 saloon out first, and the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio arriving ahead of the Stelvio (alright, not quite the same, but you get the jist). So where slightly artificial steering might prove especially irksome in the most driver-focused variant, it isn't such a bugbear in the more family friendly alternative. It isn't even too bad in the RS4, if you accept that steering ain't what it used to be; Dynamic doesn't need Popeye arms at any speed. If the RS4 was worse than the RS5 you wouldn't mind; that there's a hint it could be an improvement is most welcome news.

Does it feel worth the extra over the S4 though? Again, with the proviso of very different exposure, yes it does. A fair amount of that is in the looks, though the performance gain is noticeable and it's certainly a sharper, more enjoyable car to drive fast.


Which leaves us where, exactly? With a fast, accomplished, capable and desirable Audi RS product. Yes, the shock was something to us too. Trouble is there's a German estate car that does everything the Audi does and more, and it's the C63 (with its divine V8) that remains our choice in this segment. Well, that's on this experience; perhaps if we can get the two together in a more representative environment - say that wintery Britain we left behind - the verdict might be different, because this RS4 is worthy of serious consideration - stay tuned...

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2018 Audi RS4 Avant - Specifications
Engine 2,894cc, biturbo V6
Transmission 8-speed automatic, Quattro permanent all-wheel drive
Power (hp) 450@5,700-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft) 443@1,900-5,000rpm
0-62mph 4.1sec
Top speed 155mph (optional 174mph)
Weight 1,790kg (including 75kg driver)
MPG 32.1 (NEDC combined, 19-inch wheels)
CO2 199g/km (19-inch wheels)
Price £61,6255






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Comments (230) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GTEYE 12 Dec 2017

    Looks pretty decent and I do quite like the colour though I'm sure we'll never see a green one in the UK!

  • hondansx 12 Dec 2017

    I need someone to get a tape measure on those arches, as it doesn't seem quite right to me! Looks too normal.

  • Ninja59 12 Dec 2017

    Coming to a tea leaf soon...i just have a feeling this will be like the RS, S and R's that have sadly been taken illegally.

  • je777 12 Dec 2017

    Not so keen on this fad for enormous 'gills' at the front corners - are those really necessary?
    The ever-increasing sizes of these is beginning to look like razors adding five blades in an attempt to trump the competition.

  • Cheapskate 12 Dec 2017

    Why is the Giulia apparently RS5, rather than this car’s, competition?

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