Is there a more telling demonstration of the B9 RS4’s so-so status than having ’this section needs expansion’ stamped on its hasty Wikipedia entry? This is a German über wagon with nearly 25 years of history behind it, after all - including possibly the greatest fast estate ever - and yet so far as no one has thought to respond to a 2018 request for additional information on the current generation. According to the world’s foremost online encyclopaedia, the B9 was unveiled at Frankfurt in 2017, is powered by a 450hp 2.9-litre TFSI V6 (which made it more fuel efficient than its predecessor) and replaced the old dual-clutch gearbox with an eight-speed ‘Tiptronic’ automatic. Stat box aside, that’s pretty much it. For a well-known performance car that’s been on sale for six years.
Perhaps more worrying than a general unwillingness to dive any deeper into the RS4’s backstory is the extent to which Wikipedia’s current précis actually covers off all you need to know. Its twin-turbocharged unit was co-developed with Porsche, of course, and the car was based on VW’s ubiquitous MLB architecture, but aside from a light upgrade for 2020 - and umpteen trim-grade ‘special editions’ following it - Audi has been curiously disinclined to significantly tamper with the B9’s basic formula. You got 450hp from it back when Theresa May was Prime Minister, you get 450hp from it now.
Even in this, the run-out and slightly weird groove ‘Competition’ spec, that number does not change. Which is a shame when you consider that the limited edition model costs from £84,600 - a number that, for awhile, exceeded the starting price of a BMW M3 Touring. That car, you may recall, is furnished with 510hp and sufficient BDE to power a sun. The RS4, even allowing for its one-of-75 rarity and Sebring black crystal effect paint, was virtually preordained to play Fredo Corleone to BMW’s ruthless Micheal. You can’t miss the M3; I lost the Competition in a car park twice.
Probably that ain’t the way everyone at Audi Sport wanted it. Nevertheless, denied the chance to fight an old-fashioned, winner-takes-all output battle with the auld enemy, it has done the next best thing: the RS4’s comparative sportiness - never something to marvel at - has been wellied up to the proverbial 11. Or 12 in the case of the damper settings for low-speed rebound. And as many as 15 clicks if we’re talking high-speed stability. That’s right: the Competition earns manually adjustable coilovers alongside a fixed steering ratio, stiffer anti-roll bars, a recalibrated rear diff and unique 20-inch alloys coupled with Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres.
When Matt tried the car abroad back in October on circuit, the so-called RS Sport Suspension Pro had been lowered the full 20mm permissible for maximum effect; in the UK, a right-hand-drive Competition arrived with the more modest 10mm drop plumbed in (compared to a standard RS4, that is) yet still appeared slammed on its bigger wheels. It’s possible you might not think this look does the car many favours - the RS4’s styling is so stubbornly vanilla that there’s a whiff of the unsanctioned aftermarket in seeing it so close to the deck. Alternatively, and particularly for the uninitiated, it could be argued that the exclusively black, non-badged Competition is a rare example of Audi gunning for cultish, Q-car credibility from the get-go.
The way it drives in the UK certainly lends weight to the latter. No one ever suggested the B9 was ineffective or inadequate at the essential business of pushing on, it just never managed to seem interesting or wonderfully deft while doing it - a trait which helped to make the RS4 as forgettable as its Wikipedia entry suggests. The Competition version, and specifically the trick suspension that distinguishes it from standard, goes a long way to resetting this balance. It is not that you will ever be going hugely faster than before, it’s that you’ll be hugely happier in the doing.
As Matt suggested last year, the quality and consistency of the wheel control is significantly enhanced. Previously the RS4 was liable to bristle at big potholes, and gripe if it were unsettled mid corner; the Competition, with its adjustable dampers presumably set to whatever Audi thinks is a road-friendly compromise, is far better equipped to smother this kind of intrusion, and in a way that doesn’t subvert or sacrifice your sense of connection with the road surface. Unsurprisingly, and in short order, the car’s newfound capacity to flow engagingly along even difficult sections seems like a crucial point of difference.
Factor in the additional confidence that comes from turning at a rate that seems consistent with the steering lock - not to mention the superior tyres actually doing the turning - and the Competition’s updated handling is sufficiently revelatory to have you reflecting again on the bit Audi didn’t fix. There’s a fine and throaty V6 under there somewhere, but despite updating the transmission software for shorter shift times and ditching some soundproofing, Ingolstadt has again failed to locate it. Partly that’s because the new model suffers from the same woeful throttle response as the old one did (the accelerator pedal still blighted by fuel-saving dithering for at least two inches of travel) and partly because this leaner, keener RS4 would now conceivably benefit from an additional 50hp.
Obviously, that doesn’t prevent the Competition from being considerably more likeable than the standard car - you genuinely look forward to driving it, for a start - but where you feel compelled to drive the M3 that bit further and that bit faster, so the RS4 suffers for not being quite the full ticket. Had Audi augmented its admirable chassis work by paying commensurate attention to the engine bay we might be talking about a final edition for the ages. As it is, the Competition is easily the sharpest and most satisfying derivative of the B9 to drive, and absolutely worth seeking out if you’re already a devotee. But Audi Sport’s fourth generation of compact fast wagon is still not a patch on BMW M’s first.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 AUDI RS4 AVANT COMPETITION
Engine: 2,894cc, biturbo V6Transmission: 8-speed automatic, Quattro permanent all-wheel drivePower (hp): 450@5,700-6,700rpmTorque (lb ft): 443@1,900-5,000rpm0-62mph: 3.9secTop speed: 180mphWeight: 1,790kg (including 75kg driver, standard car)MPG: 28.8CO2: N/APrice: £84,600
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