The Audi RS 4 Avant is a practical car with ballistic-missile performance. Four-wheel drive means it’s quick in all weathers, but alternatives are more exciting to drive
Choosing an Audi RS 4 Avant instead of a normal A4 estate is a bit like swapping the bus for a helicopter on your morning commute – it’ll cost you quite a lot more money, but you’ll get to work quicker and arrive in more style. True, stepping out of an RS 4 won’t get people’s jaws dropping as if you’d touched down in a chopper, but they’re unlikely to think you’ve just arrived in a normal A4.
The RS 4 gets a honeycomb grille, huge air vents under the headlights and an aggressive front bumper. Its bulging wheel arches house big 19-inch alloy wheels, and there’s a pair of fat oval exhaust pipes poking out from the rear bumper.
The changes inside are a little more subtle but come together to create one of the best interiors of any estate car. You get a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel that isn’t needlessly thick – like in a BMW M3 – and gearshift paddles, although the latter could be made to feel a little more premium. A pair of leather sports seats clamp your body in all the right places are the icing on the cake.
Fundamentally though, the RS 4’s minimalist dashboard design is exactly the same as a normal A4, so it displays a level of quality that betters a Mercedes-AMG C63 never mind an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Unlike the standard A4 however, you get Audi’s brilliant 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display as standard. It replaces conventional dials with a digital screen so you can choose to have a central rev counter for sporty driving before switching back to the huge sat-nav map function when you turn to head home. On top of that, you get an 8.3-inch high-resolution infotainment screen on the centre of the dashboard that’s easy to operate using a jog wheel on the centre console.
Along with the intuitive dashboard design you also get an excellent driving position – the RS 4 has lots of steering wheel and driver’s seat adjustment so you’ll fit whether you’re little or large. Space in the back seats is nearly as generous – two six-footers will be very happy even if the front is occupied by people who are equally as tall, and three people will feel less crushed than in a Mercedes-AMG C63 estate or a BMW M3.
And the Audi estate licks those two for boot space, too. Its huge opening makes loading easy and its tall, square load bay is infinitely more practical than the shallower design in the BMW M3, which is only available as a saloon.
The Audi RS 4 Avant is a practical estate car that sticks to the road like a military-grade Dyson and goes like it’s been kitted out with a hyperdrive
Unfortunately, the news for the competition doesn’t get any better when you forget about practicalities and just go for a drive.
The RS 4’s combination of a 450hp twin-turbo V6 petrol engine and quattro four-wheel-drive system means it can cover ground so quickly it’s as if Audi’s rewritten the rules of physics. It’ll officially get from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds (although we’ve managed slightly quicker) and it’ll keep on going to a top speed of 155mph – or 174mph if you’re willing to pay to have the speed limiter removed.
But although those figures are impressive, it’s the Audi’s unshakeable grip that leaves you dumbfounded – even on slippery muddy roads it can deploy its performance with minimal fuss.
Stick the Drive Select into Dynamic mode – you can also choose from Comfort, Auto and Individual settings – and the RS 4’s quick steering lets you bound into corners with zero body roll while the four-wheel-drive system means you can accelerate out again with confidence that could be lethal in the far twitchier BMW M3.
If you’re a keen driver, you might miss the extra challenge of a car that’ll easily slide its back end, but you’ll more likely find the added security of the RS 4’s four-wheel-drive system to be a fair trade. Especially on the UK’s slippery roads. Despite this devastating performance however, the Audi never sounds as exciting as the rumbling V8 Mercedes-AMG C63.
What the Audi matches the Mercedes for is everyday usability. Sticking the Drive Select in Comfort softens the suspension, quietens the exhaust and smooths the shifts of the automatic gearbox to make the RS 4 easy to drive in town and impressively comfortable over bumps.
That rings true at higher speeds, too – on the motorway, the Audi’s comfortable suspension and quiet cabin make an M3’s interior seem like some sort of medieval torture device. And the Audi should also be safer thanks to a full suite of driver aids – including an automatic emergency braking system that’ll apply the brakes if it senses an imminent collision.
Less positive is the fact that the RS 4 – which gets official fuel economy of 32.1mpg – will likely use slightly more fuel than either the Mercedes or the BMW. That said, the RS 4 will hold its value slightly better than either alternative – so it’ll likely be worth more when you come to sell it on.
That makes it the better long-term buy, but the Audi’s sure-footedness and usability are the real reasons for choosing an RS 4 over anything the competition has to offer.