Some of Europe’s most enticing cars don’t ever make it to the United States, and the Audi RS4 Avant is likely to remain one of them. Due to Americans’ aversion toward station wagons, Audi has decided not to send it here, although we get parts of it divided between the mechanically similar RS5 coupe and the four-cylinder A4 Allroad, an A4 Avant that uses a raised suspension and plastic body cladding to cosplay as a crossover.
We prefer that our station wagons lean more toward race cars rather than off-roaders. Therefore, we much prefer the new RS4 Avant, which comes with a lowered stance and a significantly wider body than the regular A4 Avant. The extra width is underscored by flared fenders and new front and rear fascias, and the car stands on substantial 265/35R-19 or 275/30R-20 rubber.
The car we drove rode on the fatter tires. It also was fitted with the full RS Dynamic package, which includes Audi’s torque-vectoring Sport Differential, the company’s Dynamic Steering, and a governor that elevates the top speed from 155 to 174 mph.
Power to Spare
A twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.9-liter V-6 supplies 450 horsepower; maximum torque, available from 1900 to 5000 rpm, is 443 lb-ft. That grunt is channeled to all four wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic, a transmission that works with such alacrity that many drivers might mistake it for a dual-clutch gearbox.
The V-6 was co-developed with Porsche (but under Audi’s leadership) and exhibits little turbo lag, while it emits a slightly muted, aggressive growl. That sound is artificially enhanced in Dynamic mode, but even so it’s pretty convincing. While the blown six still can’t match the previous model’s naturally aspirated V-8 thunder, we’ll gladly take the smaller engine’s performance gains and reduced weight.
Audi says the sprint from zero to 62 mph takes a mere 4.1 seconds, which is almost as quick as the company’s claim for the two-door RS5. The V-6 never seems to run out of power, and acceleration is relentless well into the triple digits. This is supercar performance, similar to but less boisterous than the eight-cylinder Mercedes-AMG C63.
Its moves are precise, almost clinical. On the uneven roads in the Sierra Nevada roads north of Málaga, Spain, we found the steering to be nicely weighted and razor-sharp, and the sport differential helps place the car in corners perfectly. The RS4’s limits are ultrahigh, and it is easy to counter any understeer with the throttle and a bit of load transfer. The all-wheel-drive system’s torque distribution is rear-biased but variable.
Like many modern performance cars, the RS4 offers drivers plenty of adjustability. We traded the Dynamic driving mode for the Individual setting to select a softer suspension tune and lighter steering while keeping the powertrain and the sport differential in their most aggressive tune. And we like the Sport setting of the stability-control system; it allows you to steer a bit with the gas pedal without entirely removing the electronic safety net.
While this fast Audi also can act as a spacious and luxurious cruiser, it fails to fully mask its sporting genes when driven calmly. Even in Comfort mode, the engine is clearly audible and throttle response is instantaneous, if not quite as hair-trigger as in Dynamic mode.
The driver and front passenger sit comfortably in sport seats that fit snugly without making you feel porcine. Our car was fitted with Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit TFT instrument cluster. This customizable screen can call up a huge map front and center, with the speedometer and tach moving into the corners, or put a large tach at the center and relegate less useful information—such as the gimmicky "power" and "torque" indicators—off to the sides. Audi’s MMI infotainment system is near-flawless and relatively quick. In fact, this may be the most sophisticated infotainment package in its class; the Mercedes-AMG C63 may come close but the BMW M3 and the Cadillac ATS-V trail far behind.
In Europe, the Audi RS4 Avant is about $1350 cheaper than an RS5 coupe; given the choice, we would be tempted to go for the more versatile wagon. Sadly, in America, we don’t get that choice. But we will, at least, get a compromise in the form of the RS5 Sportback, which should arrive later this year.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE(GERMANY): $81,000
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 177 cu in, 2894 cc
Power: 450 hp @ 6700 rpm
Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 1900 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 111.3 in
Length: 188.2 in
Width: 71.1 in Height: 55.3 in
Curb weight (C/D est): 4150 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 4.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 9.1 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 12.5 sec
Top speed: 155–174 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):