Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q2_2023 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club
It all began with a stomach virus. Audi planned an October launch at the Ascari circuit in Spain for its new “competition” variants of the RS 4 and RS 5. As is increasingly more common of these sorts of long-lead European launches, Audi of America takes fewer and fewer American journalists to these understandably costly product introductions. Just two American journalists were set to attend, and each was seasoned, so when the American PR staffer got suddenly ill ahead of his flight to Spain and while the rest of the U.S. PR team was already schedule to be in California for a domestic launch of the Q4 e-tron (Q1_2022, pp. 22-24), the decision was made to let the German PR colleagues manage the two American guests.
One of those guests was Motor Trend’s Jonny Lieberman, a veteran automotive writer and video personality who’s now also gaining a following in the podcaster space. The other was Derek Powell who has been an occasional contributor to this magazine. Both aren’t just car experts, but also car enthusiasts as well as former Avant owners – Jonny with an A4 allroad (B8.5) and Derek with a C5 allroad (and now Audi exclusive C8 A6 allroad since this story first published– ed.). So when an American handler isn’t there to manage the message or keep you focused on the American market product, it’s only natural a couple of enthusiasts would want to take a closer look at the forbidden fruit. The way Lieberman tells it, he and Powell walked right past the RS 5 Coupé and Sportback competition models (that are now on sale here in America) in order to take a closer look at the contraband RS 4 Avant.
About a week later, Lieberman was back in the U.S. and over at Matt Farah’s L.A.-based West Side Automotive Storage recording an episode of The Smoking Tire podcast. During the conversation, Jonny reflected on his trip to Ascari and made a point of talking about the RS 4 Avant in which he claimed to have spent 90% of his time driving while on site. He also asked the German experts on hand, probably PR staff or product managers, about bringing the RS 4 Avant to America.
Fast forward to March and Lieberman ran a story on Motor Trend with the title “Audi is Bringing the Ultra-Hot RS 4 Sporty Wagon to America”. The story went on to recount the same story from October. In Jonny’s words:
“After a wonderful session on the track in the hot Audi wagon, we said something to the effect of, ‘Man, this car would rule in America.’ To our surprise, an Audi employee said that the RS 4 is coming. As soon as the words were spoken, the other Audi peeps in the room tried to play it off as a mistake, a slip of the tongue, language barrier, etc. But we’d heard what we heard (and may have fanned the flames of said rumor on social media).”
This wasn’t his only evidence, mind you. The story went on to say that more recently another source at Audi revealed the RS 4 would be sold in the USA. The reasoning, according to Lieberman, was how well the RS 6 has sold here since its market launch in 2021. Ahead of the story, he also reached out to Audi of America who officially responded, “There is no plan to bring the RS 4 to the U.S. market at this time”.
From there, Lieberman took a guess in the Motor Trend piece:
“Our best guess is that the RS 4 will be brought Stateside for the final two years of its run, 2024 and 2025. While we can’t see much further into the future than that, we can take an educated guess that the next-generation RS 4 will be electric.”
Any Audi enthusiast on social media in the days that followed knows what happened next. The enthusiast internet blew up. Motor Trend is reputable, and Lieberman is well known. While clearly a rumor piece, the undoubtedly affirmative tone of the arguably click-baity title said it all. The RS 4 was finally coming… right?
Motor Trend‘s competitors scrutinized in the way you’d expect. They phoned up Audi of America PR and asked. The response Audi provided to Road & Track was a bit more definitive in the denial. “There are no plans to bring the RS 4 to the U.S. market. Love the car but it is not coming”.
Obviously, around these parts, news of an RS Avant is a big deal. The ride from ecstatic appreciation to utter disappointment was swift and brutal, and the debate remains. So, while we don’t have answers, we at least can offer perspective in order to educate a viewpoint.
On Jonny Lieberman’s Rumor
Though we’re not currently regulars on Audi’s overseas launches, we have experience with them and know how they work. While we don’t have a guest list of the Audi staff attendees, a special edition of a car nearing end of production is typically staffed by German PR and low- to mid-level European product managers. Board members can and do attend these launches, but the U.S. contingent is usually not the first or even the second wave, and so highly-placed company leaders or Audi Sport senior staff are unlikely. From that, we can assume that the sources making the quick positive comment to Lieberman were likely unfamiliar with current U.S. model offering or longer-term product launch plans.
In other ways, highly placed or PR-level sources can be unreliable for a number of reasons. If either is more street-level and market-specific, they simply may not have known and just assumed the RS 4 Avant competition would be coming to the USA because they were mistakenly assuming a common German-market product such as the RS 4 Avant was already in North America… which it’s not.
Alternatively, a board-level source might know more. Board members are well informed and sometimes have been known to disregard PR timeframes. Particularly in Germany, they have been known to speak more freely in order to plant a seed of an idea to help public sentiment pick up the ball and run with it. If this were the case, then the Motor Trend story would have served that purpose. It created an outcry of elation at the news. Even still, a board-floated story may just be that, and even if the board member has knowledge that sort of far-forward planning, such planning before costly production systems are finalized is always subject to change.
Lieberman’s March contact is more interesting to us. That person isn’t identified, and perhaps knows something Audi of America PR staff isn’t ready to say just yet. Unfortunately, there’s no further detail given to substantiate that source, so we’re not sure what to believe. Even still, Lieberman is experienced enough to know that a lower-level European launch staffer isn’t a reliable source. Then again, if he had a deadline to fill and Motor Trend wanted some click bait, this story certainly achieved all those goals.
On B9 RS 4 Avant… competition or otherwise
From our perspective, it’s too late in the product lifecycle to get the B9 RS 4 Avant into the North American market. We still likely have model years 2024 and 2025 on this generation of car, but that likely isn’t enough to recoup the costs associated with federalization.
Granted, it might not be full-on federalization costs. The 2.0 TFSI-powered A4 allroad Avant bodystyle is already federalized, as is the 3.0 TFSI-powered S4 with similar frontal impact structure and the 2.9 TFSI biturbo drivetrain is already federalized in the RS 5. While we’re not experts in the field of the highly complex OEM federalization process, we know the logic used by importers to add the B5 RS 4 Avant and C5 RS 6 Avant to NHTSA’s list of petitioned and now qualified importable vehicles. So, there are likely some savings to be had if Audi were motivated.
What would motivate Audi to bring in this RS 4 Avant? Well, we know there is pressure to raise their average transaction price and emphasize the luxury end of the brand. A limited RS 4 Avant would help that. We also know that there is a last-hurrah mentality in these final years of internal combustion engine (ICE) product. The RS 3 had more of a no-holds-barred development that saw its trick rear differential get the green light because it is the end of an era for that model. In theory, the RS 4 Avant could be green-lit for similar reasons. But, two years is an awfully short time to recoup such a massive investment, and that short term for an all-new offering would frankly be precedent-setting.
We also had our own conversation with Audi of America PR and it left little doubt that it wasn’t just a token “no” in order to hold the line on a secret. We can say with reasonable assurance that the answer is no for the B9 RS 4 Avant.
Does “No” mean “Never” for the RS 4 Avant?
In short… no. There will be one more generation of ICE product in the B segment. Audi is readying the B10 model variants in test mule form now. We know they’re coming, and we know Audi is moving to a staggered naming structure that sees e-tron EV models take on even numbers such as A6/S6/RS 6/Q6, while the ICE product takes on the odd numbers… think A5/S5/RS 5/Q5.
We also know more about C-segment planning. Audi will bring a next-generation EV A6 to market and has shown several concepts. The next RS 6 will be an EV, likely in Sportback and Avant forms. There’s also expected to be an ICE A6 replacement, and it’s not hard to do the math and assume that means RS 7 will be both Sportback and Avant as well, with the A6 sedan likely disappearing. Given the current RS 6 shares more bodywork with the RS 7 than the A6 sedan, this also makes a lot of sense.
So, those B10 test mules we’ve been seeing will likely be sold as A5/S5/RS 5. If there’s an ICE RS 4 Avant replacement, it will likely be named RS 5 Avant. Going back to Jonny Lieberman’s quote on there being “no plans for the RS 4 Avant,” that line is probably correct. But it also doesn’t say there are no plans for the RS 5 Avant!
Yes, we know that’s a tease, but go back to the original thinking. Audi IS trying to raise its transaction prices in the USA to take on a more premium position, and there IS some motivation to go a little crazier as the ICE era comes to an end. The B10 is just coming to market, meaning any investment in B10 offerings would have a full product lifecycle to be realized. Also, the sedan and Coupé bodystyles haven’t yet been seen testing and may very well be going away, opening up federalization budgets that would have normally been earmarked for them. For the B10 RS 5 Avant, conditions may very well be the best they’ve ever been for an RS Avant in the B-segment. If this idea appeals to you, then make sure Audi of America hears you.