The latest Audi RS 4 Avant, the fourth iteration of a size-medium RS station wagon, is a vehicle whose concept fits its German home turf perfectly. It’s rather compact, and it features the highly practical five-door body style coveted all over the Old World. Oh, and it’s powered by an engine that’s well beyond adequate, even for one of the world’s few remaining markets where high speeds rule.
Under the skin, the RS 4 Avant shares much of its component set with the RS 5, which arrives here soon in coupe form (an RS 5 convertible is expected later as well). Power comes from the very same naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8, a high-revving powerplant that reaches its power peak of 450 hp at a lofty 8250 rpm and redlines at 8500. Maximum torque is 317 lb-ft, served up between 4000 and 6000 rpm. This engine proves that Audi can most definitely duel with BMW’s M division when it comes to high-revving engines, an objective rendered futile by M’s embracing of turbocharged engines. Throttle response is extremely quick even at low rpm, and the power develops in an absolutely linear manner. The sound of the engine is intoxicating, silky, and there’s a brief and vicious bark on downshifts.
Sadly, the only transmission offered is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It’s a capable unit that tries to provide a seamless connection to the next gear; only rarely does it take longer than it should to engage the desired ratio. But who wants an automatic in the RS 4, which is so clearly a vehicle centered around driving pleasure and control? The box offered on the U.S.-market S4 could easily be applied to the RS 4 as well, according to the engineers. But that’s apparently not what buyers want, or at least not enough of them. “Progressive” executives decided that a manual gearbox, as offered on the old RS 4 and the current S4, would be an unreasonable imposition to pampered drivers. This decision makes even less sense when you consider that the next-gen BMW M3 will of course again be available with a manual. But we digress.
Into the Clutchless Void
The lack of a three-pedal transmission is the only serious criticism of an otherwise nearly perfect car. Okay, it could be lighter: A curb weight somewhere around 4000 pounds suggests the RS 4 Avant could shed a few bricks. Fortunately, customers can start the savings by ordering the optional racing-type front bucket seats, a move that cuts 150 pounds. We then suggest returning 50 of those saved pounds—heresy!—by ordering the optional torque-vectoring sport differential, which apportions torque between the rear wheels. It does an impressive job of improving agility and reducing understeer in this high-powered, all-wheel-drive wagon, as it does in any other Audi so equipped.
The RS 4’s electromechanical power steering operates with adequate precision, although it leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to surface feedback. We were impressed by the RS 4’s firm, planted feel when being flogged over lumpy roads at insane speeds, and it shines on a smooth track as well. Flat-out, the RS 4 Avant reaches 155 mph or 174 mph, depending on whether you’ve spec’d a higher governor; without a limiter, it could theoretically continue to about 185 mph.
Inside, the RS 4 Avant is an especially nicely equipped A4, with a flat-bottom steering wheel and one of the industry’s better navigation and telematics systems. The engine bay, too, is exemplary. Few parts are hidden under plastic and carbon-fiber covers. The exterior treatment clearly conveys that the RS 4 is the most powerful and assertive A4 variant—the RS adds huge air intakes up front, plus widened fenders with blisters like those on the original 1980 Audi Quattro, which serve to emphasize the 265/35-19 or optional 265/30-20 rubber. The rear is a bit disappointing, with a decorative strip stretching over the exhaust tips and the simulated upper diffuser. A more extreme treatment, we submit, would have done this fascinating car justice—the back end is, of course, the one to which most viewers will be treated.
Its price in Germany comes to the equivalent of about $78,000 before taxes, which works out to roughly $2000 less than an RS 5 coupe. That’s a good deal, relatively speaking, especially considering the three extra doors Audi’s throwing in. As we said, it’s perfect for the German home market, but unfortunately, you won’t see any prowling American roads. At least until the 25-year rolling ban on importation no longer applies—then you might see ours. View Photo Gallery