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Audi RS 4 Avant

Click to view picture galleryAudis latest big gun, the RS4 Avant,
  has just come out
and its firing
  from the hip; with a genuine 165mph
  showing on the speedo, I reluctantly
  lift off the throttle...


THWUMPF. THERE'S THAT SOUND AGAIN. A deep and oh-so-meaningful noise from the oval-shaped exhaust pipes, sounding somewhere between a distant bazooka shot and a pillow fight between angry giants.

The noise is the result of the S tronic gearbox changing up a gear. The most surprising thing about the noise, though, is the circumstance in which I'm hearing it: the RS 4 has just changed up a gear with the speedometer indicating 160mph…


Don't write in to complain just yet. I'm on a clear German autobahn where such speeds are still permitted —
and widely exploited by the locals. I judge the safe moment to back off the throttle at around 165mph, but one of my colleagues managed an indicated 181mph out of his car.

Lucky for us that Audi has fitted its top speed derestrictor pack, which raises the limit from the standard 155mph to a claimed 174mph. The cost of snipping the elastic band is £1,300, which for the record works out at £68 per extra mph.

“Audi has fitted its top
speed derestrictor pack,
which raises the limit
from 155mph to
a claimed 174mph.
The cost of snipping the
elastic band is £1,300,
which for the record
works out at
£68 per extra mph
...”
Welcome to the all-new Audi RS 4 Avant, the latest über-wagon from Audi's Neckarsulm facility. This is a car I've been hugely looking forward to driving.

And so, it would seem, have plenty of others: during my test drive from the UK to Germany, I lost count of the number of other drivers who rubber-necked on the motorway to get a better look at Audi's latest big gun.

To put it into context, this is the third-generation RS 4, the so-called 'B8'. Previous generations have been great halo-builders for the A4 range as a whole, and they've been pretty successful: Audi has sold 3,925 RS 4-badged cars in the UK since the model first arrived in 2000. The new one is being sold only in Avant estate form; there will be no soft-top RS 4 as there was last time, since you can now have the new RS 5 Cabriolet, launched at the 2012 Paris Motor Show.

The RS 4 power race has been gradually hotting up over the years and the first headline figure to impart is this: a full 443bhp of power. The original 2000-2005 RS 4 had a 2.7-litre V6 twin-turbo with a 'mere' 374bhp; the 2005-2012 version upped that to 414bhp (in a naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8); the new one sticks with the 4.2-litre V8 but raises the bar to 443bhp. That's over 105bhp per litre with no turbo in sight, and only 6bhp less than the 6.3-litre Mercedes-Benz AMG motor, and comfortably more power than the BMW M3. Each RS 4 engine is, by the way, individually hand-built.

The test car I drove had the optional Sports Package fitted, which includes a sports exhaust (for that beautifully beefy sound), dynamic steering, Sports suspension with Dynamic Ride Control and five-spoke 20-inch alloys. At a very reasonable £2,250, it's surely a package that almost every RS 4 owner will order.

Audi's USP for the RS 4 (every car has to have one in these days of über-nichedom) is that it's the only medium-sized high-performance car with four-wheel drive.

The RS 4's torque is split 40:60 front:rear in normal situations, with 85% able to be directed to the rear axle, and up to 70% to the front axle. Continuous torque vectoring between left and right wheels makes this a very sophisticated system.

“The brakes are
sensational too — at
least, they are in ceramic
form as tested.
Unlike some ceramic
systems I’ve tried, which
are borderline dangerous
when cold,
the RS 4’s have plenty
of bite from the off
...”
It certainly feels wonderfully composed on fast, sweeping roads. The turn-in is crisp, although the sheer weight of the car (1,795kg) does occasionally make its presence felt in mild understeer.

The RS 4 is totally disdainful of damp or bumpy roads, offering grip that's little short of sensational. Not that it doesn't light up its tyres in Dynamic mode (see below). Which is fun, but not nearly as lairy as rear-drive rivals.

As with just about every modern Audi, there's a Drive Select system to play with. This offers various modes (from Comfort to Dynamic), each adjusting the steering, throttle, gearbox and suspension set-ups. Just to warn you, Dynamic mode feels very hardcore, with very heavy steering and crashy suspension; in practice, Automatic mode works perfectly well in most situations, and keeps the ride surprisingly compliant.

The brakes are sensational too —
at least, they are in ceramic form as tested. Unlike some ceramic systems I've tried, which are borderline dangerous when cold, the RS 4's have plenty of bite from the off. Once motoring, they're supercar-good. And at £4,000 they're slightly cheaper than some optional ceramics I've seen.

The RS 4 looks fantastic, too, while remaining Audi-subtle. ID features include silver mirrors, oval exhaust tailpipes, unique bumpers front and rear, a tailgate spoiler, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a special gear lever. The most striking thing of all, though, is the bulging wheelarch treatment.

No question, the RS 4 is a hell of a complete all-rounder. It's massively quick in a straight line, safe yet smile-inducing around corners, makes a fantastic sound, is superb to sit inside, and is even convincingly practical as an everyday car.

Yes, it's hard to recommend a car that averages 22mpg (if my experience is anything to go by) and has a tax-unfriendly CO2 figure of 249g/km. But hey, what other car can you think of that can do 174mph while carrying the kids and dogs? Thwumpf!
Chris Rees

Audi RS 4 Avant | £53,465
Maximum speed: 155/174mph | 0-62mph: 4.7 seconds | Overall MPG: 26.4mpg
Power: 443bhp | Torque: 317lb ft | CO2 249g/km