AUDI RS 4 REVIEW
What’s hot: Fast, quality without compromise, razor handling
What’s not: The one-and-a-half things we can fault
X-Factor: Hot? The hottest-of-hot family wagons… and the most glorious V8 bellow.
Vehicle style: Performance premium wagon | Price: $149,400 (plus on-roads)
Engine/Trans: 331kW/430Nm 4.2 litre FSI V8 / 7-speed twin-clutch auto
Fuel economy listed: 10.7 l/100km I tested: Not recorded (track test)
Damn. You get two cracking cars from the one company, one after the other, and reviewing them makes you sound like a sycophantic fool.
And both – in this review it’s the new Audi RS 4, last week it was the A6 3.0 TDI Biturbo – are defined by their engine. One is a 650Nm diesel thumper, the other a bruising 331kW symphony of V8 power.
The tragedy of it is, if I found the A6 Biturbo desirable, I’d like to shag the RS 4 senseless. At least. Worse, I’ve got the ‘Titser’ to come: the TT RS Plus, and it’s also enough to keep you awake at night.
Everyone knows Audi’s RS 4. Its ability to howl around a mountain road is recognised by sporting drivers everywhere. But this new one, this is really something special.
Audi Australia let us loose on the track – wide open throttle, no pace cars in sight – for a half day to put it through its paces. Crikey Moses, what a hammer.
We also gave it a highway loop west of Sydney to test its ‘real world’ credentials. It’s a beautiful car. And faults? I can only find one-and-a-half. Nothing else, not a thing.
Audi has a rare ability to hammer out a mass-produced interior that looks like it was trimmed and hewn by master craftsmen.
In the case of the RS 4, it’s as snug as a cocoon, quiet, comfortable and beautifully trimmed and finished. It might be as black as a mortician’s eyebrow, but this is one very classy interior.
The sports buckets – trimmed in soft black Nappa leather with deep side bolsters – are shaped just right for a fling around the track, but equally comfortable for the highway.
I seemed to follow a colleague who was shaped like a giraffe on the vehicle change-overs (rather than neat, trim and compact like ‘moi’); but could get set at the wheel in seconds. That doesn’t happen often; and it’s a sign of really good interior ergonomics.
The perforated leather sports wheel, flat at the bottom, small-ish, direct and comfortable in the hands, is a beauty. And behind it lurk aluminium shift paddles for the seven-speed twin-clutch trans.
Besides leather trim, the RS 4 interior comes with carbon inlays and highlights of matt brushed aluminium. Piano-black, stainless steel mesh and even wood veneer are available as options.
And the RS 4 comes fully featured as you would expect of a premium car (it might run with the hounds, but it has the kit and caboodle of the executive saloon).
It comes with multi-media interface with special RS menu with a lap timer and an oil temperature gauge. But it’s also laden with creature comforts: MMI sat-nav (with 20GB media storage), keyless entry, memory settings for the front seats, rear camera (and front park assist), cruise control, climate control, thumping audio system with CD, MP3, Bluetooth compatibility (with audio streaming), adaptive headlights, and a host of other premium features.
It’s also a wagon – or Avant – so it comes with wagon practicality. That means a luggage compartment that can expand from 490 to 1430 litres, standard roof rails and electric tail-gate.
It’s also got the full suite of dynamic and passive safety features should the unthinkable happen and some poorly trained nitwit does something daft in front of you.
(You don’t really want me to list them do you? If I do I’ll be forced to give you my ideas about driver training and inept drivers… and that might take a while.)
ON THE ROAD
I think we hit 230km/h flat chat down the main straight at Eastern Creek, I’m not sure… perhaps a little short.
Pushing it up there meant getting hard on the power out of the top turn (and only daring fleeting glances at the dials – a lot happens very quickly up over the imperial ton), but this car is fast.
It’s the 331kW at a mind-numbing 8250rpm that’s responsible, and the 430Nm lurking under the toe – and not a turbo or supercharger in sight.
Few sporting wagons strain at the leash like the muscular, scorching Audi RS 4. And, at speed, the sound of that V8 is glorious.
But, not just fast, it also corners exactly like a wagon should not. It will tuck in and hold a line at such phenomenal speeds it messes with the head. Isn’t a wagon-back supposed to feel like it’s carrying a brick in its arse?
Not the RS 4.
Its quattro AWD technology down below explains its ability to howl out of a corner, but not its phenomenal high speed balance, its ability to wash off speed deep into a corner, to tuck in, and the measured oversteer as the bulk of the power at the wheels transfers to the rear (we kept the stability control on).
The RS 4 can make nearly anyone look like a race driver.
Flick the launch control on and it will leap out the hole and haul you to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, and on to a governed 280km/h (that’s getting into supercar territory and this thing is the size and shape of a Cobb and Co coach).
And its braking is equally superb. Massive, massive ‘wave-design’ internally-ventilated stoppers, and a beautifully weighted pedal feel mean that the RS 4 can be hauled down time and again from very high speeds.
The seven-speed DSG operates flawlessly on track. It ‘whumps’ on up-shifts, and down-shifting is accompanied by a throaty guttural rev-matched ‘blip’.
We lapped with and without the paddles; the transmission is so beautifully calibrated (it will change down pre-emptively when cornering and hold to the rev-limiter when hauling out) there is little gain in manually shifting.
While the racetrack demands the dynamic (sport) setting, on road, you can dial up ‘comfort’, which does in fact provide an instantly more supple and comfortable ride. And the wheel effort greatly reduced.
In this setting, it effortlessly and comfortably absorbs speed humps and broken tarmac and the accelerator and transmission response is blunted.
And the flaws, those one-and-a-half things we can fault? The steering in dynamic mode is just too heavy, even on the racetrack you feel like you’re muscling it through the turns. I think I can count that as a fault… it’s not a biggie, and might be just a preference thing, but it’s there.
And the half? Well, the DSG is great, but where’s the manual? It’s not exactly a fault, that’s why it’s a ‘half’, but sporting drivers like manuals. Who wouldn’t love to pin themselves around a track in a manual RS 4?
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
This is an extraordinary car – Audi’s RS 4. It’s a wagon like very few others.
It looks fast; it's more than that, it's a jet. You’ll love its blistered guards sitting over fat rubber and that big Audi sporting snout and carbon-fibre splitters.
You’ll love even more the aural delights of that astonishing V8. And you’ll love – because who doesn’t? – that quite superb Audi interior and the luxurious quality feel everywhere you might care to lay a hand.
Park the price to one side – 150 big ones plus luxury tax and on-roads – and it’s hard to imagine a more appealing wagon.
Would you choose it over the M3? I think I would. There is more of a split personality to the RS 4; it will noodle along in traffic like a docile puppy as happily as it will mercilessly tear up a race track.
And now, perhaps, maybe the RS 4 badge has stolen the edge. It has sporting drivers nodding approvingly at its mention, and everyone knows it’s something special (maybe because ‘His Bigness’ Clarkson gave an earlier model such a wrap).
So if the size and shape of that $149,400 pile of ‘the necessary’ doesn’t scare the family exchequer, then yes, of course you want one in the garage. Audi’s elegant, pounding RS 4 is sensational.
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