2013 AUDI RS 4 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Midsized performance prestige wagon.
Price: $149,400 (plus on-roads), $178,150 as-tested.
Engine/trans: 331kW/430Nm 4.2 litre petrol V8 | 7spd DSG S-tronic auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.7 l/100km | tested: 20.2 l/100km
Is this it? Is this the perfect car? Our time with the Audi RS 4 Avant had us grinning from ear-to-ear.
Equal parts practicality and performance, the RS 4 Avant appeals to both the rational and the emotional quadrants of any motoring enthusiast's brain.
Of course, it’s hard to not love something with a V8 that redlines at 8500rpm.
But there is more to it than that. Is there any other car that is so easy to live with, yet so incredibly brisk? And perhaps more importantly, is the RS 4’s practicality compromised by its speed, or vice versa?
Quality: The A4’s interior is by now a familiar environment, but it still looks fresh. The design is clean and aesthetically pleasing, and material quality is - as usual for an Audi - excellent.
The glossy carbon-fibre trim pieces and the D-shaped steering wheel remind you that this is the performance pinnacle of the A4 range, and overall the presentation is very slick.
Comfort: Our tester came fitted with the optional bucket seats, which are the same as those in the RS 4’s two-door cousin, the RS 5. They’ll set you back a hefty $4700, but, if you can bridge that extra gap, you will find the money well spent.
Not only are the bolsters deep and firm enough to contain you in high-G cornering, but the width of each bolster is electrically adjustable. Finally, a sports bucket seat that can accommodate those without a jockey’s physique.
The backrest and slider are manual, but combined with the reach/rake adjustable steering column it’s easy to get comfy behind the RS 4’s wheel.
Speaking of which, that wheel is near-perfect for a performance car. The diameter is compact to make it faster to rotate, the dimpled leather means your palms won’t slip and the multi-function buttons are well laid out.
However, the bucket seats, as good as they are, make life a little difficult for those in the back seat. The large backrest shell intrudes into rear knee and foot room, and they’re made of hard, unyielding plastic.
There’s also quite a bit of transmission tunnel intrusion for the centre seat passenger. It's ok two-up there, but lanky teens and adults will be looking for more legroom there on longer trips.
Equipment: Keyless entry, sat-nav, bi-xenon headlamps, auto-on everything, heated seats… all of the familiar luxury staples are on the RS 4’s spec sheet.
You also get the usual Bluetooth connectivity (both phone and audio), 20GB of onboard music storage, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Storage: We said this was practical, right? Seats up, there’s 490 litres of space beneath the cargo blind, and 1430 when the seatbacks are folded forward.
It’s not the widest load area, but handy features like six tie-down points, two bag hooks, a netted enclosure to the side, retractable mesh barrier and underfloor storage make it more usable.
The loading aperture is also nice and wide, and the powered tailgate is handy when you’ve got your hands full.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: I’ll shed tears when Audi retires this engine. It might ‘only’ displace 4.2 litres, but it spins to a stratospheric 8500rpm and sounds positively heavenly when the tachometer needle is pointing at any number higher than ‘6’.
The key stats are 331kW at 8250rpm and 430Nm between 4000 and 6000rpm. It’s clearly not wanting for either power or torque, but you really do need to wring it hard to get the most out of it.
We relished every opportunity to do so, but the downside is abysmal thirst. After a week, we notched up an average fuel consumption of 20.2 l/100km - almost double Audi’s claim.
But it’s such a wonderful motor, economy aside. Audi’s 4.2 possesses so many positive virtues beyond its peak power and torque figures - like its sound, like the supremely linear surge of power and the incredible responsiveness to the throttle.
All are classic hi-po V8 attributes. (But it will be a sad day when emissions legislation finally kills this monster engine.)
The RS 4’s V8 is backed up by a twin-clutch seven speed automatic, which is the sole transmission choice for the RS 4. Some might moan about the lack of a manual, but with a trans this good it’s difficult to complain.
Gearshifts are lightning-quick, but low speed crawl performance seems better than the average dual-clutch.
In comfort mode, the shifts are smooth and refined.
Select Dynamic mode and slot the shifter into “S”, and the gearbox holds gears for longer and downshifts sooner when decelerating - the latter being accompanied by a massive “whoomp” as the engine matches revs.
In the manual shift mode, the gearbox will also hold the engine against redline until you pull the upshift paddle. Just how it should be for an automatic performance car.
Refinement: The RS 4 is loud when that engine is working hard, and even at idle the exhaust emits a purposeful, deep hum.
But from inside and with everything set to “comfort”, it’s relatively quiet and vibration free. There’s significant tyre noise on coarse surfaces though, and the suspension can be bone-jarringly firm at times.
Ride and Handling: Unless you’re rolling through the gate of a race track, our recommendation is to leave the suspension in Comfort mode at all times.
In Dynamic mode the electronically adjustable dampers firm up so much that the RS 4 is almost race-car like in how unyielding its suspension becomes. On average suburban streets, the novelty factor wears off very quickly.
Comfort mode takes the edge off and makes the RS 4 more compliant, but it’s still quite a stiffly-sprung vehicle. Our car had the optional 20-inch wheel package (19s are standard), which wouldn’t have helped ride comfort either.
But get it on the right road, and the RS 4 is a delight. The steering is ultra-sharp (but not terribly communicative), and it hooks into turns with vigour.
Considering the entire mass of the engine is mounted ahead of the front axle, it’s surprising how resistant the RS 4 is to understeer. Dynamically it’s inferior to a more balanced chassis like the BMW M3, but on public roads it’s difficult to find the limit.
Weight is another issue. Having all-wheel drive adds weight, and you can certainly feel it when throwing the RS 4 into a turn.
But the trade off is incredible grip in slippery conditions.
There’s a feeling of security with the RS 4. You can push it incredibly hard without the fear that it’ll spit you sideways into the closest hedge.
And besides, when on the power the RS 4 actively helps you into corners. The drivetrain can direct up to 85 percent of drive to the rear axle, and also vectors torque between the left and right wheels to aid turn-in.
It helps fight understeer, but only when you’re feeding in the power. Better stay on the throttle then.
While older carbon-ceramic brakes drew criticism for cold performance, there’s nothing uncivilised about the RS 4’s ceramic brakes during city driving. They’re quiet, bitey and linear throughout the pedal’s travel.
Get some heat into them during a spirited drive, and they come into their own. We couldn’t get a hint of brake fade at all, and the real limit on stopping performance wasn’t the brakes, it was the (still incredibly grippy) Pirelli P-Zero tyres.
These are race car brakes on a road car, and the only downside is that they cost a mint. Want to spec them for your RS 4? That’ll be $13,500 thanks.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - the B8 A4 sedan scored 34.45 out of 37 in Euro NCAP testing.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control (switchable), ABS, EBD and brake assist are all part of the RS 4’s standard electronic safety equipment.
Three-point seatbelts are provided for all five passengers, and the outboard rear seats are equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchorages.
Dual front, dual front side and full-length curtain airbags are standard, though the side airbags are sacrificed when the sports buckets seats are specced.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres
Service costs: No fixed-price servicing; the service interval is 15,000km or 12 months.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG Estate ($156,900) - Realistically, the RS 4’s only really competition. Where else will you find another compact luxury wagon with a thumping V8 but down at your local Benz dealer?
The C 63 AMG packs a hefty punch in the form of its naturally-aspirated 6.2 litre V8, with its outputs of 336kW and 600Nm easily eclipsing those of the RS 4.
Straight line performance is brisker, with the C 63 doing the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.4 seconds compared to the RS 4’s 4.7. However, the rear-drive C 63 lacks the outright grip and all-weather capability of the Audi.
There’s also the price advantage offered by the RS 4, and we think the RS 4 looks like the more purposeful machine. (see C-Class reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Okay, so its heaviness blunts performance a bit and it’s not quite so roomy in the back when you spec those bucket seats, but are those reasons to turn down the RS 4? Hell no.
We’d overlook the lack of steering feel too, purely because this car excites us so much in pretty much every other area.
Yeah, there are more engaging driver’s cars out there, but scant few can instill confidence on a wet and windy road quite like the RS 4 does.
We did everything in the RS 4, from fanging through the mountains to taking the household pet to the vet.
Commuting in traffic, grabbing a burger through the drive-through, lining up for the stop-light derby, transporting a lawn mower: the RS 4 easily accomplishes all those tasks with ease.
It’s the car equivalent of a Leatherman. All-purpose, all-weather, always capable.
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