Audi RS4 Avant estate
"The Audi RS4 may not be as dynamic as rivals, but it remains one of the most practical performance cars on the market"
- Superb build quality
- Very fast
- Expensive options
- Interior beginning to feel dated
- Artificial steering feel
One thing sets Audi's fastest A4 aside from the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 – the fact that the RS4 is only available as an estate. But this might be good news if you need to justify your performance-car purchase as practical for family life.
In fact, it's very unusual for load-carrying and lairy acceleration to live together in such harmony – and presented in what is quite a low-key package. This generation of Audi RS4 Avant ditches the old car’s ear-splitting V8 in favour of a smaller, twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 engine. While the move gave initial cause for concern among V8-loving enthusiasts, most were silenced by the fact that it produces the same 444bhp as its predecessor and actually has more pulling power.
With standard quattro four-wheel drive, the RS4 doesn't have quite the balletic handling of the BMW M3, however, it does produce a sonorous soundtrack if pushed hard. The RS4 is a very easy car to just get in and drive fast – it behaves in a benign way that gives even the most inexperienced sports car drivers confidence.
Gone are the days when the RS4 acted more as a high-end trim level to the regular Audi A4, as the car is now a standalone model from which buyers can choose from one of four distinct specifications: standard, Carbon Black, Competition and Vorsprung. All come well equipped, however, with 19-inch alloy wheels, full-LED headlights, quilted Nappa leather upholstery, tri-zone climate control, and a reversing camera all coming as standard.
With the latest RS4, Audi has succeeded in creating an impressive all-rounder that is fit for virtually any task you could realistically want your car to perform. It’s incredibly quick when you want to have fun but is also an accomplished cruiser, a practical load-lugger, as well as a comfortable and luxurious family car. It may not set your heart pounding on every trip, but it can still offer plenty of thrills when you ask it to. The only obvious off-putting aspect of owning one is the high list price and expensive upgrades.
MPG, running costs & CO2
As emissions regulations become tougher and tougher towards fossil-fueled cars, manufacturers are looking for more ways to extend the life of the combustion engine. For example, the latest Mercedes C 63 S – a rival to the Audi RS4 – has ditched its muscular V8 engine for a smaller four-cylinder plug-in hybrid that can return over 40mpg.
The fourth-generation of RS4 has been on sale since 2018 and is yet to receive any form of electrification; the performance estate is claimed to return up to 30mpg, but real-world figures are more around 25mpg – even when you’re not using all of the car’s power. CO2 emissions have improved to around 210g/km, down from 249g/km in the old RS4 – however, this still means the Audi is in the top Benefit-in-Kind company car tax bracket.
The Audi RS4 will cost £165 per year to tax, plus a £355 surcharge in years two to six of ownership because it costs more than £40,000 to buy. Insurance, servicing and consumables, such as tyres and brakes, will be more expensive than average because the RS4 is a performance car.
Engine, drive & performance
The Audi RS4 is only available with a turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine. Despite being significantly smaller than the engine in the previous RS4, the introduction of turbochargers means the V6 produces the same 444bhp as the bigger V8 engine used in the previous model.
Audi claims 0-62mph will take 4.1 seconds, however, specify the car in track-focused Competition spec and this figure falls to just 3.9 seconds. The RS4 Competition also boasts a higher top speed than the regular car, too – 180mph, up from 155mph.
As you’d expect from something that produces twice the horsepower of an ordinary family car, the Audi RS4 feels blisteringly quick; a 'dynamic' mode brings an even sharper response to the accelerator and holds each of the eight gears for optimal acceleration. The gearbox itself is a dual-clutch unit and does a very fast, smooth job of changing gears, but there are steering-wheel paddles fitted in case you think you can do better.
The steering is arcade-game sharp and just as precise, but sadly has as much feel as a computer game, too. Thankfully, there’s plenty of grip thanks to the quattro all-wheel-drive, making the Audi feel much more secure through corners than the equivalent Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio – especially in poor weather.
Even with its standard steel brakes fitted, huge discs ensure speed can be wiped off at a startling rate. Carbon-ceramic brakes are also offered which reduce the car’s overall weight by 23kg and are designed to reduce brake fade during heavy use. Although, at over £6,000, this option is best left unchecked unless you plan to take your RS4 to the racetrack.
Overall, the Audi RS4 offers plenty of high-speed thrills, but lacks the precision and visceral thrills of the equivalent BMW M3. However, we think the Audi’s more subdued character and all-weather ability will suit most drivers the majority of the time.
Interior & comfort
The Audi RS4 is designed to be an excellent all-rounder as well as a performance car. Part of this brief includes being a comfortable, luxury cruiser that’s an appealing companion for long journeys, and the RS4 is more than capable of playing this role.
The optional Dynamic Ride Control setup is a useful extra in this regard, as it alters the suspension setup depending on the mode you select. In ‘Comfort’ and ‘Auto’, the ride is more supple and compliant, whereas ‘Dynamic’ mode makes the car lower and more squat for tighter body control when cornering quickly, but it also means the ride gets much firmer.
The Audi RS4 Avant is based on the fifth generation of Audi A4, which has been on sale since 2016. While Audi has made incremental improvements over that time, the overall design of the cabin is beginning to show its age. The new Mercedes-AMG C 63 boasts a flashy portrait-style infotainment screen alongside swathes of ambient lighting; compared to that, the RS4’s interior feels rather dull, despite feeling more solid than the Merc.
Exclusive to the RS4 is a set of RS-specific visuals for the infotainment and Virtual Cockpit systems, as well as a figure-hugging set of quilted sports seats. These are finished in Nappa leather as standard and go a long way to making the RS4 feel like a step up from the regular A4.
There are three trim levels available above the standard RS4: Carbon Black, Competition and Vorsprung. Carbon Black comes with 20-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fibre interior trim highlights and black exterior trim, including the grille.
Limited-run Competition cars get lowered suspension, a sportier drivetrain setup and Alcantara suede upholstery. Finally, the range-topping Vorsprung Edition adds a panoramic sunroof, Bang & Olufsen stereo and adaptive suspension – although, these both cost more than £80,000.
Practicality & boot space
The RS4 is as practical as the standard Audi A4 Avant estate, making it a tempting choice for those who regularly need to transport family, cargo or both but don’t want to sacrifice speed or the pleasure of owning a performance car to do so.
Head and legroom are good for all passengers, whether in the front or rear of the RS4, and the 505-litre boot is one of the biggest in its class, beating out the 500 litres on offer in the upcoming BMW M3 Touring. Fold down the rear seats and this space expands to 1,510 litres – turning the Audi estate into one of the world’s fastest vans.
Reliability & safety
While it's understandable many automatically associate premium brands such as Audi with quality and reliability, our recent Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys suggest otherwise. In 2022, the German brand could only muster a 19th place finish out of 29 manufacturers, with over 19% of owners reporting issues with their car within the first year of ownership. The Audi A4 – on which the RS4 is based – didn’t fare much better either; it positioned 60th out of 75 cars.
On a more positive note, the standard A4 saloon received a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP and although it won’t be tested separately, it’s all but definite that the RS4 would do the same. Standard kit includes pre sense city braking, multi-collision brake assist, Audi side assist, and parking system plus, while a Driver Assistance Pack – standard on Vorsprung models – is also available as an option. This costs £1,200 and adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assistance.