The RS4, Audi’s improbably excellent super estate, has gone down in folklore. Its legend began back in 1994 with the Audi RS2, an Audi 80 Avant fettled by Porsche to produce a whacking 311bhp and quattro four wheel drive. That recipe has been closely followed ever since with a succession of fast estates, the latest being this 2014 Audi RS4.
With a 444bhp 4.2-litre naturally aspirated high-revving V8 engine, a seven-speed automatic gearbox and the security of its quattro drivetrain it looks set to do its ancestors proud, even if it does cost nigh on £55,000.
The Audi RS4 may resemble a middle-management A4 Avant on first inspection, but a closer look reveals some key tweaks. The RS4 shares the de rigueur aluminium-capped wing mirrors common to the rest of the sporty Audi S and RS range. It also features 19inch (20inch are optional) alloy wheels, suspension lowered by 20mm, more aggressive air intakes, quad exhaust pipes and subtly flared wheel arches. Reminiscent of the original ur Quattro, it is menacing and beautiful in equal measure.
The Audi RS4 is an estate, and a four wheel drive one at that, so you could argue this car is practical enough for anything you throw at it. Certainly with the seats in place the RS4 can carry 490-litres of luggage, and dropping the backrests increases this to a generous 1,430-litres. In typical Audi tradition it’s impeccably trimmed back there, boasting carpets thicker than those found in the main cabin of some competitors. The RS4’s cabin has plenty of space, though the more aggressively bolstered sports seats can make rear passengers slightly claustrophobic thanks to their extra shoulder girth.
Performance & handling
With a 4.2-litre V8 under the bonnet you’d expect the RS4 to rocket forward the moment you press the loud pedal, boasting immediate and volatile throttle response. But this naturally aspirated engine thrives on revs – needing at least 4,000rpm before full torque is delivered and offering every single one of its 444bhp just before the 8,250rpm redline.
You’ll certainly find yourself in a lower gear than expected if you want to take advantage of its thrust, though the quick-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox makes this relatively easy to do. However, such is the grip and poise of this car, you’ll need to be going some to really enjoy it at the limit, despite the standard fitment of the Sport Differential giving a rearward bias to the drivetrain.
If there’s anything that could be improved it would be the steering feel, which no matter what setting you choose on the Drive Select System never quite feels fully transparent in its information flow.
Economy & environment
The Audi RS4 is not an efficient car. Four point two-litres of petrol-powered V8 engine will always guzzle petrol, no matter how restrained your driving. So it’s no surprise that the RS4’s headline figures are only 26.4mpg and a relatively high 249g/km of CO2. In the real world, where you’re likely to be enjoying the power and performance, that first figure can easily drop into the high teens.
Unfortunately with only a 61-litre fuel tank that can mean a full to empty distance of around 250 miles, which does rather hamper this car’s ability as a long-range cruiser, though in fairness its rivals are no worse.
Equipment & value
Audi is famed for the cost of its options, so expect your ideal RS4 to cost a fair bit more than the standard car. Want that 155mph top speed raised to 174mph? That’ll be £1,300, please. You can chuck in £725 for the Dynamic steering and £1,710 for the Sports Suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control packages, too. It all adds up, quickly, and our moderately-optioned test example sported over £7,000 of extra kit.
But then compared to its main rival, the Mercedes C63 AMG estate, the Audi is already over £3,000 cheaper and BMW doesn’t currently offer an M3 wagon. You’re also likely to enjoy some strong residual values with the Audi RS4, the car retaining well over 50 per cent of its value after three years.
Tested back in 2009 the current generation A4, on which the latest RS4 is based, scored a credible but not unexpected five stars in its Euro NCAP results. Six airbags are standard, as is a sophisticated stability control system – plus the reassurance of quattro four wheel drive.
There’s not much choice when it comes to fast compact estates – only the Audi RS4, Mercedes C63 AMG and the slightly less well-endowed Volvo V60 Polestar spring to mind. Only the Audi and the Volvo offer four wheel drive, but neither of these are quite as sure-footed; if you’re looking for a confidence-inspiring load-lugger with supercar-worrying performance then quit your search now. Sure that performance could arrive lower in the rev-range, but working that naturally aspirated V8 hard is half of this car’s appeal – even if you’ll be well into license losing speeds by the time it’s in its sweet spot. A fitting descendant of the RS2? We think so.
Model tested: Audi RS4
Engine: 4.2-litre V8
Acceleration: 0-62 in 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited, with option to raise this to 174mph)
Emissions: 249g/km CO2