WE’VE HAD family estate cars for years – and performance cars too – but there’s little doubt it was Audi that successfully combined the two. Its S and, in particular, RS models, starting from the RS2 in 1994, have cornered the niche for go-faster family cars that have the ability to embarrass many sports cars while being practical for weekend household needs – like a run to the local tip.
This new RS4 is the latest of those in Audi’s stable and follows much the same formula.
Yes, it’s easier to spot this car’s sporting intentions than before thanks to the obvious chrome grille surround and deep front spoiler – especially with the large “Quattro” lettering – but in reality this is a car many non-enthusiasts would walk past without a second glance.
Then again, you could almost say the same for the on-paper specification of this car.
Past RS generations boasted huge V8 engines but downsizing has meant that this car has a 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine – albeit with two turbos and a substantial 450bhp under the driver’s right foot.
Yes, its size might be smaller but it can certainly still pack a punch. And how. Its 0 to 60mph of just 4.1 seconds (thanks in large part to that four-wheel drive) and a 155mph top speed (or 174mph if you so wish) are not to be sniffed at.
Nor are the 32.1mpg average fuel economy and 199g/km emissions, which are fairly respectable given that pace, though both inevitably suffer should you choose to utilise the RS4’s performance.
You’ll want to as well.
From the moment you press the starter button and the Audi’s exhaust settles into a deep, purposeful, burble there’s little question about this car’s sporting intentions. That’s not to say that it isn’t useable, mind you.
Audi RS4 Avant Engine: Turbo-petrol, 2.9-litre
One of the beauties of Audi’s RS models has always been their everyday accessibility and it’s no different here.
Be circumspect with your right foot and you could happily drive this car in an urban environment without any inkling of its potential.
When you turn on to faster roads, however, a rather different side to the RS4 emerges.
For starters, its performance is little short of breathtaking, especially mid-range, where it feels like you’re almost riding a wall of never-ending power.
It’s so fast, in fact, that you often find yourself running out of road – within two or sometimes even just one gearchange on heavy throttle – and there will frequently be a corner coming up.
Overtaking manoeuvres, in particular, have to be performed with a degree of circumspection given how fast the RS can leap ahead.
Matched to that is the lightning-fast steering that gives you plenty of confidence when cornering and only adds to the underlining thought that this is a devastatingly quick car to drive point-topoint across country.
Despite how fast it is, though, the steering could still do with more feel about what the car is doing beneath you for our liking.
Audi RS4 Avant Top speed: 155mph
The ride can feel a little over-fidgety on less than billiard table-smooth roads, too. Inside there’s a lot to like about the RS’s interior.
The carbon-fibre weave trim can seem a bit OTT at times but, overall, the build quality and ergonomics are faultless.
The seats aren’t overly firm or sporty but are supremely comfortable and there’s also an extra Isofix child seat mounting on the front passenger seat together with rear seat heaters.
The only weak point for us is the slightly cheap feel to the perforated leather on the steering wheel and gear selector.
There’s also plenty of rear seat space – although the shoulder wings on the front seats look like a strange add-on from there. There’s also a decent-sized boot and a clever boot cover that automatically moves when you open the tailgate itself.
Under the boot floor, thankfully, is a space saver spare tyre rather than a can of useless filler. Overall, and as with many performance estate cars, there’s a lot to like about this latest RS4.
Audi RS4 Avant Power: 0 to 60mph in 4.1 seconds
In many ways it is every car you ever need, given its combination of performance and practicality.
The only trouble is that this kind of pace often doesn’t go hand in hand with everyday family transport requirements.
The opportunities to drive quickly when family is absent, while being on the right road without traffic and with good weather conditions – and when you’re in the mood – start to become increasingly minimal.
Then in the times in between, you have to suffer the shortfalls of a firmer ride and lower fuel economy compared to other models in the A4 Avant range.
So whether you see the RS4 as a uniquely tempting prospect or an exercise in frustration, probably depends on the depth of your pockets. Either way, though, we’re very glad that cars like this continue to exist and this RS4 is one of the best of the breed.
Audi RS4 Avant Fuel economy: 32.1mpg
Engine: Turbo-petrol, 2.9-litre
Power: 0 to 60mph in 4.1 seconds, 155mph top speed
Fuel economy: 32.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 199g/km
Rivals: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class