Audi RS4 Avant review: A rocketship cleverly disguised as a family estate

Our correspondent Charles Rangeley-Wilson takes a spin in the sure-footed, blisteringly quick Audi RS4 Avant.

I doubt there are many days when one sets coordinates for Milton Keynes in a fervour of anticipation, but, on January 18, I did just that. Audi had offered me a spin in its fearsome estate car, the RS4 Avant.

This stealthy rocketship has a cult following and holds its value like a Ming vase, so it’s always puzzled me that it plays its game of load-lugging racer on a field almost devoid of opposition. Hot versions of the Subaru Legacy once traded blows, but not anymore. Now, there is only the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate, same power, same ‘sporting-brake’ boot: but rear-wheel-drive only. On British roads, with the tectonic power that either of these wagons offer, I’d take the quadruped any day.

The lineage of this sure-footed, blisteringly quick car began in the 1980s, when, at the hands of Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl, Audi ruled the gravel tracks of the world with its legendary fastback Quattro.

Audi built 200 S1 road-going versions for homologation purposes only, but bumped into a hungry marketplace for silly speed in sensible shoes (one of these S1s sold in auction last year for $484,000, or about £340,000).

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Audi capitalised on the passion in 1994 with the first RS estate car, which scorched to 60mph in a whisker over five seconds and didn’t pause for breath until 163mph.

You might think things hadn’t moved on in 20 years, given the newest model has shaved only a second off that sprint time and is 8mph slower at full chat. The bigger picture is that with the 2018 incarnation, the top speed is limited by the Euro Stasi and the sprint time is a modest under-estimate of the real world rocket-launch.

Suffice to say, the newest RS4 is devastatingly fast. Its V6 bi-turbo kicks out 444 horses, but more torque than a goods train, meaning it can be surfed effortlessly from corner to corner on infinite waves of the stuff without ever wringing the car’s neck or getting so much as a whisper out of shape.

Yes, we tested the car in Britain in January. No, these pictures weren’t taken at that point.

Mid-January was a good time to sample its steeple-chasing pace along a route that took in the potholed back roads of middle England, roads where the RS4’s driver-mentoring ghost-in-the-machine was a comforting kind of haunting. I mean the traction control, of course, snipping in here and there to trim the fuzzy edges of my progress, not to say such gizmology as Torque Vectoring, a selective trim-braking of the inside wheels that hustles the car around the curves, and Dynamic Ride Control, an active suspension system that flattens the ride. It all adds up to something that feels more rooted than the Birnam Oak, albeit a tad quicker.

My only niggle was with the auto gearbox. Easing my loafers into the carpet on the way out of corners, I was either two gears higher than I wanted to be, the car changing down as an afterthought, or two gears lower and bouncing off the redline. Dynamic was too frantic, auto too lazy.

Everything else was marvellous, from the flat-bottomed steering wheel to the Edward Longshanks supporting seats, from the cool battleship-grey (Nardo, they call it) to the driver interface with its intuitive buttons and dials.

Thank you, too, Audi, for not buying into the headlong rush to touch-screen suicide. I guess, in a car as shifty as the RS4, attempting to steer your fingertip to a bouncing rendezvous with a screen struck Audi HQ as an unwise addition to the driver’s already fully entertained mental faculties. On the road

Audi RS4 Avant: The details

Price: From £62,175, as tested

Combined fuel consumption: 32.1mpg

Power: 444bhp

0–60mph: 4.1 seconds

Top speed: 155mph (limited – can be optionally increased to 174mph)