It’s always nice to escape bad weather, particularly so when half of the UK is covered in snow bringing transport to a standstill. So, when Audi invited me on behalf of Gracie Opulanza, to Malaga for the launch of the new RS4, you can imagine how quickly I took up their offer. After the flagship Audi RS8 Spider which Gracie reviewed back in 2016 it was good to see how the other Audi RS models compare.
Based on the A4, size-wise the RS4 sits in the middle of Audi’s range, and is available in Avant (estate) guise only. Prices are set to start at £60,935, with cars due to ship early next year.
As the 4th generation (codename B9) RS4, the key change for this generation sees a return to the line’s roots with a twin turbo 2.9L V6 for propulsion – a move away from the naturally aspirated V8 of the previous two models. The reduced capacity and cylinder count both aid Audi’s mission to reduce the overall weight of the car – with around 80kg of fat trimmed versus the previous model. Combine that with a near 40% increase in peak torque, and it’s little wonder the new RS4 races to 62mph in just 4.1 seconds – six tenths of a second quicker than previous RS4s.
The gearbox is another area where Audi have made a fairly dramatic change, with the B9 RS4 now sporting an 8 speed Tiptronic ‘box. Delving a little deeper into the gearbox itself, it sees a move away from the previously used dual-clutch technology to a more conventional automatic. From there, it’s the usual Audi recipe, with power distributed to all four wheels through its excellent Quattro system with Sport Quattro Differential as standard.
Inside & Out
Compared to previous generation RS4s, I think it’s fair to say Audi have taken the aggression up a notch or two. Adopting Audi’s latest ‘Quattro’ design language, the B9 is all angles and scoops, with strong lines and defined shapes throughout. The RS is also a fair bit wider than a standard A4, with heavily flared arches giving it a more squat, aggressive and slightly menacing look. New for this generation is the Sonoma Green paint – a no cost option that proved to be a little marmite amongst fellow journalists – although personally I was a big fan.
Interior wise, the RS4 is exactly what you’d expect from a modern Audi: Fit and finish is spot on, whilst the integration of all the interior gadgets is exemplary. Sharing the display of data between the cars head up display (£900 option), digital dashboard & central display makes the intake of data effortless – a particular plus when travelling at speed. Switching the gearbox over to manual control adds shift lights to the HUD, enhancing the ‘race driver’ experience.
The driving position and range of seat adjustment make it very easy to get comfortable, whilst the inflatable side bolsters and sculpted design of the RS seats do an excellent job of hugging you securely in place.
Other notable features include the Bang & Olufsen car stereo system, which sounded every bit as good as you’d want it to, along with Qi wireless phone charging, a feature which now benefits iPhone users after Apple’s latest refresh.
On The Road
With test routes for the new RS4 featuring numerous mountain roads, Audi certainly knew what they were doing when they chose Malaga for the launch. Jumping behind the wheel, one thing was immediately clear; this isn’t an intimidating car to drive. The engine is incredibly smooth and quiet, as is the gearbox. Visibility is very good – it really couldn’t feel any more sedate and safe.
With all the available options in Audi’s Drive Select menu set to Comfort, the gearbox in full automatic mode and the climate control set just so, the new RS4 could easily be mis-conceived as purely being a luxurious cruiser. The ride quality is superb, cabin noise is very low and it effortlessly picks up speed. I was beginning to wonder if this really was an RS Audi…
There was only one thing for it, so using Audi’s Drive Select tool everything was set to ‘Dynamic’ – the most sporty option on offer. This sharpens the drivetrain (all models), suspension (a £2000 option) and the steering (£950) changing the personality of the car entirely. The (£1200) exhaust also becomes more vocal, giving you an audible reminder you that you are in fact in a supercar-killing family estate.
Chuck it into a bend, and unlike fast Audis of the past, the new RS4 doesn’t seem to suffer from understeer, with initial bite and turn in incredibly impressive. Exiting the bends, the back end starts to come alive, with the RS4 being surprisingly tail-happy. This can be a little alarming at first, as feedback through the chassis is a little muted, but disabling the traction control fixes this instantly. Once in a straight line, the traction from the four wheel drive, seamless 8 speed gearbox and torquey V6 accelerate the car to alarming speeds in no time at all.
With the optional Ceramic brakes fitted to the car on test (£6000), stopping power wasn’t short on supply either. My only gripe is the gearbox, which could be quite fussy and slow to respond to down changes. When the changes did happen, they also lacked some of the drama and excitement a dual clutch system would give. It’s quite possible this perceived lack of excitement also has something to do with new engine configuration, which even with the exhaust fully opened-up can’t quite match the roar of a V8.
The new RS4 is certainly a head turner; In my short time with the car, wherever I drove admiring looks were aplenty. It feels like Audi have really pushed the aggression on the design for this generation, and the results are fantastic.
On paper, Audi has made a similar push with the drivetrain – the sharp increase in engine output and move from 7 to 8 speeds on the gearbox are both major pluses. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the one area on the car where I felt slightly let down. It seems that, in the search of numerical superiority the soul of the RS4 has been diminished slightly. Gone is the shouty V8 and aggressive dual clutch gearbox – replaced with a numerically superior but somewhat less dramatic V6/8-speed auto replacement. For almost any other car this wouldn’t even feature on my radar, but an RS model Audi should be all about excitement, and this generation of RS4 has lost a little sparkle.
As a car though, and for every day driving, this new combination is absolutely killer. When the car is in comfort mode, it leaves you wanting for very little, whilst its ability to cover ground at a rapid rate of knots is mighty. If you’re pushing on, switching over to dynamic mode instantly sharpens things up and unlocks the cars fantastic, playful side; packing two such distinct personalities into one car can’t have been easy.
Interior wise, the layout is spot on, there’s excellent rear leg room, boot space is plentiful and the list of toys and optional extras is long enough to satisfy anyone. Minor quibbles with the drivetrain aside, the fact that it’s possible to combine such ferocious speed with the practicality and comfort of a family estate is a credit to Audi. If you’re looking for a car to get the family from A to B as quickly as possible, all year round and with room to spare, this is undoubtedly it.