The previous model wasn’t exactly a stand-out, so it’s good to see that Audi has made substantial changes to this fourth-generation RS4. One of the most obvious is the replacement of the old naturally aspirated V8 with a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6. Sometimes replacing big old engines with smaller turbo models doesn’t improve the driving experience, but you can’t argue with emissions down by 50 per cent.
Plus of course weight is down, with 31kg coming off the important area of the nose, thanks to the loss of two cylinders and further weight loss evident throughout the vehicle – the bodywork is 15kg less than it was, for example. Overall, weight is down a significant 80kg.
Add in a 444bhp engine and you’re on your way to somewhere interesting, but the journey becomes much more interesting when you note the 443lb ft of torque, available from only 1900rpm and still there at 5000rpm.
When you’re driving this family estate car you need to bear something in mind. It’s brought readily to mind the first time you decide to go quickly down a road, at which point you realise that, for Audi, 444bhp is no big deal. Make no mistake, it’s a big deal for the driver, but for the company and the car that’s the sort of figure which is well within comfort zones.
The result is that the car is far more sanguine about the resulting mayhem than the driver will be. The chassis is simply not stretched by even the maximum performance on offer, including a 0-62mph time of only just over 4sec. The amount of firepower on offer feels quite staggering. You put your foot down and you just erupt towards horizons near or far, with an aggression that is as controlled as it is ferocious.
The latest four-wheel drive system working with an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission deals with it all with total fluidity, shifting smoothly with a liquid grace, even as the countryside blurs past the windows. You can brake heavily and late into a slow turn or accelerate violently out of a bumpy twisty corner – it makes no never mind, the RS4 deals with it all with calm equanimity.
The way it dives into corners is more precise and controlled than in some of the hottest hatches out there, yet this is a family estate that can take everyone skiing with all their kit, or handle a comfy jaunt across continents. Remarkable.
That’s with the highly effective and relatively unobtrusive three-stage stability control doing its thing. You can turn most of it off, at which point you can provoke the rear end, but it’s not terribly rewarding to do so.
The suspension that enables such remarkable handling does do a good job at keeping the occupants comfortable but there’s no escaping the slight fidget on slower, broken roads – there’s only so much even Audi’s engineers can do. The RS Sport Suspension with Dynamic Ride Control – a £2000 option – does allow you to achieve more comfort in Comfort mode though.
Engine: 2894cc, V6, twin-turbocharged, petrol
Power: 444bhp at 5700-6700rpm
Torque: 443lb ft at 1900-5000rpm
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weigh:t 1715kg
Top speed: 155mph (optionally 174mph)
Fuel economy: 32.1mpg
This is in some ways a typical Audi. It’s fantastically, almost unnervingly, good at going very quickly indeed with little sense of drama or hysteria. For an estate car to be so capable of such vicious performance is quite a shaker, but you do also have all the practicality and daily ease of use. It’s quite a combination. You can also dress it up depending on the spec you choose, either making it look a proper street sleeper or else something that might appeal to a Lamborghini owner.
Perhaps it lacks the visceral quality that you’d find in a Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate, and it definitely lacks the soulful V8, but if you’re looking for the ultimate cabin then the Audi takes a clear win, plus the Audi has so many positive if understated qualities. Which estate would we choose? We’d try both.