Another hot Audi estate: this one’s one of the best, but still not very involving
BMW doesn’t even make a fast compact executive estate. The highly specialised sector is left to just the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate and this new Audi RS4 Avant. There’s no fast Alfa Giulia QV estate, no sporty Jaguar XE wagon. It’s safe to say Audi’s chances of grabbing sector honours are pretty high.
But wait: unlike the Mercedes, and unlike the car it replaces, this RS4 Avant doesn’t have a whopping great V8 engine under the hood. It’s kept the same power, 444bhp, but this is now delivered by a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. It does, in fairness, have a better eight-speed gearbox and a more high-tech quattro four-wheel drive system though, to compensate for the lack of two cylinders.
That quattro setup can send up to 70 percent of drive rearwards, and the sport differential will even let it apportion as much power as possible to just one side of the car. It’s very clever, as are the hydraulically linked dampers, which cut roll, and a variable ratio steering system. All this hasn’t added extra weight, though: it’s up to 80kg lighter than before.
And it still looks the business. Those chunky body features and 30mm wider wheelarches are genuinely mean and purposeful, all the better if you tick the 20-inch alloy wheel option. Yet inside, boot space is far from mean: 505 litres with the seats up is impressive (and better than the Merc). Even compared to the big old V8, it’s fast. The turbo engine has a far wider spread of torque, for ferocious acceleration yet smooth and punchy gearshifts with it. The ride is pretty impressive too, and it’s both stable on the motorway and refined at all times. Add in Audi’s impeccable interiors and you’ve a very alluring trinket of a car.
But buyers of these machines prioritise handling and excitement. And here, it’s more of a mixed bag. OK, there’s a tonne of grip, and the lack of roll combines with that ingenious quattro system to make it feel exceedingly agile. It’s well balanced too, and there are at times you’re left simply astonished at its abilities. But exited and thrilled by them? Left buzzing from the involvement? That’s another matter entirely. Compared to a C63, it’s faster, but leaves the driver a bit cold – and that’s even in sport mode. Switch to comfort and it rolls a bit more, smooths the roads out even better: oddly, because it’s not as other-worldly in its lack of roll, it somehow feels a bit more natural in this setting, even if the limits aren’t as breathtaking.
So what we have is an amazing car, one that has the tenacity to dig deep and serve up an experience you’d never thought could be possible from a five-seat premium estate car… but one that you could still curiously take or leave at the end of a swift, fast blast. And just as well leave in comfort mode, rather than sport. It’s a very likeable car, and an enormously able one, but the character that enthusiasts relish in these types of specialist niche models somehow isn’t quite there as strongly as it should be. We’re seriously impressed by it, but we can’t fully warm to it.