If Audi ever produced a ‘greatest hits compilation, it would be no easy feat deciding the top positions. They’ve produced so many superb vehicles over the ages, that choosing one over another would take a great deal of consideration. However, you can be certain that a fast estate car would feature near the very top, if not at the top of the list. Few manufacturers can piece together the combination of break-neck speed, creature comforts and boot space like Audi can.
The question is, does the fast estate recipe still work? Well, we thought we’d find out; the RS4 has been a staple of the Audi fast-estate menu for a number of years, so we asked Audi if they’d lend us their latest release. Audi agreed, and promptly sent us a ‘Vorsprung Edition’ model for evaluation.
Before jumping behind the wheel, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the rather staggering figures. 450PS (443hp), 4.1 seconds to 60mph, 174mph top speed (limited) and all from a turbocharged V6 engine measuring in at just under 3 litres. That’s a lot of performance no matter what, let alone when you consider that it’s packaged inside a family estate with 5 seats and a full 500 litres of boot space. That’s 500 litres with the rear seats up too – drop those and it opens up to a mammoth 1510 litres… Yup, it’s got room for the kids, luggage and the dog!
In traditional Audi fashion, the power is distributed to all 4 corners of the vehicle via their renowned Quattro system, offering superb traction and acceleration in all conditions. To cap it off, the Quattro system is mated to the engine via an 8-speed transmission, offering plenty of ratios from which to choose.
The Vorsrung edition (as reviewed) comes in at the top of the RS4 tree, with a plethora of optional extras aimed at making this the absolute cream of fast estates. Eye catching exterior extras include a black styling pack, black badges, panoramic glass roof and 20” ‘Evo’ style wheels. The end result is a rather menacing, stealthy looking estate, which contrasts beautifully with the metallic Sonoma Green paint as option on our test vehicle.
Adding a cool £18k to the base price of the RS4, you’ll be relieved to hear that the changes on offer with the Vorsprung edition extend far beyond the exterior. Inside the cabin we have massaging seats, a heads up display, heated front and rear seats, piano black inlays and a B&O 3D sound system (plus a shed load more!). Put simply, there’s too much to list or explore in this review, but the end result is a cabin space that is simply exquisite.
The Vorsprung edition also offers a number of enhancements that are hidden away from the human eye, including dynamic steering, a sports exhaust system and dynamic ride control. All of these certainly add to the ‘RS-ness’ of the vehicle, unlocking additional performance or drama for those that consider the base RS4 a little ‘normal’. The dynamic ride control could be a useful weapon in taming the ride on bumpy UK roads, especially so given the Vorsprung edition is booted in low profile tyres thanks to those mammoth 20” rims.
The Family Experience
Fire up the RS4 and you’re immediately welcomed by the V6 bark as it begins its cold start routine. It’s a glorious sound, with this engine seemingly being one of the few not to have had its aural note clipped back by modern-day emissions equipment. Once the cold start is over, the engine can be kept to a suitably family-friendly tone, and it’s from this point onwards that you could be forgiven for mistaking this as being a ‘standard’ A4.
With the RS4 set to ‘comfort’, the ride softens right off, the engine becomes very progressive and the gearbox incredibly smooth. Cruising along the motorway or through towns is a thoroughly relaxing experience, with the combination of massaging and heated seats an additional bit of icing on the cake. Engine noise never gets boomy or irritating, although none of the vehicle’s settings can reduce the number of heads that turn. Put simply, the RS4 pulls lots of admiring glances, and rightly so!
Taking the RS4 for a 600 mile round trip with 4 adults gave plenty of time to find any irritations in the cabin, but I’m pleased to report there were few (if any) to find. Leg space in the back is good, even with a long-legged driver pushing the front seat to the rearward limit of its travel. The fit and finish of the Nappa leather are also typically excellent, with the infotainment system in the centre also providing all the technological creature comforts demanded of a car in 2021.
Unlike a lot of modern cars, which have almost the entirety of the central controls loaded into a touch display, the RS4 is still running a slightly older (in Audi interior terms) split configuration. This means that you get a large central touch display up top for controlling vehicle settings and your audio, complemented by a selection of buttons below for climate settings, drive select and hazard lights etc. In a car as potent and fast as the RS4, this configuration works very well, as it minimises the amount of time you need to take your eyes off the road to find control. The buttons are all reassuringly tactile and clicky too, making them a real pleasure to use. It sort of begs the question – should the recent trend of stripping out buttons be reversed?
For my money, the RS4’s interior offers a superb blend of technology and finger-friendly buttons. This makes it far less intimidating to ‘learn’ the interior and get up to speed. Aside from the controls, the general fit and finish of the interior are exemplary, with the sports seats offering oodles of adjustment and the steering wheel fitting the hand beautifully.
Of course, whilst the family-friendly features are all well and good, anyone buying an RS4 also has their eyes squarely on the performance they can offer. Swap the drive select out of comfort mode, and the change is palpable and wide-reaching. The suspension tightens up, the steering feel increases, the engine revs more freely and the gear changes are sharper. The friendly family wagon is now a fire breathing dragon (figuratively speaking, although the Sonoma green paintwork with black inlays would be a fantastic colour scheme for a dragon!).
On top of the increased driver feel, the RS Sports exhaust also fully opens up, producing a fantastic soundtrack from the V6 engine. Subtle pops and crackles also squeeze their way into down changes, adding a bit more theatre to hard driving.
New for this RS4 edition is an ‘RS Mode’ button on the steering wheel, allowing for quick and easy activation of the two ‘RS’ driving modes. Both are customisable to the users desire, which makes them an incredibly valuable and efficient way of changing the characteristics of the car. Allowing these modes to be tweaked is very handy on bumpy UK roads, as it permits the most dynamic driving experience to be employed throughout the car whilst still holding the suspension in the comfort mode (recommended… when will the UK government sort things out?!).
RS mode also unlocks features such a shift lights (projected onto the windscreen via the HUD or simply as part of the tacho cluster), a g-meter and additional information on the cars vital statistics. It’s also worth noting that the RS4 does a good job of looking after itself too, with a ‘cold drivetrain’ warning light which lets you know if it’s too early to be pressing on.
With everything fully activated, the RS4 is mind-bendingly quick and has stacks of confidence-inspiring traction. The point-and-shoot driving capability of this car is very much a trait carried over from previous generations, but it seems somehow more prevalent than ever. It took a matter of minutes to feel comfortable behind the wheel of the RS4, with the combination of the ergonomic interior and plenty of roads feel a real winner.
I’m somewhat conscious of the fact that this review is almost over and I’m yet to pick up on any real negative points. The truth of the matter is, the RS4 absolutely blew me away during my time with it. If you had to fault it for anything, you’d have to point to the fuel consumption, but even that isn’t bad considering the performance on offer (I averaged 27mpg over ~800 miles).
Not only did the RS4 blow me away in terms of fast-estate performance, but it also impressed me in terms of overall car performance. Driving friends around with luggage in toe with such ease was blissful – as was having the ability to put a great big smile on their faces with a tap of the accelerator pedal. This is such a well-rounded package and probably the best overall vehicle I’ve ever had the pleasure of test driving. It doesn’t come cheap mind you, with the specification as tested coming in at £84,370 OTR. Having said that, the quality and refinement won’t disappoint and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a car that offers more smiles-per-gallon in such a family-friendly package.
Thank you Audi UK for arranging our loan review.