What Car? says...
The Audi RS4 Avant is one of the very few performance cars that come in estate form, and it's a curiously appealing combination.
At the cheaper (and slower) end of things, the Cupra Leon Estate and the Volkswagen Golf R promise practicality and pace for less money. If you cast the net wider to include electric cars, you might also count the outstanding Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo as a competitor.
But is the Audi RS4 Avant the best in a very small class? Well, with a 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 under the bonnet, it has plenty of firepower, even though its discreet looks don’t shout about it.
Still, as it flicks by in a flash, observant bystanders will be able tell it apart from a regular Audi A4 Avant by its bulging wheel arches, which it needs to house its massive alloy wheels and big brakes. It also wears distinctive front and rear bumpers, and it all adds up to an undeniably purposeful, yet somehow restrained, presence.
Of course, being an estate means the RS4 Avant is as practical as it is fast, but performance cars need more in their arsenal than that. These cars need to exude excitement from every pore if they’re to justify their prices, which are steeply inflated over the regular models.
So, does the RS4 provide you with the thrilling soundtrack and exquisite handling you'd expect to go with its monumental straight-line pace? And is it the super-fast estate to buy? Over the next few pages of this review, we’ll tell you what the Audi RS4 Avant is like to drive and live with day to day.
If you decide it’s the car for you, we can help you get it for the lowest price. Simply search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages to find hefty dealer discounts on most makes and models. It has lots of the best new estate car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The way your Audi RS4 Avant will drive depends entirely on the trim level you go for. However, as we'll explain, no version manages to be quite the all-rounder it ought to be.
With range-topping Vorsprung trim, you get Dynamic Ride Control, which is a clever active suspension system. It’s a similar system to that used on high-end McLaren sports cars, promising outstanding low-speed comfort with excellent body control in corners. And it certainly delivers on that first claim.
Where, for examples, the BMW M3 is firm around urban routes, the RS4 Vorsprung smooths over the worst of battered bitumen. In fact, it’s like the McLaren 720S – a performance car that makes you marvel at the plush ride.
However, the magic of the McLaren system is that it can offer firmer responses when the road becomes more challenging, and that’s where the RS4 Vorsprung begins to struggle. Through quick direction changes, it pitches and rolls, robbing you of confidence on the way in to and out of corners. Ramping it up from Comfort to Dynamic driving mode brings tighter body control, but the car never feels as tied down as the conventionally suspended M3, or the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Dynamic Ride Control is also available on lesser trim levels as an option, in place of the passive RS Sport suspension that comes as standard. The good news with the standard set-up is that it brings markedly less float over severe crests, giving you more confidence to push on when driving on demanding country roads. On the flipside, its extreme stiffness translates to a pronounced thumping and fidgeting over rougher roads, which, after an hour of motorway driving, can get on your nerves.
So the choice is to buy an entry-level RS4 that’s reasonably agile but too firm on the standard set-up, or spend money to add Dynamic Ride Control and end up with a comfortable car, but one that’s pricier and not as enjoyable to drive. By contrast, while the BMW Alpina B3 Touring also has a firm ride, it still rounds off most bumps in a more composed manner than the RS4 Avant, while the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo feels far better suited to battered British roads and is altogether more comfortable.
Further complicating matters is that the lower RS4 trim levels have better steering. Vorsprung comes with Dynamic Steering, which matches its weight and how many turns of the wheel it takes to get from lock to lock to your speed. It sounds good in theory, and helps you get around tighter turns more easily. However, in practice, the system removes any sense of connection with the front wheels, robbing you of confidence when cornering.
Keener drivers are better off with the standard system, which is more accurate with a more natural weight, even if it doesn’t key you into the road anywhere near as well as the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s or the B3 Touring’s.
Still, with the standard steering, it’s easy to place the front of the RS4 on entry to a corner, and with quattro (the Audi four-wheel-drive system) fitted as standard, traction out of the corners is mesmerising. There’s none of the adjustability you’ll find in the rear-wheel-drive Giulia Quadrifoglio or the M3, but it will get you, your family and your ski gear up a snowy mountain in St Moritz more easily.
If you decide to visit the slopes of the Black Forest instead, you can be safe in the knowledge that the RS4 Avant packs more than enough punch for the German Autobahn. Its turbocharged V6, shared with the Porsche Panamera 4S, is smooth and refined, fading into the background at a cruise.
In Dynamic mode, it howls and parps in true performance car style. With 444bhp, it’ll take you from 0-62mph in just 4.1sec and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph (this can be increased to 174mph as an option). It’s very fast, but with a 0-62mph sprint of 3.9sec, the B3 Touring is quicker.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Audi does interiors very well and the RS4’s is no exception. It received an upgrade in 2020 as part of a facelift, and, being the daddy of the range, comes with the kind of highlights that you’d expect a major car maker to add to a sporting variant.
That includes fancy trims, aluminium highlights, soft Nappa leather and so on, while the basics all adhere to Audi’s standards of solidity and finish. It feels better screwed together than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, although it’s given a run for its money by the BMW Alpina B3 Touring.
Seeing out from behind the wheel is pretty easy, and what you miss during parking will hopefully be picked up by the standard front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera. You also get adaptive matrix LED headlights, which provide superb nighttime vision.
Apart from the slightly offset pedals, the driving position is tough to fault. The RS Sport seats are enveloping and there’s plenty of powered adjustment, including four-way lumbar adjustment and massaging facility. The steering wheel also moves in and out and up and down by a decent amount.
As with the regular Audi A4 Avant, the RS4 comes with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit as standard, replacing traditional analogue dials with a 12.3in screen. It can show all sorts of information, from peak G-force levels to a full-screen navigation map. In fact, there’s so much information positioned just below your sightline that it makes the optional head-up display (standard on Vorsprung trim) pretty much redundant.
Slap in the middle of the dashboard are the infotainment screens. The top one is 10.1in, and covers things such as the radio, navigation and smartphone links (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard). Just below that sits another 8.6in touchscreen, which is dedicated to the climate controls and convenience features.
The menus are a little convoluted and it takes time to work out where everything is, but generally it reacts quickly to commands. Both screens provide haptic feedback to confirm when you’ve touched an icon, but you still have to glance away from the road to hit them in the first place, and that’s our biggest bugbear. BMW’s iDrive system (as fitted to the B3 Touring) is so much easier to use while you’re driving, thanks to its physical rotary control and shortcut buttons.
More positively, wireless phone-charging is standard across the range, and the standard 10-speaker stereo can be upgraded to a B&O system with 19 speakers for a price.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There's plenty of space for four adults in the Audi RS4 Avant. In the back, there’s enough rear leg and head room to suit those of above-average height, but, if you are over six feet tall, you may feel the top of your head brushing the roof-lining. This is more of an issue if you’re the third passenger in the middle seat, in which case you’ll also need to contend with the raised central tunnel that limits foot space.
The RS4’s boot offers slightly more overall storage capacity than in the BMW Alpina B3 Touring, but there’s not much in it. Its tailgate provides a wide aperture and a low load lip to take the strain out of lifting in heavy items, and even at its narrowest point, the boot is still one metre wide – that could prove a boon if you’re on an Ikea run.
Folding the rear seats involves the same process as in the regular Audi A4 Avant – when you pull levers by the tailgate opening, the backrests fold in one action. They fold in a 40/20/40 arrangement, giving you more options when you need to carry long loads and people in back, and, once down, leave a flat extended load bay.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The official fuel consumption, meanwhile, is similar to the B3 Touring’s, but you’re unlikely to match those figures unless you're super gentle with the accelerator. Whether you're a private buyer or business user, the RS4 will cost a pretty penny to run.
You get plenty of equipment, so you shouldn’t need to plunder the options list. You get bespoke RS body styling, 19in wheels, a sport rear differential, Nappa leather seats (heated and massaging up front), power-folding door mirrors, three-zone climate control and privacy glass. That's on top of the infotainment system, electric seats, parking aids and LED headlights.
We wouldn’t go for the Carbon Black trim because your extra money mostly goes on styling upgrades. And, while the Vorsprung trim ticks just about every option box Audi offers, it’s hugely expensive, and its Dynamic Steering conspires to take much of the fun out of driving it.
While Euro NCAP hasn’t rated the RS4, the Audi A4 Avant it’s based on was given five stars out of five for safety. There were quite a few issues noted that weaken the adult occupant protection it offers – the likelihood of chest injuries, mainly – and the Alfa Romeo Giulia managed much higher category scores. Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is standard and blind-spot monitoring is added to Vorsprung trim.
The A4 Avant also compares well against the competition in terms of security. Thatcham Research awarded it the maximum five stars for resisting being stolen and four stars for withstanding a break-in.
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|RRP price range
|£72,215 - £90,470
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|28.2 - 28.8
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£5,224 / £6,526
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£10,448 / £13,053