Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon

The RS5 may have left us a little cold, but as proven by a first drive in Malaga, Spain, the fast A5’s innards make much more sense in a wagon-ified suit

The strangest thing happened after driving the new Audi RS5 for the first time earlier this year. I enjoyed it immensely while I was behind the wheel, and was - on the whole - positive in the review we had up. I stand by everything I said, too, but here’s the thing - at no point after handing back the keys did I think “do you know what? I’d really like to drive that RS5 again.”

This is odd, as the worked-over A5 is in many ways an excellent piece kit. It’s immensely capable, has an engine that’s seemingly constructed of pure anger, and has an incredibly nice cabin. It just didn’t get under my skin like the Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe did last year - now that’s a car I’d do terrible, terrible things to have on my driveway.

If the RS5 was a Marvel film, it’d be Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2: loud and spectacular, but ultimately forgettable. So with the same gizzards but in a handsome, angular estate car body to form the £61,625 RS4, is the same thing going to happen this time around?

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

I doubt it, because the entire ethos of this car is different. A coupe is - and should - be judged more as a sports car; as something with the sole purpose of thrilling you on a good bit of road. And the RS5 doesn’t quite pass muster when compared to the likes of the more involving Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe and BMW M4. But an estate? The remit of such a car is a broader, and lordy, does this particular wagon tick a lot of boxes.

It’s just as useful as a boggo A4 Avant, with a decent 505 litre boot and space in the back for proper-sized human beings. Leave it in comfort mode - assuming you have the Dynamic Ride Control option ticked, as our test car did - and it rides smoothly and comfortably. This is a car you could easily clock many miles in without regret, and yet, if you turn everything up to full angry bastard mode, it turns into an utter weapon of tactical nuclear potency.

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

First up, let’s deal with the engine. Yes, it’s awfully fashionable to have a tremendous moan about the fact it’s dropped two cylinders and 1.3 litres of displacement relative to the old B8’s powertrain, but for those people having a pop at the new 2.9-litre, twin-turbo, Porsche co-developed unit, I have two answers for you.

First up, you must have a short memory: the original RS4 was - of course - powered by a twin-turbo V6. Secondly, while the old 4.2 sounded mega, it never really felt that quick, even when repeatedly smashed into its (admittedly glorious) 8000rpm redline.

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

No such issue with the V6: it makes the RS4 - even with the extra weight relative to the RS5 - obscenely fast. Power may be identical at 444bhp, but the 442.5lb ft of torque on offer represents a 40 per cent increase on the old engine. And since the full force of that twist is available from just 1900rpm, the new RS4 picks up at a frightening rate in any gear, angrily head-butting the 6600rpm redline with no discernible let-up in thrust.

There’s a relentlessness to the way it pulls, particularly with the brutal efficiency of the eight-speed automatic gearbox. We may have lost the B8’s seven-speed dual-clutch along with the V8, but any drop in shift time just isn’t perceptible. It’s a joy to bang through the gears in manual mode, and it’s always on the ball in automatic mode, too.

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

0-62mph happens in 4.1 seconds - a tenth down on the RS5 - and I can fully see it dipping under the four second mark in the right conditions, given how conservative Audi likes to be with acceleration figures.

Thankfully, the days of RS Audis being fast in a straight line before completely coming apart at the first corner they’re shown are long gone. As a perfect case in point, this RS4 has a monstrous appetite for twisty tarmac shenanigans. The body roll…well, there isn’t really any in Dynamic mode, not any meaningful amount, anyway.

The chassis is also a lesson in absolute neutrality, rarely washing out at the front or giving up at the rear. The Torsen centre-diff-based all-wheel drive system (UK cars get an electronically controlled rear diff too) is supposed to send 70 per-cent of torque to the rear axle under the right conditions, but giving it a boot-full on exit merely results in spectacular traction spitting you out the other side with venom, rather than eliciting any wiggly-arse moments. It’s only really if you’re a little too greedy with your entry speed that the back end starts to move around to any noticeable degree.

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

On the whole, it’s more up for being thrown around than any 1790kg car should be, helped massively by much of the latest car’s 80kg weight reduction being over the front axle.

The steering, meanwhile, is a sign that Audi is starting to get a handle on electric power setups. There’s a little bit of feedback coming from the road surface, the weight is about right, and it’s brilliantly fast. I even - for the first time - didn’t mind the Dynamic Steering, which varies the ratio of the rack depending on how you’re driving. Normally, this gives off an odd sensation that means you’re never really sure how much lock you’re about to get. It’s now been updated - due to customer feedback, we’re told - and locks to one ratio when you’re in Dynamic mode. Much like regular steering. Probably best to avoid that option still, then.

Would you have yours in Misano Red, or Sonoma Green?
Would you have yours in Misano Red, or Sonoma Green?

Another thing we’d be tempted to avoid is the Dynamic Ride Control, which hydraulically pairs up the dampers diagonally across the chassis. The idea is the system cuts down on body roll while also reducing how much the car pitches under hard acceleration and braking, all of which it does successfully - but not without some issues.

Comfort mode felt great and made the car flow nicely along the more challenging bits of road on the test route north of Malaga, but even on carriageways as smooth as these, Dynamic mode can be punishingly firm to the point of it being downright unpleasant. When we can, we’ll try one of these on passive dampers - stick with those, and you’ll save yourself £2000 too. Then you can splurge what you’ve saved on some Alcantara trim, which makes the RS4’s solid, moderately glitzy cabin look especially fabulous.

Audi - Audi RS4 Review: It All Makes Sense As A Wagon - Features

So far, there’s been enough deja vu between this and our RS5 review to give Morpheus a nose bleed, but here’s the thing: the want for the RS4 is so much stronger. It’s a much more appealing package, and a much more handsome one - just look at it and its 90 quattro IMSA GTO-inspired haunches. It looks stunning, doesn’t it? You can forgive the fact it’s not the most playful and engaging of the fast, practical rides out there, and while it’d be tempting to go for the rear-wheel drive AMG C63 estate I can absolutely see why you wouldn’t.

If that’s you, I’ve no doubt you’ll be stupidly happy with your choice. Just make sure you spec it in Sonoma Green…