The Audi RS4 finds itself in an odd place right now. The current version is not long for this world, and it’s looking like much less of a tempting proposition in the wake of BMW’s sensational launching of a long-awaited M3 Touring. But then again, Mercedes-AMG has binned off its wonderful V8 C63 estate and replaced it with - for shame - an inline-four hybrid.
Meanwhile, Audi has rejuvenated its smallest superwagon to create a new RS4 Competition. It’s the perfect time, then, to give the RS4 a second look.
This is more than just a little ECU tickle to give a bit more power, a special badge and a jacked-up price. In fact, the twin-turbo V6 here makes 444bhp, just as it did previously, and there’s no ‘Competition’ badge. There is, though, a big uplift in cost - it’s £84,600, or around £16k more than a boggo RS4, but around the same ballpark as a bougie RS4 Vorsprung while having a similar-ish spec.
Interestingly, for that extra outlay, you get some major chassis changes, rather than more power. There’s a new set of manually adjustable coilovers that can drop the ride height up to 10mm, or 20mm for non-UK cars. These have 12 settings for low-speed compression and 15 for high. As for whether or not many owners will play around with these, we can only speculate.
There are also new 20-inch Y-spoke wheels which look fabulous against the Sebring Black paint which will be applied to all 75 of the RS4 Comps coming to the UK. Even with the more modest ride height drop, the RS4 Competition looks fantastically low - it’d pass for being an aftermarket job. Just be careful over speed bumps.
There’s also fixed-rate steering rather than Audi’s usual variable-ratio setup, and a new Alcantara-clad steering wheel with which to enjoy it. On the outside, there’s some matte carbon fibre trim to go with those spangly new rims.
On the move, you soon realise the RS4 really didn’t need more power. No, this turbo six doesn’t have the deliciously creamy note of the B7/B8’s naturally aspirated V8, but it’s a fierce-sounding thing that eagerly propels the RS4 forward. It’s louder here, too, thanks to the removal of sound-deadening material, but Audi hasn’t ripped out so much that the car gets annoying on a long drive.
I’m glad Audi didn’t bother extracting more power - that would have meant more turbo lag, and as it is, the responsiveness of this unit is decent. A gearbox software remap helps the 2.9-litre unit further still, ensuring cog-swapping is done quickly, efficiently and with a nice hint of aggression, if not quite the enthusiasm of a dual-clutch gearbox.
In this lower, stiffer guise, the RS4 Competition borders on being a touch too firm, but it gets away with it thanks to the plush, sophisticated quality of the damping. There’s barely any body roll (not that there was any before), and the more hardcore setup makes for a more eager front-end, and more predictable with the fixed-ratio steering.
Initially, the RS4 really impresses on twisty roads, which it appears to gobble up with deranged enthusiasm. The more time spent with the Comp, though, the more you realise it still hasn’t shaken the core attitude of the original B9 RS4. Yes, Audi has tweaked the stability control to make the rear-end keener to step out, but it remains a very neutral car when the throttle is nailed mid-corner.
Perhaps that doesn’t matter, given that the propensity of a fast Audi to understeer is now, thankfully, a distant memory. The front ends on these cars are so good now, gripping stubbornly even when you think you’ve been a bit ambitious with your entry speed.
But then again, Audi has shown it can make a car that’s more playful, and no, we’re not talking about rear-wheel drive versions of the R8. We’re referring to the RS6 - trying that car in Competition form not too long before taking the keys to the RS4 doesn’t do the former any favours.
The ultimate fast estate remains the BMW M3 Touring, even with the Competition’s changes factored in. It’s more engaging, just a bit sillier, and still has the security of all-wheel drive. BMW has taken Audi Sport’s family recipe and arguably done a better job.
And yet, the RS4 Competition is still a hugely appealing car. It’s commendable that Audi has actually put some thought into this run-out special, rather than just slapping a badge on and calling it a day. It certainly looks better than the BMW, and maybe even sweeter than the bigger RS4.
It proves that the RS4 still has a place in this world, while it’s still around. It’s hard to imagine the heavier plug-in hybrid replacement on the way being quite as easy to like.