Teamspeed First Drive: Audi RS4 Avant – Teamspeed.com

22 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Teamspeed First Drive: Audi RS4 Avant – Teamspeed.com
Audi RS

Teamspeed First Drive: Audi RS4 Avant

Teamspeed Review: Audi RS4 Avant

Autobahn-bashing in Ingolstadt#8217;s latest ьber-wagon

by CJ Hubbard

What is it? An Audi A4 Avant Quattro powered by a 450hp V8

Why should I care? All the performance of an RS5 with an #8216;I don#8217;t care about image#8217; image. Awesome.

How fast and how much? 444bhp @ 8,250rpm, 317lb-ft @ 4,000-6,000rpm

0-62mph 4.7, vmax 155mph / 174mph (limited) MRSP: you wish #8211; Audi currently has no plans to offer it in the USA

We#8217;re running late. The satellite navigation has a #8220;dynamic#8221; traffic avoidance system, so it#8217;s hard to say exactly how late #8211; it keeps changing its mind #8211; but it could be as much as two hours. In response, my driving partner has the throttle pinned.

I mean really pinned. As in top gear, seven and a half grand on the tacho pinned, and for fleeting moment, between the trucks, we#8217;re seeing an indicated 180mph.

Not bad for a station wagon.

Four countries in one day

First the bad news: in its infinite wisdom, Audi has decided not to offer the new Avant-only RS4 in the USA #8211; claiming American customers are only interested in the more #8220;emotional#8221; RS5 models, which are largely similar mechanically. Emotional is the marketing man#8217;s word, not mine. But since I#8217;m currently experiencing this 450hp all-wheel drive express on route to an R8 factory tour, I figured you might want to hear what you#8217;re missing out on.

Obviously, we#8217;re in Germany, where the Autobahn literally has no limits in places. But we started out at Stansted in the UK, having picked up the car from the private In Flight terminal at 8am this morning #8211; and rather than take the direct route to our overnight halt in Zweiflingen we#8217;ve detoured via Spa and the Nьrburgring (not a public day, unfortunately). Part of the reasoning for this was to get out of France as quickly as possible #8211; where the police tend to frown on British-plated rockets #8211; though there are also some cracking country roads in the vicinity of both tracks.

As that indicated speed suggests, this particular RS4 has kissed goodbye to the standard 155mph factory limiter, and now calls uncle at 174. Supposedly. I#8217;m not sure what that says about the accuracy of the dials, but we ran out of road space rather than momentum at 180. Then we ran out of daylight.

Which obviously meant it was time for my turn back at the wheel.

Night rider

Driving a souped-up station wagon is amusingly discrete even in the sunshine #8211; and yes, even if the car in question is finished in Sepang Blue and has arch extensions like Sly Stalone#8217;s lats. In the dark it#8217;s positively hilarious, since despite the looming silhouette there#8217;s scarce opportunity for other road users to distinguish this Audi estate from any other.

At least until you pull the left-hand paddle for a couple of downshifts #8211; at which point the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic #8216;box flares the revs with all the flamboyance of a Lamborghini. Seriously, it#8217;s obscene.

Thus our drive through the night takes on the pattern of catching a keenly driven family car running at its maximum, waiting patiently for them to move out of the way, and then nailing the throttle. The RS4 bursts forwards with awesome conviction at these speeds, sounding so very much like a world-class tenor gargling with something smooth and expensive it#8217;s as if someone has crammed a supercar engine under the hood. Given the 4.2 FSI V8 is closely related to that in the back of the R8, well, they kind of have.

It#8217;s not a terribly efficient way to travel #8211; especially where the A-bahn drops down to dual carriageways in either direction, as we end up closing the gap on 18-wheelers extremely quickly. Which means waiting longer as they muscle by each other, allowing the car we just passed to reappear in the rear view as the traffic averages out our velocities. Still, once the path ahead clears, this just gives us the chance to annihilate them again.

And again. Immature, but amusing when you#8217;ve been at the wheel for nine or 10 hours. At one point we do this repeatedly to a Chrysler 300C SRT8 #8211; the RS4 is so much faster it might well be scorching the tarmac.

Audi RS

Stopping at these speeds is no problem either #8211; we#8217;ve the ceramic brake upgrade on the front, those crazy new wave brake discs on the rear #8211; but it#8217;s the sheer stability of the car that really impresses. You can comfortably maintain big triple digit numbers yet still get out (at the gas station, inevitably) feeling completely unstressed. And this is fully loaded with luggage that includes a full-size 20-inch alloy wheel taking up most of the trunk space in case we get a flat.

The optional Dynamic Ride Control probably helps; with diagonally opposed dampers linked by an oil path, this is able to resist body roll without ruining the ride. The result is firm, and occasionally fidgety in its sportiest setting, but never actually uncompromising.

Take me to your leader

Away from the Autobahn, the new RS4 lacks the immediacy and some of the intimacy of its predecessor, a car I personally adore. The switch from a manual gearbox is perhaps partly to blame, but the way things are heading we#8217;re all going to have to live with that #8211; and anyway, this doesn#8217;t necessarily explain why the initial response at lower revs is less ferocious as well.

Like the current BMW M3, you really have to wind up the Audi#8217;s engine now before it begins to dominate the experience. The steering is also a little aloof, with that typically glassy-feeling Quattro front end that acts like it wants to skate into understeer almost instantly.

This is an illusion here. In fact, with Audi#8217;s trick sport differential fitted as standard on the rear, and a crown-gear center diff offering to direct up to 85% of torque back there, the RS4 will quite happily tweak its tail on the way out of corners. As this suggests, the car only gets better the harder you drive, it#8217;s just a shame you have to take this on trust at first, rather than conviction #8211; and that trust is complicated by the sheer amount of electronic manipulation going on beneath the surface.

The sport diff is one thing; in addition to this the RS4 gets torque vectoring on all four wheels, and the option of Dynamic Steering. While the first two are handy for tucking into turns and pulling you round them faster than you#8217;d think possible, the last is more troubling. Not only can it vary its ratio by almost 100%, Dynamic Steering can also actively counter-steer in extremes #8211; creating a great big question mark about exactly who#8217;s in charge.

Combine all three and you do occasionally get some stomach-clenching results. Don#8217;t ever let your guard down completely.

Still, that#8217;s cutting edge performance for you #8211; it will probably try to kill you every now and then. In day-to-day driving, the most irritating thing about the Dynamic Steering is the way, if left to its own devices, the weighting can go from super light to rock hard within the space of about 20 yards. You can solve this problem by switching it over to the Dynamic setting in the Audi drive select #8211; where Dynamic actually means sportiest, rather than variable.

You may as well do the same with the diff while you#8217;re at it; the suspension and the gearbox, by contrast, seem to cope just fine on their own.

Charismatic pragmatic

Pull all of this together, throw in the sharp, carbon-touched interior #8211; the bucket seats here are extra, the chunky flat-bottomed wheel as stock #8211; the chiselled subtlety of the looks and the all-weather traction, and you#8217;ve got an immensely likable high performance car that just happens to be able to haul the rest of the family and their vacation baggage, too. Hell, why not throw in a dog.

It won#8217;t involve you like the best rear-wheel drive rivals, but the RS4 has a charismatic pragmatism that makes more sense to me than either of the showier RS5 alternatives. It#8217;s a very German car in this respect #8211; a nation that balances extrovert tuners against AMG and M-car buyers who routinely select the badge delete option. And don#8217;t forget, without the long-standing cult appeal of the RS Avant, cars like the Ferrari FF simply wouldn#8217;t exist.

They are the very definition of unashamedly practical performance. Are you going to tell me that doesn#8217;t appeal at least a little bit?

We were 60 minutes overdue, in the end. But even after 650 miles and 12 hours of traffic jams, twisting tarmac and open freeways, every single second felt well worth it. Roll on the R8 factory visit in the morning.

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