Audi RS 4 has feel-good factors – but bring back that bucket seat
Audi RS 4 Avant
What exactly is it? The latest model from Audi’s RS division and the true successor to the very first: the 1994 RS2 was also based on the A4 of the day (the Audi 80) and was only available in the Avant body style.
Powertrain: 4.2-litre V8 petrol producing 331kW/430Nm. Seven-speed automated dual-clutch transmission, full-time four-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 10.7 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.7 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? The RS 4 is well-equipped considering it is $15,000 cheaper than the previous model. It features Audi’s Sports Differential, Nappa leather upholstery and the Audi Connect multimedia system.
But it’s German, so the options list is also massive: 36 individual items. The most expensive is the ceramic braking package at $17,000, the cheapest a $150 first aid kit.
The Audi RS 2 was the first proper high-performance car I ever drove.
That was a long time ago and I didn’t really expect it to be so. I was inexperienced and only vaguely aware that Audi had collaborated with Porsche on the car and created something called an “RS”.
At the end of the day, it was still a small station wagon (or Avant as we are supposed to call them), a version of the humble Audi 80.
To drive it in anger – or at least the 1994-me version of it – was a revelation. It was an angry machine to be sure but having a sensible seating position, good visibility and quattro four-wheel drive meant a ham-fisted driver could deploy that near-supercar performance and not worry about the consequences.
These days, the RS 2 has a reputation for being pretty fierce but by the standards of the day it really looked after me. As did my colleague and mentor, a one-armed man (no, really) who was also the first properly quick and competent driver I had ever travelled with.
I think I became briefly airborne a couple of times that day, at an unspecified point on the Hunua Ranges, southeast of Auckland. I could not believe a car could go that fast on a narrow back road. Or that such moments passed with so little drama.
I learned from that car and my colleague not to take things for granted, not to assume too much about what might be possible from a car originally designed for the transportation of the Giant Schnauzer.
I later learned that BMW M-cars and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG machines were much more demanding to drive and much more rewarding if you could master them. But I have never forgotten the lesson learned about what makes Audi’s RS models special.
I have never been one of those people to complain about the anodyne nature of Audi RS models. What these cars do best is make excessive performance completely accessible. They proffer a certain level of ability regardless of driver expertise or weather conditions.
This is not to say Audi RS models are for unskilled drivers; indeed, an RS is a match for any rival super-sedan (or of course wagon) on any road. It’s just a different kind of driving experience.
While an M-car or AMG will dance around a corner and bombard you with information, a typical Audi RS achieves its dynamic goals by blending terrifying performance with surreal traction and complete safety.
However, I will say that Audi has lost its way with the RS brand in recent years. It used to have a policy of making only one RS-badged model at a time, a guarantee of exclusivity. That was another thing that made it different from its rivals.
Capital gains took over around 2007 and now, there are four separate RS models available in New Zealand. Why? Because there is huge demand and where there is huge demand there is huge potential for profit, regardless of how the brand purists (whether inside or outside the company) feel about it.
The latest is the RS 4 Avant and, while I would prefer it was alone in the showroom, it does cut through the clutter because it’s very close in concept to that original RS 2.
It’s only available as an Avant, it’s based on the humble A4 (today’s Audi 80) and it has an understated gait that belies the ballistic performance and handling abilities.
V8 power remains
Audi has stuck with V8 power for the RS 4. The 4.2-litre engine is notable for its ability to rev sky-high, the outrageous noise it makes and the fact that it is matched exclusively to the dual-clutch S tronic gearbox.
As it happens, I drove the new RS 4 over some of the very same roads that I travelled in the RS 2 nearly two decades ago. Naturally, the RS 4 is much, much faster and infinitely more sophisticated.
The S tronic gearbox changes ratios in milliseconds and the quattro four-wheel drive is biased toward the rear. Standard on the car is something called a Sport Differential, which shifts more torque to the outside-rear wheel to quite literally push you around a corner.
Doesn’t help much when you’re slightly airborne but it does help you to hit the ground running. Driver Select allows you set up the car to respond in different ways.
It feels good, this car. In a very Audi RS-way but there’s nothing wrong with that. In some ways I even prefer it to the previous RS 4 (2006-08), which is regarded by many as the greatest RS-car ever made because it was the most obviously dynamic and agile. It was manual transmission-only, which I do approve of.
But that previous RS 4 was praised so much because it was a bit closer in character to an M or AMG: communicative steering, a nimble chassis. I believe this new car is closer to what an RS should be and I love it for that.
One unhappy change for the New Zealand model has been the shift from the so-called Sports Bucket Seat of the old car to a more comfort-oriented front chair. Those buckets were shapely racing-style seats with inflatable bolsters and I rather liked them: they helped the car feel even more special.
Apparently, they were the subjects of many customer complaints so they have been relegated to the options list. To get to the point, many people were just too fat to fit.
That’s a shame. As the new RS 4 proves, it’s not necessary to let yourself go just because you’re getting older.