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Porsche-Designed Twin-Turbo Transplant for a V8 Standard Bearer

Audi Sport is the black ops division of the giant Volkswagen Group, and has a solitary objective - “Go faster.”

The RS4 hotshot wagon is a classic reflection what Audi engineers are likely to to recite every morning before firing up their tablets and CAD machines - “The only Audi better than one that’s fast and powerful, is one that’s faster and more powerful.”

The suspension people might improve the handling, the steering gurus may sharpen up the response, and the digital geeks will optimise fuel use, but after all that: It. Must. Go. Harder.

As a result, if there ever was such a thing as an everyday supercar, this new Audi RS4 might just be the ticket. That’s as long as your appreciation of performance is founded on the rock-solid base of real pace, and doesn’t include outrageous wings, flares, brazen colours, a selection of R, F, N, M, S, and GT badges and a largely unmuffled exhaust system.

The RS4 is Audi Sport’s latest sports expression. It’s neither a coupe, nor a sedan, nor a drop-top two-seater. It’s a station wagon for goodness sake, and it even has all-wheel drive. Perfect for the Ikea run. In fact, when she yells out “stop the car,” the RS4 will do it best - 400mm six-piston ceramic brakes are an option to make sure you get back for the bargain she missed.

And when you’ve delivered the flat packs home, you can then say, “Need to head out for a while,” and disappear with 331kW, 600Nms, active Quattro drive and an eight-speed tiptronic transmission at the command of your fingertips and right toe.

On your quick zip down to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory, you’ll also enjoy all-new five-link front and rear suspension, bolted to a stiffer body that instantly converts your steering input to the nose of the car and gobs of torque straight to the road.

And while you’re sneaking a look at the g-meter display that calibrates the thump in the back under acceleration, the stretching of the neck muscles when you power through a bend, and the tightening of the belts under brakes, you can enjoy heavily bolstered seats that grip you firmly but comfortably.

Owners who fell in love with the 4.2-litre V8 version that rumbled and snarled its way around town may miss the audio feast that made many keep a window open. But this model brings a Porsche-designed twin turbo V6 - currently serving duty in the Panamera S - and brings with it the eight-speed tiptronic auto transmission tuned to exploit every one of the 331kW and 600Nms into constant urge.

Now THAT'S an engine bay

The engine gains 7kW and 50Nms from its Porsche roots and fires up in the morning with a deep thrum rather than the gutteral sound of the old V8. But there’s no denying the response of the engine to the throttle. There’s instant urge at any speed, as the wide gear ratio range picks the centre of the torque curve on every shift.

It’s the same engine dropped into the RS5 launched last year - a 90-degree V6 with twin turbos in the V so turbos spool up immediately, and it’s 31kgs lighter than the old V8.

A self-locking centre diff splits the drive 40/60 front/rear, with up to 85 per cent down the back when needed. Standard in Australia is the sport exhaust system, as is the sport differential and sport suspension with dynamic ride control.

The front brakes are 6-piston 375mm units and deliver monstrous retardation, but you can option 400mm ceramic rotors for an 8kg weight reduction.

Driven like a commuter wagon, with Drive Select in Comfort mode, it’s a wagon that will never frighten or alarm a second driver. No-one will have their dentures rattled out either, as the ride is compliant, although firm. Softening up the throttle response means no savage moves when you push the pedal a little harder to grab that gap in the traffic.

But Auto mode will detect when you feel a sense of hurry-up and everything hardens. My run from Port Macquarie to Armidale along the Oxley Highway was one of the best driving enjoyment roads I have seen. Sport mode gathered all the car’s facilities into a sharp performance and response focus, but Auto mode delivered the best balance to handling cruising on broken surfaces and attacking twisty sections past Mount Seaview and through the Cottan-Bimbang National Park.

RS4’s new styling isn’t outrageous by any means, but some purposeful additions have muscled it up. Rear wheel blisters move out by 30mm each side from standard A4. There are giant air intake ducts at the front. It’s longer, lower and wider than B8 version, and has a longer wheelbase.

All the Audi safety assist systems have been tipped in, including strobing rear lights if it senses a following car likely to run up your clacker. It also warns if you’re going to open a door into the path of a car or cyclist.

Traffic jam assist uses both radars and the lower unit can ‘see’ under the car in front and check on overall traffic flow. Adaptive LED headlights listen to the satnav to illuminate the corner before you get there.

Equipment highlights have made most popular selected options standard. In fact Audi says the price is virtually the same as previous, but nearly $22,000 of extra gear has been added in.

The RS4 is by no means a grey-nomad tourer - a year long round-Australia venture would be done and dusted in a few weeks, leaving the navigator’s eyes spinning. So why has Audi engineered a 2,100kgs braked towing capacity? It’s not on the local list of packages for Australia yet, but the capablity is there. What a way to bring the float to the pony club.

Inside the RS4 you’ll settle into black, with carbon where it looks best and the brilliant virtual dashboard. Along with the 8.3” touch screen in the centre, all vehicle functions are at the fingertips, and fast-function buttons on the steering wheel can be programmed for favourite items.

Drivers eye view

The front sports seats feature Nappa leather trim and honeycomb quilting. You get bolster adjustment, a massage function, memory settings for the driver’s seat and electric adjustment and heating for both sides. If you enjoy playing with ambient lighting variations there are 30 to choose from. 

If there’s one RS4 negative, it lacks a little in tactile connection with the road. So some might buy another brand for more road feel. But unfortunately for them, while they’re grinning stupidly, feeling the road, you’ll have disappeared into the distance in your RS4.

I regretfully handed the RS4 back with a lingering question: Why would anyone wanting to combine high performance, practicality and useable space, buy an overblown, muscled-up, heavily optioned SUV, when they can buy this?

Model: Audi RS4 Avant 2.9 TFSI Quattro

Price: $152,529 (April 2020)

Engine: 2.9-litre twin turbo V6

Outputs: 331kW; 500Nm

Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic

Performance 0-100km/h: 4.1 secs

Thirst - l/100kms: 8.9

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