The new RS4 is a much more refined and usable car than its predecessor, and for the most part in a very good way.

The Audi RS4 is to Germanic super estates what the BMW M5 is to super saloons: it’s the default choice for many, and the originator of the breed. For Audi, it began with a combination of turbocharged power, four-wheel drive and estate body practicality, but in later years it’s been as much about the theatre of a rev-happy V8 as it has those other core attributes. Now, of course, it’s all change, and we’ve already had a very clear indication of how that might play out with the RS5, which shares the same underpinnings. We’ve grown to really rate that car, after a cautious start, but how will its qualities transpose to its more practical relation? 

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Engine, transmission and 0-100 time

The powertrain of this RS4 is very different to its predecessor. Gone is the high-revving, naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8, along with its dual-clutch transmission, and in comes a 2.9-litre twin turbo V6 hooked up to an eight-speed torque converter. The result is 0-100km/h in 4.1sec and a top speed – if you’ve paid to have the limiter raised – of 280km/h.  

Technical highlights

Let’s talk about that V6 engine. While its 330kW peak power output sounds more than healthy, it’s clearly overshadowed – numerically at least – by its 350kW Mercedes-AMG C63 rival, and some way short of the more expensive, 375kW, C63 S. However, our considerable experience of its coupe relation suggests it’s the 600Nm developed from just 1900rpm that will mark this out as a truly fast car: expect colossal shove from just above idle. The V6 is also a useful 31kg lighter than the old V8.

Meanwhile, the quattro system runs at 40:60 in steady driving, front to rear, and up to 85 per cent of torque can be sent to the front axle if slip is detected, and 70 per cent to the rear. Audi’s Sport rear differential electronically manages the torque distribution depending on slip across the rear axle. 

Other than that, ceramic brakes are an – expensive – option and save 8kg per set, while a new form of ‘milled’ 20-inch alloy wheel also saves 8kg per set over the other optional 20-inch forged wheel. 19-inch forged wheels are standard, incidentally, but the milled jobs are only available in the UK, for now, on the Carbon Edition model. 

What’s it like to drive?

In a word? Undemanding. Or rather, it can be, if you’ve set the driving modes to Comfort. Our test car featured both ceramic brakes and milled 20-inch wheels, along with dynamic steering and, it must be said, winter tyres, which distorted the ultimate dynamic abilities of the car a little. The first thing you notice is that the steering is light, but pleasingly accurate, while the ride, on smooth German roads at least, seems to have all the poise in Comfort that makes the RS5 such a comfortable tourer. There’s a real sense of the dampers working through their entire stroke, rather than constantly trying to do battle with the road’s surface irregularities. It’s a car where the prospect of a long journey never seems a chore.

Predictably, the RS4 does have another side, though. The V6 makes its presence felt on startup with a rich whoop of revs, but while it’s quiet in normal driving it finds a clear voice when you up the pace. It sounds more natural here than in the coupe, and while you can add lots more noise with the optional sports exhaust, it’s well-judged even with the tail pipe flaps closed. As predicted, the strength of the V6 is its incredible pick up, regardless of revs, and so keen is it in a low gear that a pre-emptive tag of the upshift lever is required in manual mode if you’re not to snag the limiter. Combine that pace with the security of four-wheel drive, particularly given the RS4 always feels nicely rear-biased, and you have a very quick way of getting you – and four passengers and their luggage – from A to B. 

It’s this combination of qualities that is certainly the new car’s greatest strength. Its cabin is logical and hardly surprising, but the seats are great, the Alcantara-clad wheel a thing of beauty and the driving position spot on. The ceramic brakes are tireless and the way the car starts to adopt a neutral angle under full power out of corners is a very long way from the inert Audis of old. 

However, for some, there will be something missing. The howl of a boisterous engine, perhaps, the addiction of revs or the feeling of an aggressive chassis setup. Others, us included, see a very desirable everyday-driver with terrific ability when driven hard.