The Audi RS4 Avant is a high performance estate that mixes masses of practicality with supercar performance. BMW doesn’t make an estate version of its M3, so the 2015 Mercedes C63 AMG Estate is the RS4’s closest rival. Unlike the Mercedes, however, the Audi is powered by a non-turbo engine – it’s a 444bhp 4.2-litre V8 that drives all four wheels through Audi's famous quattro transmission, with a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox.
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Unlike previous generations of the RS4, the current car is only available in estate form, as Audi reckons buyers of the old saloon have migrated to the two-door RS5 Coupe instead.
Topping the A4 range, the RS4 gets enormous brakes, supportive sports bucket seats and a fantastic soundtrack from the V8 engine. Add in enough space for the family and all their luggage, and you've got a very capable and desirable car.
With its sharp-edged bulging wheelarches, dramatic mesh-covered air intakes at the front and large, chrome-tipped twin oval exhaust pipes at the rear, the RS4 Avant feels every inch the European muscle car, but it still feels subtle for a fast Audi estate.
As standard you get 19-inch alloy wheels, although you can upgrade to the Sport Package, which adds 20-inch 'Rotor' alloys as well as adaptive suspension, dynamic steering and a sports exhaust. Inside there are RS4 badges everywhere to remind you you’re sitting in something special, from the racy dials to the sports steering wheel and the sports seats.
As ever with Audi interiors, it feels beautifully put together, with quality leather for the seats and neat carbonfibre and cool metal trim pieces.
Audi says that RS4 buyers demand a race-bred engine that loves to rev – and that's exactly what you get with the RS4. Whereas the S4 Avant uses a supercharged V6 that allows owners to surf along on the huge wave of torque available, the RS4 thrives on revs – and although it has lots of low-down urge, it's at its best when you take it out to the incredible 8,500rpm redline.
Newer rivals boast more power and torque thanks to their downsized and turbocharged engines, but the RS4 is still enormously fast, accelerating from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. That’s only 0.1 seconds slower than Audi’s R8 V8 supercar, and with the potential to hit over 170mph if you pay extra to have the speed limiter removed, the RS4 is more than fast enough.
Audi RS4 Avant rear cornering
Around corners the Avant always feels secure thanks to the Quattro four-wheel drive system, and is capable of putting all of that performance onto the road, even in wet and slippery conditions.
The Audi Drive Select system allows you to tailor the response of the gearbox, steering, sport rear differential and throttle. It sometimes feels a bit over-complicated, but does at least provide extra ride comfort when attacking corners isn’t on the agenda.
The RS4 is a very safe car indeed. As standard it comes with a sophisticated stability control system to keep all of that power in check, lots of airbags (including side and knee airbags) and, of course, four-wheel drive.
Options include ceramic brakes, although the standard 'wavy' discs (so-called because their wavy shape shaves a few kilos per corner) offer brilliant stopping power.
Quality is excellent throughout and we'd expect reliability to be the same, too – although Audi finished 20th out of 33 manufacturers for reliability in our 2014 Driver Power survey, trailing its main German rivals.
This is where the RS4 really scores. Thanks to that estate body it has a massive 1,430 litres of boot space with the rear seats down, and plenty of room for luggage with them in place at 490 litres. Tall passengers will fit easily in the back, too.
Audi RS4 Avant interior
Despite being a performance car, it's quite comfortable. Of course, put the suspension in Dynamic mode and you'll feel every lump and bump, but select the Comfort setting and the RS4 soaks up imperfections pretty well, even on the optional 20-inch alloys. Factor in relaxing motorway manners and this is certainly a fast car that will eat long distances with ease.