Audi RS4 VS Audi S4
- Immense traction
- Easy to drive fast
- Practical, too
- Steering not perfect
- Missing one or two things
- S4 makes better financial sense
- Understated looks
- Goes like stink
- Overly heavy steering in Dynamic mode
- Tyre roar on some surfaces
- Can feel a bit computer-driven
Think about the word ‘functional'. You might notice that there are three letters at the start of the word that people don't often associate with station wagons. That's not the case for the 2018 Audi RS 4.
This isn't your everyday station wagon. It's a hyperbole-generating monster - a family-friendly estate with a licence to punish. Audi goes as far as to suggest that it offers "supercar performance and everyday practicality".
And why wouldn't it? With a bolshie engine, all-wheel drive and more grunt than a pair of conjoined twin hot-hatches, it's a model that has little to prove... especially to those people who appreciate what those precious first three letters can do to improve a drab drive in city traffic.
But there's something that can't be understated about this new-generation RS 4: it isn't like the model that came before it. There's no V8 engine under that shapely bonnet, because of the the new RS 4 isn't like the old one. The V8 is gone... and yes, when I first read that Audi had done the unthinkable and pulled the bahnstorming eight-cylinder screamer in favour of a downsized twin-turbo six I was shocked and horrified.
Without its star attraction, could it still be fun? I don't want to spoil the story, so be sure to read on to find out...
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Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new Audi S4 sedan and Avant, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch between Bathurst and Canberra.
Sometimes year a year flashes by and it's almost a shock to realise that Audi's B9 A4 has been with us here in Australia for almost that long. Performance buffs have had to wait for the first quick version of the A4 while the Allroad was rolled out, but here we finally have the first Audi Sport variant in the line-up - the S4.
As with the standard A4, there's a stack of new stuff and a stout standard specification list along with technical packages. There's one big piece of news, too - it's the first S4 to land with a price tag under $100,000.
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There is no doubting that the all-new Audi RS 4 is a pragmatic option, probably more so now than ever before. It does the dual-personality thing better than the model that came before it, and perhaps better than anything else at this price point, too.
If you want a practical family wagon that just also happens to be punishingly fast, and you have the budget to consider something like the new Audi RS 4, it should be on your shopping list. And probably towards the top, too.
Are you a fan of fast station wagons? Let us know in the comments section below.
It's not an exuberant machine and you can tell there's still a ton of room for the inevitable RS4 mean machine to go after the BMW M3/M4 and AMG C63. That means, however, that the S4 is a proper sleeper. Hardly anyone will notice what it is until they're eating your fumes while you whisk yourself away in (mostly) quiet and comfort.
The new S4 is lighter, slightly faster and more technologically advanced than its predecessor, while bringing the A4's charms to the go-faster part of the executive sedan segment. This one will rattle a few cages.
Audi S4 Sedan and Avant Specifications
List price: $99,900 (Sedan) / $102,900 (Avant)
Fuel Consumption: 7.7L/100km (Sedan) / 7.9L/100km (Avant)
CO2: 175g/km (Sedan) / 178g/km (Avant)
Fuel Tank: 58L
ANCAP: 5 stars
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Engine size: 2995cc
Fuel Type: PULP
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Spare: space saver
Turning Circle: 11.6m
Length: 4745mm (Sedan) / 4745mm (Avant)
Width: 1842mm (Sedan) / 1842mm (Avant)
Height: 1404mm (Sedan) / 1411mm (Avant)
If you like wagons, you'll totally get it. If you're a hater, or even ambivalent, then you'll probably still get it.
Admittedly it could look even more aggressive, but it has to balance practicality with pouncing killy animal aggression. Even so, I think there's a lot to like here, from the squared-off front and rear quarter panels, the broad (even broader than the regular A4 range, in fact) 'single-frame' grille, and the bejewelled looking LED headlights.
It looks even better from behind, with the broad rear haunches really hunkering it down, and the wide tail-lights and sneaky little fake vents on the side adding extra back-end bulk. Note: the rear light-edge vents may be fake, but the front ones actually work to channel air to cool the brakes.
There are 20-inch wheels in a few different designs, but my personal choice would be the milled aluminium single-piece ones you see on the blue car in these images. They're gorgeous, even if they cost more. And I couldn't not have the signature Nogaro Blue Pearl, which was the same colour as the RS 2 wagon that started the hot wagon thing for Audi... again, at a high price.
Thankfully, I wouldn't need to spend an extra cent inside, because the interior is lush. There are all the typically Audi finishes - it's a high-end and luxurious environment, but with lashings of sporty elements that help it feel almost like a leather tracksuit. Take a look at the pictures of the interior to make up your own mind.
Compared with, say, a regular A4 Avant, the RS 4 Avant is bigger in every way except height. It measures 4781mm long (up 56mm), 1886mm wide (up 44mm) and 1404mm tall (down 30mm). It's quite heavy, too, weighing in at 1800kg, which is about 150kg more than the entry-level wagon.
As good as it looks, I just can't help but think maybe it could have been even more aggressive. The last model certainly had muscle and more macho with its even more angular guards. But maybe the world has moved on a bit, and I'm just not ready for it.
Audi tells us that S4 owners don't like to shout about their purchase, which is just as well, because the S4 looks like a very mildly gussied up A4. That means the same sharp looks as the A4 but lower, 23mm to be exact. The standard 19s make it look lower still but all the standard A4 cues are there. This has been covered at length already, but just to be sure, every inch of the car is new, it just looks a lot like the old one.
Get up closer, though, and you'll see the serrated shape of the headlight, the clamshell bonnet and shutlines tighter than Scott Morrison on Budget night when it comes to funding hospitals. Audi says the body kit is aggressive but I think it's safe to say that the drug of choice at Audi's styling bureau is chamomile tea - it's fairly restrained, with just a few details (including a slightly daggy V6T badge on the front guards) to mark it out.
Inside is standard A4, too, with plenty of leather (both real and man-made), with some extra zing in the form of carbon and aluminium bits.
It's as roomy and comfortable as the standard car and looks just as good. It's a fine interior, the best in its class.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a very, very pleasant place to be. Typically Teutonic, typecast technical Audi, but with some sporty flourishes. The hard-backed sport bucket seats up front offer a great amount of adjustment (though the driver's seat base is a little too high), and depending on what interior trim you opt for, you may see aluminium or carbon finishes throughout.
The quilted leather is lovely, and the materials are all superb - so is the fit and finish. One of the cars I drove had an optional pack with Alcantara trim, with that material covering the shifter and steering wheel - the latter of which I love, because it's smooth yet grippy. I'm not so sold on manual steering adjustment for a car at this price point, however.
With the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital screen spreading 12.3-inches in front of the driver, there's no shortage of info to choose from. It's been around a few years now, but I still love the look of Google Maps in front of me.
There's also Audi's MMI touch system, a rotary dial with a touchpad on top that is pretty simple to use, and it links up to a high-resolution 8.3-inch screen on the dash top. All the connectivity stuff you'd expect is included - Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio, DAB+ digital radio, and an inbuilt hard-drive for your own music storage. You won't be left wanting for entertainment.
There are reasonably good sized cup holders up front, a covered centre console, some loose-item storage areas and adequate bottle holders in all four doors. The back seat has mesh map pockets (set on hard plastic seatbacks - good for limited damage to fabric if you have children who like to kick the seat) and a flip-down armrest with cupholders.
Space in the rear is easily good enough for a six-foot (183cm) tall adult like myself to slot behind someone of the same size, with ample kneeroom, good toe room and enough headroom to ensure no hairs were out of place. The width is surprisingly decent, too.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and three top-tether attachments as well. And parents (and children alike) will appreciate the rear air vents, and three-zone climate control system that allows a seperate temperature in the back.
The boot is a good size, with 505 litres of capacity up to the multifunctional luggage cover (which includes an integrated mesh cargo barrier and operates electronically in conjunction with the boot lid). It also has a reversible floor section - carpet one side, plastic on the other - perfect for tying down wet clothes (using the included mesh elasticated web net) or even performing potentially messy nappy changes. The boot expands to 1510L with the seats down.
The S4 has four bottle holders, cupholders front and rear for a total of four and various slots and spots for phones and keys in the front while the rear is a little less accommodating of bits and pieces.
The sedan's boot is the same as the rest of the A4s (and mid-size Germans) at 480 litres while the Avant bumps that up to a 505 litre minimum and a 1510 litre maximum when you drop the seatbacks.
Price and features
The new twin-turbo V6 model is priced at $152,900 plus on-road costs, which represents a slight hike over its V8-powered predecessor, but Audi claims to have added $22,000 of extra equipment.
Standard inclusions offered in the RS4 consist of 20-inch alloy wheels, red RS brake calipers, an adjustable sports exhaust system, Audi's sport differential, adaptive sports suspension, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, adaptive rear LED indicators and tinted rear windows with acoustic front glass.
Standard interior kit includes Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' 12.3-inch driver info screen with configurable RS display mode, an 8.3-inch tablet media screen with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, DAB+ digital radio, and a stonking 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system.
The front sports seats with Nappa leather trim and honeycomb quilting (which apparently mirrors the design of the grille mesh) also feature bolster adjustment, massage function, memory settings for the driver's seat and electric adjustment and heating for both sides. There is an ambient-lighting system with 30 different colour options, too.
A panoramic sunroof is fitted as standard, but for hot areas of the country it can be deleted if the buyer so chooses. Smart key entry and push-button start is standard, and there's an auto tailgate with gesture control.
Even though that list is long, there are still option boxes you can choose to tick. Things like the carbon and black styling pack ($11,900), the 'Technik Pack' (with head-up display, Matrix LED headlights, wireless phone charging - $3900) and other style-focused extras like the 20-inch milled aluminium wheels ($1600). There are several colour options to choose, including the Misano Red pearl finish ($1846), or the brilliant 'Nogaro Blue Pearl' ($5450)... but not all the colours cost money, with a selection available at no cost.
See below for the extensive safety kit list - because it's hugely lengthy!
As for where the competitors sit, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon lists a little higher, at $159,711 plus on-roads. There's no BMW M3 wagon, but the sedan version is $141,610 plus costs... and it's the only one with manual or auto to choose from. There's no Lexus, Infiniti or Volvo equivalent model. But I guess you could consider the S4 a good alternative at $50,000 less, and it's available as a sedan or a wagon...
The S4 is available in two versions - sedan and Avant wagon. The sedan opens the bidding at $99,900 and the Avant closes it at $102,900. Both come with identical specifications and are available with much the same options. For a bit of pricing perspective, the first S4 was an Audi 100-based five-cylinder turbo that landed with a price tag of $132,000. In 1993.
The S4 has arrived with 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers, around-view camera, reversing camera, up-spec sat nav, adaptive cruise control, auto parking, auto headlights and wipers, high beam assist, keyless entry and start, electric tailgate (Avant only), heated folding electric mirrors, LED headlights, dynamic scrolling rear indicators, electric heated sports front seats, leather and Alcantara trim, three-zone climate control and interior LED lighting.
A ten speaker stereo is powered by Audi's MMI rotary dial system and the same 8.3-inch screen as the rest of the A4 range, which also means you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as two USB ports in the centre console to go with the Bluetooth. There's also a DAB+ digital radio.
Audi's Virtual Cockpit is standard and has an additional S mode which switches the dial view for a big tacho and a huge digital speed readout.
Being an Audi, you can get a collection of options in packs. The S Performance Package ($5900) adds an excellent pair of massaging S sport front seats with diamond stitching and Nappa leather, red brake calipers, more (synthetic) leather and carbon inlays in the interior.
The Technik Package adds the excellent matrix LED headlights, the 19-speaker B&O 3D sound system and a heads-up display.
Other options include variable ratio Dynamic Steering ($2210), quattro sport differential ($2950), premium paint (ahem, $1846), panoramic sunroof (Avant only, $2990), sunroof ($2470, sedan only), heated rear seats ($750) and the rear seat entertainment system ($2600-$4680 for one or two screens respectively, but you can't have it with the S Performance pack)
Engine & trans
This isn't the first time the Audi RS 4 has had a twin-turbo V6 engine under its bonnet. Back in 2000, the very first RS 4 launched with a 2.7-litre biturbo engine.
This all-new model has a 2.9-litre twin-turbo unit, which shares much with the Audi S4 and S5 models (they run a 3.0-litre turbo - the engine in the RS 4 is a smaller capacity and has a shorter stroke, but adds a turbo over the lesser S models).
It's no V8, however. The most recent model before this one had a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated unit with 331kW of power and 430Nm of torque.
This new version carries over the same power output - 331kW - but it hits between 5700-6700rpm, not at 8250rpm like the old V8. And torque has seen a substantial kick up the behind, now rated at 600Nm.
Not only has torque increased by about 45 per cent, it's also across a broader rev range - now it spans 1900-5000rpm, where it was not only lower but shorter-lived and less usable in the V8 (4000-6000rpm).
And the all important 0-100km/h time? It's now at 4.1 seconds, where it used to be 4.7sec. The top speed remains identical - 250km/h.
What about the sound, though? Read the driving section below... or better yet, watch the video!
Audi says the turbocharged V6 is brand new from the ground up. Developing 260kW (15kW up) and a nice round 500Nm (up 60Nm), the new engine is 14kg lighter than the supercharged unit it replaces, and more efficient.
Efficiency gains come from clever things like a "hot side inside" turbo placement (inside the V, meaning shorter exhaust paths to better turbo pressure), lift-off coasting and start-stop.
Power reaches the road via an Audi Sport tweaked quattro system which can send 85 percent of power in either direction and is rear-biased with a standard 60/40 rear/front torque split. The seemingly ubiquitous and always excellent eight-speed ZF transmission handles the job of getting the power from the engine to the road.
The standard self-locking centre diff can be flung and replaced with a trick quattro sport unit ($2950) with electro-mechanical control of the rear axle's torque split.
The sedan will rocket to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, the slightly heavier Avant two tenths behind it.
Fuel consumption for the 2018 Audi RS 4 is rated at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, which is fairly good for a vehicle with this much propulsion potential. CO2 emissions are rated at 202g/km.
Both of those are big improvements over the V8 that preceded it - the claimed consumption was 10.7L/100km and emissions were 249g/km.
But it's worth noting that Mercedes-AMG has the C63 wagon with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that has more power (375kW) and torque (700Nm) yet uses less fuel (8.7L/100km).
Audi claims 7.7L/100km from the sedan and 7.8L/100km for the Avant. On a stinking hot day in central NSW and the ACT and with the accelerator spending a lot of time carpet-bound, the S4 still returned around 12L/100km. More time being driven less enthusiastically should see a marked improvement.
It only took three corners for me to feel 100 per cent comfortable with the controls of the Audi RS 4. Some cars may take a few minutes before you become accustomed to how the throttle, brakes and steering want to be used, but it was mere seconds in this case.
That's because of the outright predictability of the RS 4 - it's hard to set a foot wrong, with excellent throttle response, strong but progressive braking, and better steering than I've experience in any Audi outside of the R8. It's not perfect - there's still a little bit of deadness or stickiness on centre - but I like the way it helps you pivot the car and apply lock at pace, thanks to nice weighting and resistance. The steering is light when you want it, and hefty when you need it.
The adaptive dampers and 20-inch wheels can't totally divorce the road surface from the bodies of the occupants in the cabin, and over patchy surfaces the ride can be a little pitchy, even in the Comfort setting.
But those dampers help stiffen the chassis up in Sport mode, negating body roll brilliantly. That, combined with the traction of the excellent quattro all-wheel drive system with a self-locking centre differential, and the grip of the Continental tyres makes for a really enjoyable way to cut through a series of corners.
Of course there are electronic helpers underneath, including a torque-vectoring-by-braking system and torque-splitting rear differential that pushes load to where it's needed most - but unless you had a screen in front of you telling when they were being used you wouldn't know. It all just feels really natural in the way it handles itself.
Now, that engine.
No, it isn't a V8, but what it is is a powerhouse weapon. It's still rev-happy, and the transmission allows it to be that way: in Dynamic mode with the shifter in S (not D) there is a brilliant willingness to the way it hangs on to gears - through a series of sweeping corners, getting on and off the throttle and brake pedal respectively, it had incredible intuition - third gear was the most usable, and gave the most, too.
The engine's sound isn't as visceral as the V8 of its predecessor, but it isn't what I'd call dull. There's a nice bit of chortle on the overrun, and it sounds pretty menacing when you punch the go pedal.
In normal driving, too, it's well suited to regular duties. It just so happens that its great at going fast, which is what you want from an RS model.
The S4 is terrific fun. It's that simple. The new engine is an absolute belter, with all 500Nm of torque available at just 1370rpm. Lag is almost indistinguishable as the turbo spools up and rockets you along to 100kmh in under five seconds, that huge half-ton of torque sweeping you down the road.
With dynamic mode switched on, the car muscles up with firmer suspension and a slightly growlier exhaust. The steering really weights up, too, which takes a little getting used to after the lighter, friendlier setting in Comfort mode - thankfully you can set up an individual mode to dial the assistance back in while everything else is set up for go-fast.
The key to the fun is the rear-biased quattro system - while it's never going to match the purity of BMW's rear-wheel drive 340i, what you lose in steering feel and ultimate adjustability, you gain in off-the-line and mid-corner grip its German rivals could only dream of.
Going fast in an S4 is easy, leaving you to concentrate a little more on your line and gear selection, listening to the distant bark of the engine and the occasional turbo whistle. All of this is purely down to driving taste, of course but the point is, the S4 offers something a little different to the other two.
For most of the time the S4 defies its 1700kg-plus weight but there is the occasional hesitancy when changing direction through a challenging set of bends, as though the front tyres (245s all around, if you're interested) want to scrub and the quattro system makes a quick adjustment to stop it happening. You don't feel that's what's happening, of course - Audi Sport is better than that - but it's part and parcel of all-wheel drive. It takes a lot to find understeer and for most people, that just won't ever happen.
Further confidence comes from the terrific brakes - 350mm up front and 330mm at the rear, the big forward rotors are gripped by six-pot fixed calipers. Performance is epic and in hard, fast driving they stood up to a fair amount of punishment without fading.
The ride is excellent in all modes, which is quite an achievement given the fat rubber and big wheels, although big bumps at speed make a huge metallic thunk without actually upsetting progress. The eight-speed ZF is brilliant as always and unless you're really motoring, you don't even need its sport mode, which brings impressively fast and positive shifts.
The best thing is, if you don't look in the rear vision mirror, you can't really tell if you're driving sedan or Avant. That might be because it's quite absorbing on a launch drive, but I couldn't split the driving experience between the two.
The only black marks I could easily identify on the S4 is tyre noise on some surfaces and perhaps the steering could be a little more lively like its competitors.
There is no model-specific Audi RS 4 Avant crash-test rating, but the Audi A4 (four-cylinder) range managed the maximum five-star EuroNCAP / ANCAP test score in 2015.
Rest assured, though, the RS 4 has a lot of standard equipment.
The standard safety equipment list includes Audi's pre-sense front system with auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (which works up to 85km/h), plus a 360-degree camera with reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. Plus the traffic-jam assist system, which debuted in 2015 on the Q7 and uses two radars to read the road ahead - even scanning in front of the car directly in front of you.
There's active lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, turn assist (which will stop you from driving through an intersection if the car doesn't think you'll make it), auto high-beam lights, rear cross-traffic alert (with audible, visual and physical notification - it can jolt the brakes if you aren't paying attention), multi-collision braking (which will stop the car if you have an accident to prevent further mishap).
There's also Audi's clever "exit warning system" that will flash the ambient lights if an occupant is about to open their door into the path of oncoming cars or cyclists.
The RS 4 has eight airbags (dual front, front side, rear side and full-length curtains).
The S4 also retains the exit warning feature that tells you if you're about to door an approaching bicyclist or another car. What Audi calls "pre-sense rear" is a system to warn drivers behind you they're approaching too fast and are quite likely to hit you. Turn assist is also available, stopping you (at low speeds) from turning across approaching traffic.
The A4 scored five ANCAP safety stars, the highest available.
Audi covers all of its models with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which, by market standards is starting to look a little low, but in the premium part of the market, not many brands do much better.
As for servicing costs, it's a bit of a guessing game. The entire RS model range, as well as the R8 supercar, isn't covered by the same Audi Genuine Care pre-purchase setup you can get on a regular (non RS) model. That plan covers three years/45,000km of maintenance, and in the case of the A4/S4, the cost is $1620. Expect more than that for the RS 4.
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on the S4 with service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km whichever comes first. Roadside assist is part of the package, lasting for the first three years of the car's life.
You can pre-purchase three years/45,000km of servicing for $1620 under Audi's Genuine Care Service Plan. Full details are available on Audi's website, but it basically covers a scheduled oil changes and inspections and not a lot else.