The wildest A4 returns only as a wagon.
Audi's high-performance wagons are icons. The mid-1980s saw the 100/200 Turbo Wagon, and things got really wild with the RS2 launched in 1994. It was an over-the-top variation of the Audi 80 Avant created with assistance from Porsche, powered by a 315-hp version of Audi's 2.2-liter turbo five-cylinder and wearing wheels from the 964-gen Porsche 911. (Its side mirrors and front turn signals were from the 993, too.) The RS2 was followed in 1999 by the first RS4, which packed a 380-hp, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6. Audi launched the second-gen RS4 in 2005 with a naturally aspirated, extremely high-revving 4.2-liter V-8; this powerplant was engineered by Wolfgang Hatz, now head of Porsche R&D. For the first time, Audi offered a sedan and a convertible in addition to the station wagon. The previous-gen RS4 was sold until 2009. One year later, the RS5 coupe was launched on a platform shared with the current A4, as a sort of RS4 stand-in.
But now the RS4 returns—but only as a station wagon, to be launched at the Geneva auto show next month. The engine remains true to its immediate predecessor, as the car is powered by a 4.2-liter direct-injected V-8 that produces 450 hp at 8250 rpm. Maximum torque stands at 317 lb-ft and is available from 4000 to 6000 rpm. The performance is more than adequate: Audi claims a 0-to-62-mph sprint of 4.7 seconds; we’re guessing that’s at least a few ticks on the conservative side. Top speed is limited to 155 mph unless you pay to relax the governor, at which point the fun ends at 174 mph.
The torque delivery is rear-biased, at 40/60-percent; the self-locking crown-wheel center differential can adjust this ratio almost instantly between 70/30 and 15/85 according to road conditions and driver input. A sports differential that can distribute the torque between the rear wheels is optional. While the last-gen RS4 was available only with a slick-shifting six-speed manual, the new model comes only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The driver can use paddles or leave the shifting up to the car entirely. In the standard Drive Select system’s more-aggressive settings, the car will blip the throttle to provide rev-matched downshifts.
When braking on surfaces with different friction coefficients, the speed-sensitive electromechanical power setup will provide additional input beyond that of the driver to maintain stability. The car naturally sits lower than its lesser siblings, and rolls on 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels and 265/35 rubber as standard; 20-inch wheels fitted with 265/30 tires are optional. The standard front brake rotors are squeezed by eight-piston calipers, but the piston count goes down by two should you spec the optional carbon-ceramic discs. The options list also includes dynamic steering with a speed-sensitive steering ratio and an electronic damper system. There is at least one nod to those who prefer a more pure driving experience: The stability-control system can be switched off entirely.
Audi has modified the exterior with a wider body that ever-so-slightly recalls the Ur-Quattro of 1980, and the rear end is punctuated by two large, oval exhaust tips. The front and rear bumpers and the roof spoiler are unique; the front is characterized by large, functional air intakes and a silver-painted splitter. The interior is fitted with sports seats; the standard interior trim is carbon fiber, but it can be replaced by piano black, stainless-steel mesh, or aluminum in one of two finishes (brushed matte and something called “Race”). Finally, there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The price is a cool €76,600 in Germany, which includes a 19 percent tax. That's just about as much as the RS5 coupe. Its competition includes the Cadillac CTS-V wagon and the Euro-only Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG wagon. Will we get the RS4 Avant in the U.S.? Probably not. Even the regular A4 Avant will take a back seat in favor of the A4 Allroad. Bummer