It’s the stuff of legends. Like the M3 and AMG C43, saying RS4 in a crowd of car guys will catch ears of others, and maybe halt conversation. It’s a deserved reputation, with room for 5 people and their bags, sleeper looks and stupendous performance.

But how to make a good thing better? Audi has sort of taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach with the 2020 version of the RS4, and for that we’re thankful. No massive grille, and no electric assistance. There’s no return of the V8 motor, so there’s still the same twin-turbo V6 power plant to move the RS4 along at a blistering pace.

We spent a few days with the latest model to see if it’s worthy of keeping those three characters in its title, and more importantly, would we want the V8 RS4 back?

The Range

This should be easy. There’s just the one RS4 for sale in New Zealand, fitted with a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine. Behind that is an 8-speed tiptronic gearbox. The RS4 is all-wheel drive (AWD), and base price is $153,500.

The engine manages 331kW of power (450hp), and 600Nm of torque at 1,900rpm, getting it to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. At 182Kg, this new engine weighs 31Kg less than the V8 it replaced.

Standard equipment is high, as you’d expect. Some of these include RS Sport Suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, engine auto start/stop, keyless entry and start, Active Lane Assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, automatic parking, a 360 degree camera system, Turn Assist, red brake calipers, tyre pressure monitoring, electrically folding, dimming and heated exterior mirrors, RS Sports Exhaust, matrix LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, LED taillights and indicators, privacy glass, an electric tailgate, electric cargo cover, S Sports front seats, electrically adjustable front seats with heating, pneumatically adjustable bolsters, massaging front seats and memory function for the driver’s seat, full leather upholstery with fine Nappa leather trim and honeycomb pattern, 3-zone AC, SatNav, Audi Virtual Cockpit, Qi wireless charging, Bang and Olufsen audio system with 3D sound, heads-up display, auto-dimming interior mirror, and an ambient lighting package.

Ceramic brakes are a $15,000 option.

Our test car was fitted with a few options, like 20” forged alloy wheels in 5-twin spoke edge design at $1,000, exterior mirrors finished in high glass black ($300), and lastly the Glossy black appearance package at $2,100. That brought the total of our test car up to $156,900.

You can read more about the RS4 on Audi New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

Many will know I’m not a fan of grey or silver cars, and for Audi, it seems every car I get to test is grey or silver. The battleship grey our test car came in started off as a “kill me now” moment, but I’ll own up and say by the time I handed the car back, I actually liked it. Well, more it suited the car than me liking it.

It’s definitely a Marmite colour though, with anyone who commented either loving it, or totally hating it. It’s actually called Nardo Grey, if you feel you must have this ‘colour’. I heard the word ‘primer grey’ far too many times in a few short days.

For 2020, the car’s had a refresh on the outside, to bring the exterior up to the latest Audi family look. Part of this includes those squared-off blistered guards, just like the original UR Audi Quattro, and the car looks much better for it.

Audi says the front has been completely redesigned, with the three-dimensional honeycomb structure in gloss black, that is typical for the RS models. There’s RS badging of course, but these can be removed on request “for a more understated look”, says Audi.

Rounding out the back are those menacing exhausts, and if crouch you can spot the butterflies in there, ready to bring out your inner man-child.

The Interior

There’s a few things that catch your eye when you open the driver’s door; for one, the flat-bottom steering wheel looks seriously racy, and comes complete with some heavy perforation. All the better to grip it with, I guess. The perforations are carried over to the shift lever, although I expect when the going gets fast, you’ll be using the paddles to shift gears and not touching the lever. There’s an RS badge at the bottom of the wheel, just to give you a reminder of what you are about to drive.

The seats are the other item; covered in pleats (Audi calls it a honeycomb design), they look both comfortable and sporty. There’s also some alloy trim on the console, doors and dash to complete the sporty look, and no RS is going to go without alloy pedals.

As well as the alloy trim on the doors, they also have suede running the entire length, and it feels superb. I’ve yet to find a car we’ve tested with suede on the doors that doesn’t look classy. Audi has also splashed some piano black around in the front of the car, so this is on the console, doors and dash too. The interior on our test car was completely black, but thankfully being a station wagon, there was still a good amount of natural light coming into the car.

Still up front, there’s a shallow centre console cubby that has the Qi wireless phone charger in it, as well as a USB-C port. Up front, there’s a standard USB port and a 12-volt socket.

The whole interior is spacious, with plenty of room for everyone, and a generous amount of legroom for rear seat passengers. Rear headroom is pretty good too, although the rear seats are heavily angled to allow for this.

The cargo area is covered by an electric cover, and there’s also a netting system on the floor of the boot, and another one popping up out of the back seats to stop your stuff flying forward under heavy braking. There’s an excellent 505 litres of space back there with the seats up, and expands to 1,495 with the second row folded.

Overall the interior matches both the price and purpose of the RS4: a practical, luxury, high-performance station wagon.

The Drive

It begins with hitting the Start button – the noise the RS4 makes simply when you start it is very satisfying. Even without the exhaust butterflies open, it sounds like it has a purpose. Once you move off though, the noise quietens down (unless you do have the butterflies open), and that juicy V6 twin turbo purrs along quietly and smoothly, as only a V6 can do. It has a real turbine sound to it, when you aren’t pushing it along.

In fact, on the motorway, the RS4 is almost completely silent. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that on a steady throttle opening, it’s almost EV-silent on the motorway, and I can say this since I own an EV. There’s no wind noise at all, and the engine is inaudible if you are on a constant throttle. This was a major surprise for me, as I fully expected the car to have some sort of audible attitude 24/7.  There is some tyre roar on the motorway, as those 30 profile Continental tyres make themselves known, but that’s it.

With the serenity and the practicality of a station wagon, the RS4 is bloody hard to beat as a Daily Driver. Ride is not as hard as you’d expect it to be, and certainly not jiggly at all, like we’ve experienced in some performance cars. Well, not in Comfort mode, but more on that soon enough. There’s adaptive cruise control to help your commute, although being an Audi it’s driven via a stalk. It works well though, and will bring the car to a stop if needed. During my short few days in the RS4 I realised just how far adaptive cruise has come along in a short amount of time. For most brands, adaptive cruise is now much smoother, say when a car pulls into your lane. Just a few short years ago the car would have jerked itself to a slower speed. Now, most modern adaptive cruise systems will simply ease off the gas and gently take the speed down, and increase the distance between you and the car in front of you. It’s getting better all the time.

Visibility out of the car is excellent, with largish windows along the sides and of course blind spot monitoring to help you stay safe. The heads-up display (HUD) warns you of cars in your blind spot too, which I always appreciate. Speaking about the HUD, it was great to see the height adjustment for this was a simple knob to the right of the steering wheel. We’ve had too many cars with a HUD where to adjust it, you have to go into a myriad of menus (cough-BMW-cough). Then someone else drives the car, and you have to do it all over again. This one was perfect.

That flat-bottom steering wheel feels amazing in your hands, quite thick and chunky, but perfectly suited to the RS4. I love that Audi puts the volume up/down and track/station up/down controls in one small place on the steering wheel, and it just works. The volume is controlled by a thumbwheel in the centre, then to skip track/stations, it’s a rocker button either side of the thumbwheel. Pushing the thumbwheel in mutes the audio. Simple, functional, and oh-so German.

Of course, there’s other buttons on the steering wheel, and being an RS model, one of those buttons is simply labelled, RS. You can program this button to one of two modes, RS1 and RS2. Using the centre screen, you decide how you want the car to behave when you hit the button once (RS1), or a second time for RS2. There are settings for Drive System, Ride, Steering, Suspension, and Exhaust. Your exhaust options are Subdued, Normal, or Pronounced. When you hit the RS button, the dashboard changes and you get a large bar-type rev counter, and other non-performance items minimise down. They’re still there, but much smaller.

Cornering grip and acceleration is good, as is braking 🙂

The HUD also changes when using either RS mode, and a coloured bar-type system for the engine revs appears. Take it too close to the redline, you get an orange bar. Hit the redline and it goes red. This is a lot better than other systems we’ve seen, where Sport mode brings up a large rev counter in the HUD. This sounds impressive, but it’s harder to see quickly. The RS4’s system is excellent and efficient.

It’s a little hard to see which RS mode you are in, as on the bottom of the dashboard there’s a tiny red RS1 or RS2 there, seemingly only a few mm high. The modes simply cycle from RS1, to RS2, then back to Normal.  Initially, someone before me had set both RS1 and RS2 to have full-on everything, but honestly, the ride is too hard when it’s set to Dynamic. So I tuned RS1 to be full-on mode for everything but the ride, and left RS2 alone. Let’s face it – RS2 is really for the track, where problems on the road aren’t going to wreck the enjoyment of your ride.

Those RS modes though…addictive. First up, the exhaust opens up, and it’s pretty obvious to people inside and outside the car. The steering gets heavier, and not just heavier, it feels better with more communication from the wheels coming through. The Dynamic Steering system in the 2020 RS4 counter-steers slightly for you, and makes slight corrections, which Audi says are unnoticeable to the driver. This is to reduce understeer and oversteer, and it works. Steering on the RS4 is a benchmark to others.

I did manage to get the RS4 out on some gnarly roads, and it was impressive in every way. Ignoring the glorious sound of that twin-turbo V6 at redline, the performance is stunning with neck-snapping acceleration from any speed. The engine is torquey too, so you don’t really need to change down a gear if you don’t want to. But you know you will, just to hear the snap-crackle-pop of that exhaust. And then there’s the handling. My God, it’s good. Naturally it’s all-wheel drive, and it can be chucked into corners at ridiculous speeds, and it sticks, and it goes. I found myself comfort braking when I simply didn’t need to. My brain told me I should, but the car told me I shouldn’t, and I suspect was quietly laughing at me.

The grip from the AWD and the 275/30/ZR20 Continentals is amazing; I’m not sure how hard you’d have to be pushing the car to get it to lose grip, and I wasn’t going to try. This car feels so neutral and precise; it’s an incredible drive.

In RS1 mode, the car doesn’t quite sit flat, but it doesn’t matter, since you can use steering inputs and your right foot to control everything. I don’t want to go on about it too much, but it’s hard not to. To say it’s impressive is being rude to the RS4; it’s amazing.

So you’d think that in RS1 mode with the suspension turned up to the middle option, it’d still lose composure when it got to a bumpy corner. Not so. This was one of the car’s more impressive features; bumpy corners did nothing. The RS4 simply tracked as it was already doing, dealt with the bumps, and carries on like nothing happened.

And then there’s the brakes. I’ll be honest and say that when they’re cold or at a roundabout, they can be grabby, and you can look like a rookie driver. It takes a while to get used to just touching the brake pedal at low speeds. They do get better as they warm up, but still not great. But give the car its head, and those brakes come into their own. The pedal feel is amazing; it feels soft, but the braking power available to the driver is extreme, and repeatable.

With 331kW on tap, performance shouldn’t be an issue, and it isn’t. There’s a slight bit of turbo lag when you first punch the throttle, and then it’s all on, as you head is thrown back into the headrest and the car lunges forward alarmingly. 100km/h is dispensed with in 4.1 seconds, with sounds to match. The brap-brap on the upchanges just adds to the impression of incredible speed.

I have to say though, it’s the midrange where the RS4 excels. Overtaking maneuvers are bordering on crazy. Tap the throttle, and you’ve passed someone. It’s another addictive quality of the RS4; midrange acceleration is extremely impressive.

Back on the Daily Drive, the B&O audio system is good. I wouldn’t call it great – I think Mercedes-Benz’ Burmester audio is better – but I believe it would placate most audiophiles.

The seats initially feel pretty bloody firm, with not a lot of give in the cushion. But they do feel comfortable enough, although I didn’t get to take the car on a long trip. There’s a massaging feature for both front seats, where you can pick from Wave, Knead, or Stretch, and you can adjust the intensity up to three levels. For track work, there’s also pneumatically-adjustable side bolsters, and these can really pin you into the seat. I’ve never found adjustable side bolsters that can go in so far. It’s like wearing a corset – not that I’ve ever worn one, mind you – but I can imagine that’s what it’s like. There is adjustable cushion length too, but this is manual adjustment, that I’m sure most of us can cope with.

The front seats are heated of course, with three levels of temperature. Great to see this feature stays on when you get out of the RS4, and then back in. The brake auto-hold feature does this too (thank you, Audi).

I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I’m going to slip this last negative aspect of the RS4 in here. There’s an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT) transmission as standard. On the whole, it’s excellent, with lightning-quick changes when you are driving hard. Changes on the motorway are smooth and quick. But it’s plagued with that DCT feature we’ve all come to experience: jerkiness at low speeds. At a roundabout or just from a stop sign, the transmission sometimes has to make up its mind to get into gear before you move off, or you get a jerky start-off from the lights. It’s nowhere near as bad as some cars I’ve driven, but it detracts from what, to me, is almost the perfect car.

Audi claims the RS4 should average 9.2L/100km for fuel; Over 400km, I managed to get 10.6. I thought that was excellent for the amount of power at your right foot, and the fact that the RS4 eggs you on to use it.

The Competition

She’s slim pickings for those wanting a high-performance estate car. I’m sure most buyers would be happy with either, though.

Brand/ModelEnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
Cargo capacity, litres0-100km/h, secondsFuel consumption, L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Audi RS4 AWD3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6331/6005054.19.2$153,500
Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 Estate AWD3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6287/520490 4.79.6$129,300

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Handling
Ride
Performance
Engine noise
Engine quietness
General NVH
Space
Brakes
Steering·          ·          

Jerky DCT at low speeds
Brakes can be grabby at crawling pace
Vehicle Type5-door AWD medium station wagon
Starting Price$153,500
Price as Tested$156,900
Engine3.0-litre, V6, twin turbo petrol
Power, Torque, kW/Nm331/600
Transmission8-speed Tiptronic, dual-clutch automatic
0-100km/h, seconds4.1
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,745
Length x Width x Height, mm4782x1866x1438
Cargo Capacity, litres505/1495
Fuel capacity, litres58
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – combined – 9.2L/100km
Real World Test – combined –  10.6L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity Kg, unbraked/braked750/1,900
Turning circle, metres11.7
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5-year transferable
3-year Service Plan
5-year Roadside Assist
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
7
Interior
9
Performance
9
Safety
9
Styling
8
Value
8
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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