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2021 Audi RS 4 Avant review

Whether in RS 4 wagon form or as the RS 5 twins, Audi’s mid-sized performance models make for a mean package.

$ 147,900 Mrlp Fuel Economy 9.5 L

Engine Power 331 kW

CO 2 Emissions 218 g

ANCAP Rating N/A

Pros and Cons Pros Mixes performance with practicality

Artfully presented and premium interior

Space saver spare (in a genre where repair kits are too common) Cons Manual steering column adjustment

Seductive but expensive options

Assistance features assume driver is incompetent

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In an urban world where conspicuous consumption and a “mine is bigger than yours” mentality is rampant, is there a place for a subtle alternative – a vehicle that modestly whispers its intent, and then over-delivers? In my quiet suburban Sydney street live three oversized and sinister Mercedes-AMG biturbo SUVS. Two are steered by mums and used mostly for the school run, the third is a pleasant high-flyer’s commuter runabout. The daily usage possibly sends a mere 40 tonnes of carbon spewing into the atmosphere. If the three ever fire up together, the local Richter needle gets a nudge. But if a paucity of taste – and some might say strange priorities – are not factors in your world, why wouldn’t buyers instead consider a performance wagon, say an Audi RS (for RennSport) Avant?

The RS 4 Avant scores big time in the old “Dream Garage” routine. You know, when you are asked to nominate just one vehicle, but only one, to put in your garage, and it has to meet all your needs. The versatile performance wagon pops up frequently. But, there is a hurdle. The Avant has to attract people who don’t want an SUV. So, no need to tow, no need to intimidate, no need to carry up to seven, a possible need to dirty the tyres, and all the usual factors. The Avant – 4 and 6 – has never sold here in rich numbers. But those who buy the Audi wagon are faithful beyond belief. The loyalty factor is worth acknowledging; devotees and brand aficionados relish and appreciate the attributes of the wagon, its impeccable road manners, its versatility. Opera, school run, farm or racetrack.

Then there are its delightful luxurious look-and-touch cabin features, its comfort, and associated technology. And the feeling that it is ready to work with you rather than rebelliously confront the driver. The S and RS badged Audis began as pepped-up variants of regular mainstream car models in the line-up. Audi’s first RS model in 1994, was a five-cylinder turbo of 232kW, making it the world’s first high-performance car with five seats and large luggage compartment. Though not available in Oz, its reputation quickly reached these parts. Soon the RS models were in demand here.

Powerful engines, tweaked track-friendly suspension, brakes and wheels/tyres and just a hint of menace in the styling were the RS characteristics. With Quattro all-wheel drive. The RS magic has since spread to some of the SUV Q-fleet, adding rocket-like acceleration and even largely overcoming the dynamics challenge posed by size and weight. Smart buyers comfortable with the size of their man and lady bits, and who still enjoy driving, will always opt for the Avant over one of the tanks on the market, Audi or others. The Avant doesn’t have the handicap of excessive weight, excessive girth and height, and, well, excess…

Mounting a case for the RS 4 Avant is pretty easy. Just drive it. Choosing a sporty SUV ahead of an RS Avant is like Charlie Teo using an axe instead of a scalpel. The just-launched 2021 RS 4 Avant commands admiration without over-reaching into glitz and ostentation. Compared with its predecessor, the RS 4 (available only in Avant wagon form) gets keener pricing and improved value from new features. Presentation inside and out also gets a lift. The latest design language from the brethren RS 6 and RS 7 have been inherited by the new RS 4 range (plus the simultaneously launched five-door RS 5 Sportback and two-door Coupe, built on the same platform).

A restyled front includes bolder new RS bumpers, single frame grille and matrix headlights which increases night-time penetration. Cleverly, the matrix LED beam detects and subdues lights from oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front but continues to fully illuminate other areas between and alongside. The lights also have coming-home and leaving-home functions. But no Audi laser light, a feature on the RS 5 models. Wheel arches are flared by 30mm on RS 4 (compared to the regular model), accommodating bigger, fatter wheels and tyres. The rear has striking diffusers and the signature oval pipes in black at the exit of the sports exhaust system, alerting those in your postcode to the cheeky behaviour of the 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo, a boisterous bunch of joy hooked up to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.

The bare facts are these: the V6, co-developed by Porsche belts out 331kW peaking between 5700-6700rpm, and 600Nm, which is available from 1900-5000rpm. Very different from the big revving and peaky V8 that some pine for, today’s pleasing reality is that the V6 provides way more torque across a muscled-up and broad mid-range. Helped by the slick-changing Tiptronic with a conventional torque converter automatic gears, the V6, with its instant pulling power, makes for easy and effortless motoring in any conditions In manic RS mode, it’ll fire the 1745kg (unladen, 1820kg with driver) rig from rest to 100km/h in 4.1 sec, or two tenths slower than the slightly lighter RS 5 pair.

Riding on a firm yet pleasantly determined RS Sport five-link front and rear suspension, the five-seater RS 4 Avant’s clear attributes over bigger, taller, heavier weapons are unflappable poise and reassuring manners. Modern technology is an ally here. The Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive sport rear differential with self-locking mechanical centre diff adjusts constantly to the varying conditions and driving habits. In cruisy motoring, it tends to favour rear drive, though the ever-changing drive split can go as high as 70 per cent at the front and 85 at the rear. All seamless. Also available is an optional dynamic ride control with adaptive dampers feature for $4400 extra.

The brakes need to be startling to handle this level of performance. They’re 375mm x 36mm rotors managed by six-piston fixed callipers up front with 330 x 22mm rotors and two-piston floating callipers at the rear. One complaint: the brake pedal sits on a slightly higher plane to the throttle, meaning the driver must elevate his foot in the switch of pedals. In Audi fashion, optional carbon fibre-reinforced ceramic fronts – bigger 400x38mm rotors with six-piston callipers – save 6.5kg in weight but set you…

Peter Mckay

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