There’s a tendency to throw around the phrase “forbidden fruit” when it comes to desirable international market cars that we can’t get our hands on in the States. Generally, this refers to spunky hot hatchbacks, strange Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) offerings, and fast, luxurious European wagons.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the term. It implies that there are cosmic forces against us keeping these wonderful machines from our shores, and that only by divine intervention could we ever be so blessed as to receive them. Realistically, however, Americans just wouldn’t buy them.
Yes, I know you may really want a super-fast Autobahn cruiser with tons of trunk space, but most Americans don’t, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future while there’s no shortage of trucks and SUVs on dealer lots. And I can’t tell you how sad that is, dear reader, because I have tasted the forbidden fruit, and it is sweet. Very sweet.
While the Audi RS 4 Avant may not be the fastest, best-handling, or sexiest car out there, I can’t think of any car on sale today that does as many things as superbly as this four-ringed beast.
For Audi fans, the RS 4 Avant (Audi speak for “wagon”) signifies everything the brand is meant to be: sleek, fast, capable luxury cars that do things a bit differently and have a healthy scoop of practicality on top. The current generation, known as “B9” internally, is the fourth generation of the model, but traces its roots all the way back to the first-ever Audi RS, the RS2 Avant. Engineered and built by both Audi and Porsche, it was fast, spacious, and proof that you really could have it all in just one vehicle.
That mentality lives on in the RS 4 Avant, which at first glance doesn’t seem drastically different visually from the last generation, but just the right amount of sharpening, honing, and flaring has made this the best-looking Avant yet, at least to my eyes. The massive trapezoidal grille, “Quattro” badging on the lower intake, gaping cooling ducts, and dramatic fender flares give this car an aggressively wide stance, and the crisp LED headlights and taillights cut an intimidating glare at night.
The RS 4 I tested was equipped with a black optics and carbon fiber trim package that added the material to the front and rear splitters, side skirts, and door mirrors, and did away with the aluminum bright work you might find on other RS models. Finished in a flat Nardo Gray hue – the only no-cost color option – this is a head-turning car, if not for the unique paint job alone.
Inside, standard RS cues abound, like red honeycomb stitching on the sport seats, carbon fiber trim on the dash, and Alcantara on the steering wheel and shifter, which is my one quibble with the RS 4’s cabin. Alcantara looks and feels great for about a week, but give it a year or two, and the fabric gets dirty and worn down, especially on high-touch points like the wheel and shifter. I’d skip it and stick with leather, thank you very much.
The interior also gets the benefit of Audi’s excellent modern suite of technology, which I wouldn’t hesitate to call the best out there. The optional digital cockpit dominates the driver’s view and is endlessly handy for keeping your eyes pointed where they should be: on the road. The MMI interface is a breeze to use as well, and can even support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality if you so choose.
Of course, the visual details aren’t the only thing that make RS models so sought-after. It’s got to go, and go like hell, for that matter. Motivated by a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6, the RS 4 Avant makes 450 horsepower and 443 lb.-ft. of torque, good for a 0-60 time of just 4.1 seconds.
In “Dynamic” mode with the 8-speed automatic (not dual-clutch this time around) in Sport configuration, you can mash the gas and brake pedal at the same time to initiate launch control. Release the brake, and the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system works by the millisecond to keep the massive tires plastered to the road and push your eyes out through the back of your head.
I now have a decent idea of what Han Solo feels like when he punches the throttle in the Millennium Falcon. It’s even the same color!
While the old RS 4 sported a naturally aspirated V8 that will be sorely missed for its character, the V6 is honestly not much of a downgrade, and even makes a decent noise when you really get on it. No pace is lost either, as the B9 has almost identical performance numbers to the outgoing model. It’ll even do about 27 mpg overall if you’re gentle with your right foot, but you won’t want to be…
Previous RS models were lauded for their pace and practicality but were compromised compared to rivals in terms of a harsh ride quality and prowess in the corners. The new RS 4 Avant says “nein” to those accusations and stands out as much more capable than ever when the going gets twisty.
Turn in is instantaneous, and there’s a sharpness to the steering without being over-boosted or artificially heavy. The AWD system is well-sorted too, and can send a majority of torque to the rear wheels, bettering handling and making the RS 4 feel almost rear-wheel-drive in character, just with loads more grip in the corners.
What impressed – and almost shocked – me most, though, is how comfortable the ride is on the highway or in normal driving conditions while in “Comfort” mode. The optional adaptive suspension works wonders at high speeds over bumpy roads, so much so that you’d be forgiven for forgetting this is the highest-performance compact Audi there is.
Oh, and how could I forget? This is still a wagon, and that means ample boot space to the tune of 17.8 cu.-ft. with the rear seats in place, and 53.3 cu.-ft. with them folded flat. Ask yourself honestly: with those numbers, do you really need an SUV?
In truth, there’s virtually nothing wrong with the RS 4 Avant. It has ample space, plenty of comfort, looks great, is fast as hell, handles corners like a world-class athlete, and is efficient enough to serve as a daily driver. My only quibbles were with the Alcantara touch points and the fact that a fully loaded version costs just over the equivalent of $100,000 here in Sweden, though that’s still a significant discount over the larger and faster alternatives like the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon, which is a fast liftback we thankfully do get Stateside.
Unfortunately, Audi may never see fit to bring the RS 4 Avant to our shores, and that’s a cryin’ shame. I suppose you could opt for the upcoming RS 5 Sportback instead if you want a hatch and four doors on your superfast Audi, but it’s truly not quite the same. Maybe there is something to this “forbidden fruit” idea after all.
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