Neckarsulm facility, near Stuttgart in Germany, is the home of Audi’s R8 supercar production and where it builds its RS line of high-performance vehicles. It’s also where quattro GmbH and its motorsport division is based, which is why we’re racing across Europe from the UK to Neckarsulm on a 600-mile drive in Audi’s latest RS4 Avant. This essentially means these RS4 estates have been shipped to the UK from the production line just so we can drive them back again. It’s the first time a bunch of UK hacks have driven there on a launch and it’s an exciting trip because Neckarsulm lies at the heart of everything Audi does that’s lightweight and fast.
And lightweight and fast is everything the latest RS4 is. It’s supercar quick, with 0-62mph dispatched in just 4.7 seconds, which is impressive for a car you can also bring an Ikea flatpack kitchen home in. To put that in perspective, Audi’s R8 supercar is only a shade quicker (4.6 seconds) and that, of course, is a very different beast, and a good deal lighter in weight.
Audi is claiming the latest RS4 is the ultimate A4. That the RS4 is the “hero car” of the A4 range is unsurprising. What is surprising is the manner in which it is heroic. Around town it’s remarkably mild-mannered, but depress the accelerator to the floor and all four of its wheels dig in to deliver what the man from Audi refers to as “tremendous step off” traction. He’s right about that. The 444bhp V8 engine is barely audible at times. It’s very smooth to drive and the seven-speed dual clutch S tronic transmission can go about its business in relative obscurity.
But once you floor the gas, a thunderous howl is unleashed that increases in volume thanks to the dual brand exhaust, which bellows at you, in case you’d forgotten it was there. The transmission preselects the next gear up, which means it’s way quicker than a manual gearbox – it’s so good that a manual option is now no longer available – and so quick that we barely used its paddle shifters on the steering column. We found the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel to be comfortable and direct. Our test car’s top speed restriction was “eased” to 174mph, instead of the usual 155mph. So France was dispatched quickly but the passing countryside was not nearly as blurred as Bavaria. On unrestricted stretches of the German autobahn the sound was spectacular.
And we were grateful, too, for the ceramic brakes – a £4,000 option – because moving at such extreme speeds demands Herculean levels of concentration. And with great power comes great responsibility, as the uncle of a superhero once said.
On the backroads, the car proved superglue grippy, thanks to its quattro system.
Even in comfort mode, the ride is still firm and wouldn’t suit everyone. It’s proof, as Audi claim, that the RS4 really is a rally car for the road. But more interesting is how normal this car feels when you are not driving it hard. It is so “normal” during everyday driving that it feels like a different car when you do decide to hit it.
Design-wise, the RS4 doesn’t exactly hide its intent under a bushel but it is surprisingly unassuming. Only its iconic bulging wheel arches and enlarged air inlets suggest its power and ability.
The interior is regular Audi fare. Well-built and ergonomically excellent, it’s a no-nonsense design that befits this car in particular. Even with the bucket sports seats, we had it proved comfortable. I had half-expected to be barely able to stand upright after ten hours in the saddle but this was not the case at all.
All-in-all driving the RS4 was a very pleasurable experience. Heroic then? Yes, the RS4 Avant is certainly that. Most of its customers are wealthy enthusiasts who, presumably, also have to move their families around. In the RS4 you can do that – and very, very quickly too. It’s an exclusive group of petrolheads that love this car. You can add this superdad to that list.
THE FACTS: AUDI RS4
0-62 MPH: 4.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 174mph
CO2 G/KM: 249g/km
MPG COMBINED: 26.4mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****