2020 Audi RS 4 Avant Review: Forbidden Fruit Worth Going to Hell For

You're in for a world of pain if you illegally import one of these fast wagons—but it'd be worth it.

AUDI RS4 MOROCCO ©JORDAN BUTTERS-19
Audi | Jordan Butters

America is pretty well served when it comes to cars. All the various churches are well represented by manufacturers, specialists, and guys in garages wrenching toward their own dreams. There’s one sect, however, that's verboten on U.S. soil. Something unspeakably cool, yet practical. Something with big power, cargo space, and a badge on the nose that’ll make the neighbors jealous. Something that's not just another crossover. It’s the Audi RS 4 Avant, and it’s updated for 2020. 

Much like the first RS 4 from the turn of the century, the latest wagon version comes with a turbocharged V6 motor, though this time Cosworth was sadly sidelined in favor of an in-house unit. With 2.9 liters to play with, the twin-turbo motor kicks out 444 horsepower and 442.5 pound-feet of torque, which Audi claims will get it to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds and up to a limited 155 mph—unless you go for the Vorsprung model, where the limiter is raised to 174 mph. Power is delivered to all four wheels (as you’d expect from any fast Audi) via an 8-speed Tiptronic ‘box.

Audi | Jordan Butters

Now, I know what you might be thinking: This latest model has the same power as the one from 2017. But under the hood tweaks mean it’s 17 percent more efficient than before, which Audi says is good for up to 24.2 mpg with mixed driving on the WLTP test cycle. (EPA ratings tend to be between 10 and 20 percent lower, with some high-profile exceptions.) Not exactly the feistiest of stats, but the engine produces more power than you'll ever need to move whatever's in the 53 cubic feet of seats-down cargo space at extralegal speeds. That's down to 17.5 cubes with the back seats upright, which is about the same as you'll find in larger slope-roofed crossovers like the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe these days.

Audi’s big updates here are largely cosmetic with the goal of making the RS 4 Avant look a bit like a mini RS 6 these days. But considering the RS 6 is righteously badass, that’s not exactly a problem.

Audi | Jordan Butters

The 2020 Audi RS 4 Avant, By the Numbers

  • Base Price: $83,700 (est.)
  • Powertrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 444 horsepower @ 5,700-6,700 rpm 
  • Torque: 442.5pound-feet of torque @ 1,900-5,000 rpm 
  • 0-60 MPH: 4.1-seconds
  • Passenger Capacity: 5
  • Curb Weight: 3,847 pounds
  • The Promise: A family car capable of setting tarmac ablaze while carrying your dog.
  • The Delivery: Forbidden fruit tastes that much sweeter. Alexa, remind me when 25 years is up.

Audi’s RS models were once subtle things, the kind of car earning appreciating nods from those in the know and hardly a second glance from 95 percent of the population, who saw just another Audi before them. These days, that’s not the case. A contemporary RS has spoilers, sharp edges, massive wheels, and the sort of presence that makes pedestrians and drivers alike pay attention whether they want to or not. If boldness isn't your thing, the new RS 4 will likely turn you off completely. If you like to stand out, you’ll love it.

It’s wild to look at. Standing still, it’s a feast of angles, details, and drama—there’s a more aggressive front end, redesigned headlamps, and some bright gloss black highlights. It’s still got its big, blistered wheel arches, jazzy trim dotted about, and two deliciously large oval exhausts at the back. But moving, it cuts an unreal form on the road. The appearance of most wagons, while desirable to enthusiasts, is discussed in relation to how much better they look than crossovers. More elegant, more streamlined, more proportionally right. The RS 4 Avant prompts a different conversation. It just looks f*cking cool, period.

Audi | Jordan Butters

But that's only a start. What about the sound? There are a couple of huge pipes at the back and a whacking V6 up front, so the recipe is there. Inside the cabin, you’re treated to cracking soundtrack, the revs BOOMING as they rise. You feel suitably smug as a result, even if there's a little performance enhancement going on with VW's Soundaktor engine audio-boosting tech. From the outside, it’s less operatic unless you’re crouched with your ear an inch from the pipes. 

Inside, the only big change is a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, which you operate entirely via touch—the MMI knob is gone for good (sure it is, Audi), leaving a little extra space on the transmission tunnel. The screen works well and is neatly responsive, but it feels a bit like Mercedes’ and other manufacturer’s iPad-like efforts as it appears to be just stuck on the dash, and if you prod it hard enough, you can feel it move. That cheapness takes the shine off an otherwise wonderful cockpit.

Audi | Jordan Butters

The steering wheel is on the wrong side, Audi.

Seeing as we live in a world where cars have to offer levels of comfort no matter their intended purpose, the RS 4 has a ‘Drive Select’ button to tune the car to the driver’s exact mood at any given time. It’s easy to be irked that a pure performance model isn’t mad straight out of the box, but choice is a very good thing. 

In Comfort, the RS 4's truly hostile nature is as hidden as can be. It’s quiet, serene, and behaves very much like a normal A4. The ride isn’t quite as smooth, but it won’t destroy your back—in part due to the cosseting sports seats. The 8-speed gearbox shifts almost imperceptibly without a hint of jerkiness. Noise is kept to a minimum, so you can actually hear whatever it is you’re listening to or, you know, talk to your passengers. The only time you get the impression that you’re sitting on a warhead is if you go for an overtake and the gearbox decides to kick down a few cogs, firing you into the distance on a wave of delicious turbo torque. 

You don’t buy a RS 4 to indulge in comfort all day, though. You buy it to go very fast and have lots of fun. This is where, if you’re a simple plug-and-go type, Dynamic comes in to play. The car sharpens itself up, becomes more aggressive, and cares little for public decency. Each gearshift is angry, smacking through the ratios quickly to get the most out of the car in either automatic or paddle-shifted manual mode. The exhaust ups its game as well, making the V6 sing loud and proud inside the cabin. 

Audi | Jordan Butters

On the speed front, you couldn’t really ask for more as each stab of the gas pins you backward, the car urgently chasing the horizon. That’s always been Audi’s RS party piece—straight line silliness. Leave the skids and the tire smoke to the Ms and AMGs, but if you want to cross huge amounts of ground quickly, trust the RS mob.

But now, that outright speed is matched by a steering rack that feels tight and responsive, even though Audi’s optional variable-ratio Dynamic Steering wasn’t fitted to this test car. It doesn’t give the same dollops of feedback you’ll get from competitors, but fast corners are now something it does rather well. Trust the machine, turn in hard, and your cheek muscles will make a bid for the outside world—even if you don't feel quite as connected to the road as you'd like.

Rough roads can be a challenge for the tightened suspension, even in Comfort mode, but the car corners decently flat—never soggy, always lithe and sharp. Even though you’re in an RS-badged hellion, you don’t really expect a family wagon to be quite as sprightly. You think it’ll lean here and there, lag a touch, and generally just be built for drivers to let off a bit of steam after dropping little James or Janet at soccer practice. The RS 4 is a weapon that can handle light carpool duties and mob a backroad. It answers the question, “Why not both?” 

If "Dynamic" ain’t your jam, then there are the customizable RS modes, accessible via a button on the steering wheel. Choices can be made on an even more granular level, allowing you to tweak the ESC response as well as ride and drivetrain performance.

With prices starting at the equivalent of $83,700 (in the UK, at least) before options and trim packs, it’s not the cheapest thing in the world. But the sheer versatility of a small, German-built performance wagon cannot be understated. The interior is screwed together so well it’ll likely stay intact far longer than the average human lifespan, and there's plenty of space for a family of four to cart around whatever paraphernalia children require these days. That it can simply prattle along as a regular car before transforming into an angry, addictive, shouty turbomeganutter is what makes it next-level good. 

Will the US get the 2020 Audi RS 4 Avant? Extremely doubtful, that is unless you all go nuts and buy every single RS 6 Avant that Audi can import. So get on it, because trust me: You want a RS 4 in your life as well. 

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