Audi’s RS4 and RS5 are two of the quickest mid-size cars on the planet from any manufacturer. Same but different? Or is there more to it?
Life moves pretty fast for some people. One minute you’re knocking about, having a laugh, making tons of cash and driving a fast, all-wheel drive two-door coupe. Okay, that’s only a few people, but it happens. And then, seemingly without warning, it all changes. One becomes two and subsequently three or four. And I don’t mean dogs, although I guess that could make five.
Two doors doesn’t work anymore, but neither does the idea that you have to gain altitude and potter about in an SUV. Nobody wants that for you. Do they? Audi does, they’ll offer you an SQ5 and you’ll probably like it. But really, deep down, what you want is something with an RS badge, something you can’t have in a high-riding MLB. So maybe the RS4 Avant is the car you need.
We brought together the RS5 you used to drive and the RS4 Avant that will fit your new life to see what are the differences and whether the wagon stacks up.
Words: Peter Anderson
Co-pilots: Brendan Allen and Todd Fletcher
Images: Matt Hatton
RS4 and RS5: How much and what do I get?
Audi RS4 Avant: from $152,529 (before ORC)
Audi RS5 Coupe & Sportback: from $157,700 (before ORC)
RS4 Avant vs RS5 Coupe
The more practical RS4 lands with a 19-speaker stereo, 20-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electrically-adjustable front seats with massage function, sat nav, auto LED headlights, Nappa leather seats and leather elsewhere, auto parking, powered tailgate, auto wipers, sunroof, wireless hotspot and a space-saver spare.
A bunch of cameras help you look after the car and others, with front, side and reversing cameras.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster is standard, along with the extra modes you get in the RS models.
Audi’s MMI system comes up on a big 10.1-inch screen perched on the dashboard. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as DAB+ digital radio and, strangely, a DVD player.
The RS5 specifications are basically the same, with just a few detail changes that are tricky to pin down.
You can option up two other 20-inch wheel designs, one is no-cost the other $4500. You can also add Dynamic Steering ($2210) and Carbon Cermaic front brakes for $11,900. Quite why you’d need the latter is beyond me, but there you go.
You can choose various styling packages that add things like carbon fibre ($11,900), a combination of carbon fibre and aluminium ($10,900) and more Nappa leather ($2070). If you’re hellbent on spending another $12,000, spend it on the brakes is my advice.
There’s only one free colour, the Nardo Grey of the RS4 Avant in the pictures, the rest of the colours – Mythos Black, Navarra Blue, Sonoma Green, Daytona Grey Pearl, Misano Red, Florett Silver and Glacier Red are a vaguely preposterous $1990. If you want to go bananas, there is Audi Exclusive Paint for a whopping $5450.
Safety: Five stars (ANCAP)
The A4 range scored five stars in October 2016 and the A5 scored the same in March 2017.
As well as the usual ABS, stability and traction controls and the inherent safety of all-wheel drive, there’s a hefty safety package on the RSes. You get six airbags, blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera, front and side cameras, high and low-speed forward AEB, forward collision warning, driver attention detection, auto high beam, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, exit warning (stops you dooring cyclists and other cars) and reverse cross-traffic alert.
The Technik Package ($3900) adds head-up display and Matrix LED headlights, which are terrific. The Matrix LEDs use a bank of diodes that can be blanked out individually to stop the lights dazzling oncoming drivers or drivers in front.
Warranty and Servicing
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: 12 months/15,000km, Service Plans available
Audi’s warranty is not really good enough for a premium manufacturer, accusations I have also levelled at BMW and Mercedes. So I’m cranky with all of them. You can buy an extended warranty but that’s a thing you have to argue with your dealer about.
You get three years roadside assist with both cars, too. Like the warranty, it should at least be five years. Having said that, if you keep going back to Audi for servicing, you get a 12 month extension on roadside. Audi calls it Service Initiated Roadside Assistance (SIRA).
You can pre-purchase your servicing, which is a good way of controlling costs and, frankly a negotiation point when you’re buying. The service plans are identically-priced between the RS4 and RS5, with $1950 for three years coverage and $3020 for five years. The cost of pay-as-you-go servicing is not listed on Audi’s website.
Audi dealerships are generally quite nice and they look after you quite well – coffee, tea, snacks, wifi, that sort of thing.
Look and Feel
You can tell these cars are from the same mother. They share a lot of underbits and, visually at least, appear to share plenty of overbits, too. The wheels are different, the grilles and lights slightly different but up front, you are a little hard-pressed to tell them apart unless you spot the lower roof of the coupe from dead-ahead.
Obviously, once you’re around the side it’s all change. The Avant is higher and quite a bit longer – 4781mm plays 4723mm – with some of that length coming from a longer wheelbase (2826mm to 2772mm). The rear of coupe looks like it could be a hatchback, but as ever, it has a short stubbly bootlid.
Cargo storage isn’t as different as you might think – the RS5 has a 465-litre boot while the Avant scores 505 litres. For a more apt comparison, the A4 sedan splits them on 480 litres, so there’s obviously not a great deal of space to work with here. The RS4’s is obviously much easier to use, with the big tailgate. I wouldn’t want to be loading Ikea flat-packs into an RS5. Well, I don’t want them in the RS4 either, but they will go in much more easily.
Both cars have cupholders front and rear and the RS4 has bottle holders in each door. The best place for your phone is kind of annoying, under the front armrest, but there are USB ports in there as well as a 12V adapter.
The RS4 will be a big winner with passengers, with good head and leg room as well as far superior vision out. You can also fit three (squeezily) across the back of the Avant, whereas the coupe is a four-seater.
The RS4 and RS5 are both powered by the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 Audi develop for use across the various VW Group brands. It replaced the old V8, but still churns out 331kW and a whopping 600Nm. The torque figure is a massive jump of 170Nm over the old car and is available from 1900 to 5000rpm.
Plugged into the V6 is the awesome ZF eight-speed, replacing the previous car’s twin-clutch. It’s a fast-shifting monster of a transmission that seems able to cope with anything.
As you might expect, the RS version of the quattro system gets the power to the ground, with an electronically locking diff out the back. A centre diff shuffles the power front to rear. In normal driving, power is rear-biased with a 40:60 front-rear split, rising as high as 15:85.
You can also go for a sports rear diff on the RS5.
0-100km/h times differ slightly between the two – the coupe wins the race with 3.9 seconds versus the Avant’s 4.1. That’s a pretty narrow gap.
RS5 Coupe: 8.8L/100km (combined cycle)
RS4 Avant: 8.9L/100km (combined cycle)
There’s not much point in giving you my fuel figures, which were in the mid-teens. These cars were driven hard for the video and it would be unfair to suggest that’s the day-to-day figure you will see. It’s a very good engine and you should manage 10L/100km in normal driving.
The fuel tank is the same size between the two at 58 litres.
Unlike what I said in the video (because I’m an idiot), both cars are spun off the MLBEvo platform. Audi builds the A4, A5, Q5, A6, Q7 and Q8 on this platform. As always, there is plenty of aluminium. Audi reckons the weight saving over the previous RS4 Avant is up to 80kg, but some of that will be the engine’s lower mass.
The Avant rides on a longer wheelbase and is obviously a bit longer and a scooch taller.
Both cars feature dynamic ride control (dynamic damping to me and you), controlled through the usual Audi Drive select mechanism. You can stick with the Audi settings or go with your own combination in the individual setting. I’m increasingly finding that in Dynamic modes that OEMs are setting the steering too heavy so I dial it back to comfort.
I can’t say I’m in love with dynamic steering, but I don’t hate it either. It works quite well on track but really it’s just a bit of a gimmick that doesn’t add or detract from the experience.
Both also run on the same size tyres, 275/30s front and rear. The cars I had on test ran on different brands, though – the 5 was on Pirelli P Zero rubber and the 4 on Hankook Ventus. Audi doesn’t always specify single brands of tyre on its cars, but I’m not sure if that necessarily applies to these models.
This is the real deal, right here. The cars are both loaded with stuff and price-wise, there’s not a lot to choose from them. Circumstances or personal preferences – or both – have lead you to decide on one over the other. But you want to know – just how different are they?
The RS5 obviously has the edge for fun driving. With a shorter wheelbase and a slightly lighter frame, it’s a blast. I really enjoyed the RS5 on The Bend racetrack and out on the road I was even more impressed (you can watch the RS5 bit here)(if only to look at my track face)(in an ill-fitting helmet).
On the road, all the things that were good about the RS5 on the track translated beautifully to the road. The track is obviously like glass, so the ride was never going to be an issue, but on that bumpy chunky road we used, the RS5 handled it beautifully. I was hugely impressed with the way it rode the bumps and handled the nonsense dished up by one of my favourite roads.
But like the track, the way it turns in, with the rear playing along with you, is delicious. You can carry so much speed into and through the corner, with the rear diff letting you have a bit of fun on the corner exit. You have to be pushing hard to get understeer and even then, it’s soft rather than a sudden plough.
And it sounds fantastic. No, it’s not a V8 burble rising to a roar, but the V6 is tuned to sound great, with a lovely cough on the upshift and some popping on the way down. Without being obnoxious.
On the highway, the Hankook Ventus tyres are a bit rackety and the ride is slightly busier than the Avant’s, but that’s to be expected. And it beats long distances into submission.
Two corners in and I was surprised. I knew the cars wouldn’t be that far apart, but the RS4 Avant is very, very close. You can really hold the speed in longer corners in the RS4 with even more confidence, the longer wheelbase delivering a bit more stability. You can cover a lot of ground very quickly in the RS4 and do it comfortably.
At the same time, you can fire this thing down a twisting road and have so much fun that you won’t feel like you’ve lost too much in the transition to family practicality. The steering is great, with just enough feel and wonderful directness. It’s almost like everything is one or two percent off the RS5, just to wind it back a bit.
You can see that the Avant rolls a tiny bit more in the corners, but you don’t feel that from inside. It’s so good.
There’s not a lot around that is anything like these two. BMW has nothing at the moment, the closest thing would be the M340i xDrive sedan. BMW won’t be doing an M3 Touring (at the moment anyway) and the 4 Series is still miles away. And it looks like it has an Edsel grille. So, uh, yeah.
Thankfully, BMW-affiliated tuner Alpina has thrown the S58 under the 3 Series’ bonnet to make the B3, available in both sedan and Touring body styles. That car won’t be here until the second half of 2020 and it won’t be the sharp tool that is an RS.
Over at Mercedes, there’s the clutch of C63 S AMGs. They’ve got a twin-turbo V8 with more power and torque but aren’t hugely faster in a straight line. They are, of course, rear-wheel drive and an absolute hoot. They use a lot more fuel and servicing is scary-expensive. Pricing starts at $162,542 for the sedan, rising to $165,142 for the wagon and $167,642 for the coupe.
Well, they’re both good, aren’t they? Excellent, in fact. If you watch the video – and you should – you’ll see how much fun I had in these cars. They’re not as playful as the BMW or AMG rivals, but they’re properly fast and more comfortable than either of those. Although we are impatiently waiting for the G20-based BMW counterparts.
I was amazed at how close the two cars were and hugely impressed. Yes, the RS5 is sharper everywhere, but you want to know what you’re losing going to the Avant.
It’s not enough to be worried about.
There is, however, one more thing. The RS5 Sportback. Stay tuned.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.