Audi one for the bucket list

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No-one should be surprised to hear that the hardout settings that best suit the circuit are too overt for the road.PHOTO: Richard Bosselman

Late last year, Audi knocked out a promo video directed towards the RS fan club. Final Breath depicted an elderly man on a hospital bed with his loved ones beside him.

``I've spent my life in motion,'' says the narrator, as a montage of exciting events and deep moments from his younger days are displayed.

The man takes his final breath and an electrocardiograph machine flatlines.

At that very moment, a red sports car appears outside, its engine growling, allowing the exhaust note to linger as it turns and speeds away.

The man seemingly comes back to life and yells, ``Wait!'' as the final text appears: ``Time to update your bucket list.''

The video was for the Audi RS5 Coupe, which came to New Zealand just before Christmas. It might just as well have applied to the RS4 Avant, landing now. Different body shapes, but a common platform and, yes, the same drivetrain.

Which car makes the heart beat fastest? Historically, the new station wagon has been ``The One'' in this market. The previous versions stood solidly as the most popular RS Audi sold here.

Can it continue? Consumer tastes have now swerved markedly towards sports utilities. With Audi NZ, the Q2, Q3, Q5 and Q7 achieve 56% of annual volume and this proportion will only grow once the Q8 and Q6 land next year.

And, yet, while some car lines have felt the pain, the RS4 is expected to remain exempt. An introductory drive of the gen-four car cemented why.

Assuredly, there are SUVs that have something of the same panache, practicality, price and even performance punch, but none blend those factors quite as completely and competently.

Another powerful inducement to buy into this new B9 edition? The swap from a 4.2-litre V8 to a 3.0-litre V6 engine has no discernible drawback. The new bi-turbo outputs the same power as the ousted naturally aspirated eight-cyclinder yet churns a third more torque and consumes less fuel. The body is lighter and there's more tech. It's demonstrably a better drive. All this and it has also become cheaper in starter form.

Retiring an eight-cylinder that served well in this model for two generations and replacing it with a V6 is a full-circle move; the first of this kind had one of those, too.

The ousted engine has a massive following, of course, which made the chance to drive the B9 against the previous B8 at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park an intriguing opportunity.

The soundtracks are certainly different. The new V6 has a beautifully modulated timbre, no question, but it is disappointing to learn that its song is computer-enhanced (with assistance from Porsche), whereas the V8's more visceral rolling thunder is 100% natural.

On outright grunt, however, there's no doubt the V6 is more sensational. A massive flat torque spread that straight lines from 1500rpm through to just under 4000rpm gives it more immediate shove and it lasts over a longer distance.

The factory-cited ability to clock 0-100kmh in 4.1 seconds against 4.7 wasn't specifically tested, but we did drag races in which the B9 wiped the floor on all but one run.

The biggest V6 advantage is that it gets Audi back in the ``green'' with respect to economy and emissions, purportedly. I can't say any of us on the launch did our bit to prove that side of its potential.

Well, it's hard not to indulge, not least when quattro and 275/30 R20 tyres lend impressively in carrying the huge kapow through corners. While a 1715kg car, it is 80kg lighter than before and benefits accordingly, not least because 50% of the kilo cull occurred over the front wheels. Funnily, in losing the fat it's gone extra-phat, with a more imposing road stance. At 2022mm wide it's broader than an RS6.

No-one should be surprised to hear that the hardout settings that best suit the circuit are too overt for the road. When running in the public arena, you can get away with having the transmission, engine and steering in Dynamic, but certainly not the suspension, where next-stop-down ``Comfort'' is firm enough.

Switching away from a direct-shift automated manual to an orthodox automatic might seem a soft move, but it isn't. The shift action is seriously fast. Now you get smoothness, too. The steering seems more accurate and that trademark flat-bottomed wheel is fantastic to grip.

Anyone out to enjoy the RS4 on a track regularly should opt for the $3500 ``sport differential'' pack, an electronically controlled rear differential that can apportion as much power as it likes to either side. The ceramic brake upgrade is impressive, but $15,000 is a big ask.

Quite a few features that are optional in other markets are standard here. Dynamic steering, which adjusts the steering ratio depending on speed, RS exhaust tuning for the quad pipes, sports seats, 20-inch rims and Matrix LED headlights that avoid blinding oncoming drivers are examples.

RS is about posh performance _ so it's impeccably finished, has tri-zone climate, ambient LED interior lighting, heated and massaging front seats in Nappa leather, with the potential to embellish with carbon fibre and alloy _ and Avant is about practicality. So four large adults will fit with ease with a 505 litre boot that, when the back seats are folded, enlarges to 1510 litres.

Audi one for the bucket list
At a Glance

AUDI RS4
SPECIFICATIONS
Price: $149,900
Engine: 2894cc six-cylinder bi-turbo, maximum power 331kW@5700rpm, maximum torque 600Nm@1900-50000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBD, TC, ESP, lane assist
Safety:  N/A
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 275/30 R20
Fuel and economy: 8.8 litres per 100km, fuel tank capacity 58 litres
Emissions:  199g of CO2 per km
Dimensions (mm): Length 4781, width 1866, height 1404