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Road Tests

Audi RS 4 Avant

Why is this family car as fast as a Ferrari?

Price: £53,465
Engine capacity: 4.2-litre V8
Power output (PS@rpm): 444 @ 8,250
Top speed (mph): 174
0-60 mph (seconds): 4.5
Fuel economy (mpg): 26.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 249

How fast does a family car need to go? If you work in the RS division at Audi’s Ingolstadt headquarters in Bavaria, the answer to that question is probably somewhere in the region of 200 miles an hour. They still have some way to go but last month, the firm announced the RS 6, which, when it goes into production later this year, will have a top speed of 189mph. This brought Brake, the road-safety charity, out in sweats, and left petrolheads rubbing their hands with glee.

Audi already has a fast family estate, though. It’s called the RS 4 Avant and it will top out at a staggering 174mph. It’s just gone on sale and after 600 miles of testing in the Welsh borders and motorways of central England, I can confirm there is nowhere in the UK to test it to that speed on public roads. First, it would be against the law and I don’t want to lose my licence (and life) in a ball of fire and destruction. Second, the only place I could realistically hit that speed would have been on a runway. So while I did become well acquainted with the petrol stations of the Welsh borders, I didn’t get anywhere near its top speed.

You’ll probably be wondering what sort of family would want a car as fast as a Ferrari that they can never use. There isn’t really a good explanation but it’s designed for a generation of men who drove hot hatches in their youth. They may have graduated from hooning around Tesco’s car park with Nineties dance tracks booming from their stereo to picking up the kids and getting the shopping in the boot, but they still like speed. And if they’ve made enough dosh, the Audi RS 4 Avant is probably top of their list of rides.

Don’t get me wrong, the RS 4 is a fantastic thing – it’s just that you don’t need to go fast to realise that. It’s great at normal roads speed on the right B-Road. That’s because it has precise steering, an intuitive seven-speed automatic gearbox (one of the best I’ve ever tested), and permanent four-wheel drive to control its beastly 4.2-litre V8 engine, and it’s a joy to drive hard. And if you push it and hit the Dynamic switch (like all hot hatches, fast saloons and rapid estates, it gets a chunky sports button for this), the suspension firms up and it blips and grunts with every corner and down-shift. Not practical for the school run but joyous on a B-Road blast on a quiet Sunday morning.

The truth is that most of the time, the RS 4 will be used as a corporate cruiser or family wagon, and it does this very well, just like its more sedate cousin the standard A4 Avant. It doesn’t even look blingy or garish like many other fast estates. So you could have a sensible diesel version instead, but that’s no fun on a Sunday morning blast would it?