Japanese Art of Kaizen displayed in latest Audi RS4 Avant
Kaizen defines as the oriental art of ‘continuous improvement’ and, suggests Iain Robertson, we appear to have been inundated this year by continuously updated and improved versions of Audi’s RS models that have been celebrating its 25th anniversary in fine style.
By some model-naming quirk, Ford Motor Company found that it was unable to register RS as its own nomenclature for its sportiest models. As a result, it now shares the stand-out letter combination with Audi, albeit with the German brand also factoring-in uniquely a model number.
For Audi, it all started with the RS2, which was based ironically on the Audi 80, later to be known as A4. The company was unsure clearly of how its ‘Renn Sport’ model might pan out. It requested support from Porsche’s engineering arm, which had small-run production space available, with the conclusion of the Mercedes-Benz 500E contract.
The eminently practical estate car was engineered mostly at Audi but Porsche worked on the 2.2-litre five-cylinder engine to hike its power up to 311bhp. Naturally, the quattro drivetrain was central to the 1.6-tonne model’s development and it boasted a 0-60mph acceleration time of just 4.5s, with a top speed of 166mph. Put into perspective, it was marginally quicker than the McLaren F1 sportscar of the time (1994) and a match in its 0-30mph time of 1.5s with Jacques Villeneuve’s F1 racing car!
From an initial plan to sell just 2,200 examples, a remarkable 2,891 were built, of which a mere 180 were produced in right-hand drive form. Porsche did not miss the opportunity to apply its name to the tailgate and brake callipers, while Porsche Cup alloy wheels (17.0-inch diameter) and door mirror housings completed the transformation.
Moving on 25 years, the most important aspect of improving anything is to make it noticeable. Kaizen principles are clearly evident in all aspects, from the car’s deep and lustrous paint finish, to the perfect stitching of the upholstery. While the RS line-up is unashamed in its breadth of expansion, at no stage is a retrograde step taken. This is never more obvious than with the latest RS4 Avant; the spiritual successor to the original RS2. As a mainstay of the RS line-up, the revised design stance is stretched to new limits, with an integrated, gloss black, front radiator grille, even bolder wheel arches and a blisteringly rapid, 444bhp, bi-turbo-petrol V6, 2.9-litre engine. Visually different, its sensorial appeal is on another plane.
The newcomer is set for launch in early-2020, around which time the UK prices will be confirmed, however, it is a powerhouse of memorable status, capable of scorching from 0-60mph in a mere 3.8s, the engine weighs just 182kgs, which benefits its dynamic qualities immensely. Armed with 442lbs ft of torque from less than 2,000rpm to almost 5,500rpm, its maximum speed (when specified in RS Dynamic form) is given as an electronically restricted 174mph (normally 155mph). By installing the twin turbochargers within the vee of the inline engine, it is a remarkably compact under-bonnet design. According to the latest WLTP rating, it is capable of 30.7mpg, with CO2 emissions pegged at 211g/km. Allied to its probable (well over £40k) price tag, it is going to present a hefty annual road tax bill to its buyers.
The quattro drivetrain allows constantly variable torque to be supplied to either end of the car, which ensures the ultimate handling agility and traction, regardless of conditions. The driver needs to forget all about the conventions of under, or oversteer, because the drivetrain adapts constantly to create a neutral handling envelope. No matter how hard the RS4 is pushed into a bend, it manages the torque transition to precisely where it can be of greatest and safest benefit. Yet, the taut feedback and near roll-free handling characteristics prove to be surprisingly entertaining to the driver and do not detract one iota from the RS4’s engaging driving capabilities.
Delicious feedback from the steering wheel highlights that Audi’s engineers have worked hard to retain expected levels of driver involvement. The weighty steering can be a little lifeless, or remote, around the straight-ahead position but it loads-up evenly, as soon as the wheel is turned, and remains constant in its reactions, self-centring religiously during manoeuvres. Not having the opportunity to drive the ceramic braking option, the standard steels provide assured stopping power, with minimal fade, after repeated applications.
The standard 19.0-inch forged alloys can be swapped (at extra cost) for 20.0-inch alternatives and, if the standard brake system proves insufficient, the ceramic system is available as an high cost option. The customary MMI (the rotary controller) and touchscreen have been improved, the central touch display now being 10.1-inches and featuring a new touch-sensitive operation, with acoustic feedback. The range of information pages that can be drawn-up verges on mind-boggling, providing temperature and pressure readings from various spots around the car. As with the main digital instrument display, it can be reconfigured to driver requirements and accessed via an RS button on the steering wheel.
Lowering the rear seats, using the electric release catches located on the offside panel, just inside the boot, expands the boot capacity from a well-shaped 495-litres to 1,495-litres, having gained electric access to the boot in the first place. The rest of the interior is familiar RS fayre, with diamond stitched Nappa hide covering the seats and door cards and coloured mood lighting (from a selectable choice of around 30 shades) picking out the centre console and door areas. The overall quality is exceptional, because Audi has a long-standing reputation to live up to.
Conclusion: Pitched a useful step down from the RS6 Avant model, the RS4 has always been the more affordable and accessible choice, while possessing some historical relevance. It is stunningly good to look at and compact enough to make every driving experience a genuine thrill.