The Audi RS4 is back. The wraps have come off the BMW M3 rival’s third iteration, and in a return to its roots, you can only buy it in Avant estate form. The previous RS4 is one of the best fast Audis, and this one is altogether more potent. Its 4.2-litre V8 engine is identical to the RS5 coupe’s, boasting 444bhp and 317lb ft. Thanks to good old natural aspiration – there’s no turbo or supercharging here – maximum power arrives at 8250rpm, rewarding you for hanging onto every gear. Acceleration is a smidge slower than in the RS5 – 0-62mph takes a claimed 4.7sec – while the electronically limited 155mph top speed can be upped to 174mph should you ask Audi nicely. As with its coupe sibling, Quattro all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox are standard fit. The latter’s fitted with a launch control function to aid standing starts.
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The Quattro system gets a crown-gear centre differential, which distributes the power between front and rear axles as required. Up to 70 per cent can be sent to the front wheels, while as much as 85 per cent can go to the rear. (The default ratio is 40:60 front/rear). A torque vectoring system can brake inside wheels to assist during cornering, while Audi’s optional sport differential actively varies power between the rear wheels. Further technology includes an electromechanical power steering system, which helps keep the car straight during low-grip braking, and a drive select system that offers up comfort, auto and dynamic modes for the steering, gearbox and throttle response. This setup can be made more complex yet via the optional fitment of ‘dynamic steering’ and ‘sport suspension plus’. Thankfully, the RS4 Avant’s styling is much easier to fathom out. It’s typically subtle fast Audi fare, riding 20mm lower than a regular A4 Avant while gaining aluminium-look grilles and mirror caps and your choice of 19 or 20in forged alloy wheels. These shroud beefy standard brakes, with internally vented discs, or lightweight carbon ceramic stoppers if you’ve been particularly frivolous with the options-box ticking. The 2012 Audi RS4 Avant will be unveiled at March’s Geneva motor show, when we can expect more information on UK prices and specs. A £60,000 starting price looks likely, though, aiming the RS4 square on at the Mercedes C63 AMG Estate.