The new Audi RS4 Avant is blisteringly quick, but does it have what it takes to beat Mercedes-AMG’s bad boy, the C63 S Estate?
*** Note : £1 = $1.39 (correct at time of post)
Audi RS4 Avant V6 TFSI quattro
List price £62,175
Target Price £61,625
New RS4 Avant marks a return to twin-turbo V6 power and its performance is explosive.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate 4.0 V8 Biturbo
List price £70,325
Target Price £65,707
Twin-turbo V8 and rear-wheel drive chassis: the perfect fast estate car combination?
In ideal conditions, a cheetah can accelerate from 0-60mph in around four seconds, a springbok can leap through the air at a velocity approaching the national speed limit and a peregrine falcon can generate 0.6g in a full dive. But despite what the Discovery Channel tells you, none of them holds the outright acceleration record for an animal.
No, that particular record belongs to a mate’s dog Sprocket, a 13-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, who recently experienced launch control in the new RS4 Avant, Audi’s four-wheel-drive performance estate car.
In fact, it takes just a quick look at the RS4’s spec sheet to realise why a dog harness is offered as an option. Powered by a new 444bhp twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 in place of the previous model’s 4.2-litre V8, the RS4 covers the 0-62mph sprint in a claimed 4.1sec and has a top speed (optionally derestricted) of 174mph, surely making it the quickest way to get your four-legged friend to the groomers.
Or is it? You see, Mercedes-AMG already fields a super-fast C-Class Estate in the same class, and it doesn’t look any less compelling now that the RS4 is back on the scene. With more power from its twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8, the C63 S Estate is capable of being a serious thorn in the RS4’s haunched side.
Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Whereas performance saloons can get by on good looks and sharp driving dynamics, their estate brethren have to fulfill a broader remit. Not only do buyers crave dynamic exuberance and neck-snapping performance, but such ability also needs to be wrapped up in a practical and refined package. And on this front, it’s the RS4 that delivers the first blow.
Fitted with optional Dynamic Ride Control (a system that uses three-mode dampers), the RS4 exhibits the kind of low-speed compliance that is usually reserved for luxury limos or plush SUVs. Where the C63bumps and thumps its way around urban routes, the RS4 smoothes out the worst of battered bitumen. Not since the McLaren 720S has a performance car impressed us so much with its comfort.
But, of course, the magic of the McLaren is that it offers up firmer responses and excellent body control when the roads become more challenging. And that’s where the RS4 begins to struggle. Left in Comfort mode, the RS4 feels like a fishing trawler caught in a storm, wallowing and pitching under acceleration and braking. Both Auto and Dynamic modes improve the RS4’s body control, but it never feels as well tied down as the conventionally suspended C63.
In fact, it is the rear-wheel drive C63 – a machine that has developed something of a bad boy reputation over the years – that gives you the most confidence on demanding roads. The RS4, with its vague dynamic steering and unpredictable handling, tends to leave you guessing on the way into corners, whereas the C63 positively bristles with feedback, with its feelsome steering and accelerator allowing you to exploit its potential at every opportunity.
The RS4’s four-wheel drive traction doesn’t net it much of an advantage in a straight line, either. Yes, from 0-60mph the RS4 fires out of the gate like a rocket-propelled greyhound (3.8sec versus 4.3sec), but at higher speeds the C63 claws back the advantage. Better yet, this muscular performance is accompanied by a delicious V8 growl and angry rasps from the tailpipes during upshifts.
The RS4 is altogether more subdued, generating less engine, wind and road noise than the C63 – so it’s less tiring on long journeys. However, for an Audi Sport product – a car that should excite and move in equal measure – it’s a little bit disappointing.
Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality
When choosing a regular estate, outright practicality often takes priority over everything else. But, of course, these are not normal estates, and therefore a good driving position and a luxurious interior are just as important. With that in mind, the RS4 is tough to fault; its diamond-stitched sports seats are both comfortable and supportive, while the highly adjustable fl at-bottomed steering wheel allows you to easily find your ideal driving position.
That said, the C63 feels like the sportier car from behind the wheel. You sit lower in the heavily bolstered AMG sports seats, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel, complete with aluminium gearshift paddles (the RS4’s are plastic), feels fantastic.
However, the RS4 claws back some points with its more user-friendly infotainment system, as well as Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit digital instrument dials. The interior also features a plethora of soft plastics, well-damped switches and beautiful chrome accents that feel a cut above the C63’s in outright quality.
Audi RS4 Avant
The RS4’s 8.3in screen is controlled by twisting and pressing a dial between the front seats. It’s an easy system to use, thanks to its slick, intuitive menus, and you even get a touchpad for handwriting addresses. Satnav is included as standard and features dynamic route guidance, which takes traffic into account. The main highlight for audiophiles, however, will be the standard subwoofer-equipped hi-fi, which sounds terriffic.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate
Like the RS4, the C63’s infotainment system is controlled using a rotary dial. The 8.4in screen is crisp and clear, but the menus are confusing and the system can be slow to respond. Frustratingly, the optional (£2595) Premium Package, which comes with an impressive Burmester sound system, also brings with it a head room-robbing panoramic roof. Therefore, buyers will have to decide between good sound and rear passenger comfort.
Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot
Look past the performance and you’ll find that both the C63 and RS4 are as practical as the regular models on which they’re based.
That means it’s the RS4 that offers the more usable boot space, thanks to its extra length and larger aperture. The RS4 swallowed seven carry-on suitcases in our tests, whereas the C63 could manage only six.
The C63 does have some advantages, though. It has a smaller loading lip (just 2cm high), comes with a fold-out basket for your shopping and has one-touch switches at the boot opening that drop the rear seatbacks. The RS4 makes do with handles on the walls of the boot that do the same job but aren’t as convenient.
As for rear passenger space, the C63 offers fractionally more leg and head room, although there’s less space for your feet under its front seats.
Audi RS4 Avant
- Official boot capacity 505-1510 litres
- Suitcase capacity 7
Both cars come equipped with 40/20/40 folding rear seats that might make your occasional trip to Ikea a far less stressful affair. However, the RS4 has a smaller step between the boot floor and folded seatbacks.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate
- Official boot capacity 490-1510 litres
- Suitcase capacity 6
C63 has handy one-touch switches at its boot opening that drop the rear seats, whereas the RS4 only has manual levers. Head room is reduced by the optional panoramic roof, but the C63 has more leg and head room than the RS4.
Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
Some of you might be wondering why we decided to compare the new RS4 against the range-topping C63 S, rather than the regular C63. Well, simply put, it’s because more than half of buyers opt for the S version and some huge discounts are available.
For around £8000 more than the standard car, you get an extra 34bhp, an electronic limited-slip differential, larger-diameter brake discs, 19in alloy wheels and those wonderful AMG Performance front seats.
Obviously, this creates a price disparity between the C63 S and RS4 if you’re paying cash; even with a discount included, the C63 S is more expensive. However, most buyers will go down the route of financing, and here the C63 actually undercuts the RS4 by a sizeable margin. And that’s before you consider that the C63 S is also cheaper to insure and less thirsty.
But as with most Audis, the RS4 is predicted to hold onto its value extremely well. In fact, if you buy outright and sell after three years, the RS4 will cost you fractionally less to own overall.
The RS4 does plenty of things very well indeed. It’s classy inside, has a super infotainment system and, when equipped with optional Dynamic Ride Control at least, rides surprisingly smoothly.
The trouble is, all of these things are virtues of the regular A4 Avant and none of them marks out a good performance car – which is what the RS4 is supposed to be. Yes, it’s fast off the line, but its engine doesn’t feel or sound all that exciting and its handling is neither rewarding nor especially competent.
Meanwhile, the C63 manages to wrap up accessible performance, trustworthy stability and foolproof traction in a thoroughly entertaining package. The fact it’s so family-friendly only sweetens the deal.
1st – Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate
For Far more involving handling; sportier-feeling interior; stronger performance
Against Choppy ride; less usable boot space; so-so infotainment system
Specifications: Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate
- Engine size V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo, petrol
- List price £70,325
- Target Price £65,707
- Power 503bhp @ 5500rpm
- Torque 516lb ft @ 1750rpm
- Gearbox 7-spd automatic
- 0-60mph 4.3sec
- Top speed 180mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 33.6mpg
- CO2 emissions 196g/km
2nd – Audi RS4 Avant
For Quicker off the line; better-quality interior; slicker infotainment; comfy ride
Against Uninformative handling; slower mid-range acceleration; less rear space
Specifications: Audi RS4 Avant
- Engine V6, 2894cc, twin-turbo, petrol
- List price £62,175
- Target Price £61,625
- Power 444bhp @ 5700rpm
- Torque 443lb ft @ 1900rpm
- Gearbox 8-spd automatic
- 0-60mph 3.8sec
- Top speed 174mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 32.1mpg
- CO2 emissions 199g/km