If I had a dirham for every time someone asked me what the best car I've ever driven is, I'd be sitting on a rather large nest egg. Unfortunately for me, there's never anyone stood around dishing out the cash at the opportune moment and, unfortunately for the inquisitor, it's a question I am unable to answer. Fastest? Veyron Super Sport. Most expensive? See previous answer. Most exciting? Ferrari 288 GTO. Most luxurious? Rolls-Royce Phantom II. The list could go on and on.
When it comes to the coolest car, that's another toughie, but I can safely say that the coolest new car I've driven so far this year is this one: the stonking Audi RS4 Avant. It's unusual enough to see an estate car (station wagon if you must) in this region but the RS4 Avant immediately sets out its stall as being different from anything else out there. In Europe, both the RS4 and RS6 are only available in this body style, due to a lack of customer demand for the normal four-door saloons, and I'm happy enough about that. Somehow this thing just looks better. A low and mean stance, gorgeous alloys, a deep, metallic blue paintjob with a gaping, black radiator and those blistered wheel-arches all point to the fact that, while the RS4 Avant might be able to swallow a decent payload, it's still - first and foremost - a driver's car.
Audi Middle East has been receiving enquiries about the Avant for some time, so it has decided to offer it to the region's petrolhead customers, with the RS6 Avant arriving next year. For now, this is as mental as "practical" Audis get, and with the high-revving engine from a 4.2L R8 under its muscular bonnet, it's never going to be short on firepower.
The enormous, twin tailpipes are a definite visual clue as to this Audi's performance potential, but it's once that normally-aspirated masterpiece of a V8 is fired up that the pulse really starts to quicken. A cacophony erupts, sending big vibrations through the surrounding roads and pavements - no estate car was supposed to be this raucous. When an engine is this physical, it practically begs to be given the opportunity to show what it's capable of, so who am I to resist?
Aboard the A4 Avant, it manages to surpass even Audi's normal, exceedingly high, cabin standards. The seats are hugging without being restrictive, the carbon fibre trim manages not to jar, the controls fall easily to hand and everything looks, feels and actually is incredibly tactile, well designed and exceedingly well built. With the engine running, the car feels totally wired and ready for action. It feels indestructible.
That feeling of solidity makes itself known in the RS4's ride, too. The steering, at low speeds, is daintily light and becomes weightier when you pile on the speed (which really doesn't take long) and this is when you start to notice that this Audi is something of an acquired taste. Because, for the uninitiated, it might comes across as too unforgiving for anything but the racetrack. "It's a bit stiff," said my rear seat passenger this morning, as she bounced up and down.
"Ah. That will be the Dynamic mode," I explained while punching at the car's "Drive Select" button, until Comfort mode was displayed on the small screen between the two main dials. Immediately, the RS4 became more manageable. Still stiff, yes, but definitely something most of us could live with. All I was doing was experimenting on an arrow-straight, perfectly smooth stretch of road, and Dynamic mode showed itself to be for only those of a psychotic disposition.
Having said that, you can still tailor the car's ride, brakes, steering and throttle response to your own personal preference. Selecting Dynamic for the steering and throttle response while leaving everything else in the normal Comfort mode, for instance, results in my own favourite set-up, but it's easy to see how unfamiliarity could make you hate this car. You need to fiddle with it to make it right for you.
Naturally, the RS4 Avant is brimming with the latest quattro all-wheel-drive technology, yet here it does little to sully the driving experience. You can't help but feel connected to this machine, as though you're plugged into it. It reacts to your inputs with alarming alacrity, yet it's a doddle to pilot through heavy city traffic. It corners flat and true, inspiring huge levels of confidence, and its brakes wipe off speed before you know it. With 450hp at your disposal, it's good to know that Audi still takes its safety responsibilities seriously.
This car, on the right road, with the right passengers, would be epic fun. That it looks so good and can make a case for being the main family transportation makes it possibly the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. It's devastatingly quick, built like a tank and sounds utterly intoxicating. And yes, it's an estate car. Which makes it different and distinctive, and very cool, indeed.
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