Let’s be brutally honest, station wagons have never caught on in South Africa. Manufacturers have dabbled in the segment – and still do, from time to time – but usually with little success.
Sedans used to be the local vehicle of choice, with SUVs taking over. But station wagons? No sir. I bet your average motorist will have trouble drawing up a decent list of the ones they’ve personally experienced during their lifetime.
I can’t even fill one hand. Let’s see: my late aunt’s very rare Mercedes-Benz 280TE when I was a boy; my colleague during a student job at a dairy drove an Opel Rekord Caravan and my former neighbour in a townhouse complex had a Kia Rio Wagon.
In the movies you had those ugly box-like Volvos, some worsened by horrendous wooden side panels which, ironically, still have a cult following in the US today.
Let’s face it, station wagons have never really been an aesthetic match for their alternatives. If a big sedan didn’t fit all your passengers and luggage back then and a SUV now, you would still consider a van or double cab with a canopy before a station wagon. But Audi has kicked the ugly ducking billing to the curb with the RS 4 Avant.
It’s not the German car maker’s first attempt at a station wagon. In fact, the model has been around for two decades but only launched locally for the first time last month as a high-performance offering alongside the RS 5 Sportback.
The Avant shares the 2.9-litre V6 TFS engine with its sibling and this impressive powertrain produces 331kW of power and 550Nm of torque through its eight-speed Steptronic gearbox. The two models are one and the same under the hood.
Aesthetically, the RS 4 Avant is so strikingly attractive that you hardly notice it’s a station wagon. The grille and the aggressive yet elegant lines running from the front headlamps – of which our unit sported optional Matrix LED technology – give the car an imposing look.
The low profile of the front and optional red calipers fitted to our test model, peering through the 20-inch titanium forged, fitted with extremely low-profile rubber, is simply mesmerising. And the reactions of pedestrians are testament to this. Even the rear end, highlighted by the twin oval tailpipes of the RS exhaust system, the RS roof spoiler and large brake lights are seductive and a far cry from those bulky boxy things from before.
In fact, to categorise this sleek and sexy number with a hideous ’80s Volvo is simply sacrilege. The sporty look continues in the dark interior with RS sports seats in Fine Nappa leather with diamond stitching and lumbar support, black headlining, a flat-bottomed RS multifunction sports steering wheel and stainless steel pedals.
As a fully digital alternative to the analogue circular speedometer and rev counter, the RS 4 Avant offers the Audi virtual cockpit and MMI Navigation Plus as standard. You have a comfortable ride, thanks to automatic climate control, MMI Navigation Plus with Audi virtual cockpit, Audi connect, Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound and Audi smartphone interface.
The assistance systems, including Audi pre-sense rear, Audi pre-sense basic, Audi side assist, parking system plus and rear-view camera system, supplement the extensive standard features, while our test unit’s additional Assistance Package also included pre-sense plus with traffic-jam assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping system and multifunction camera.
Road Test Editor Mark Jones also proved that the RS 4 Avant isn’t only sexy and safe, but lives up to its Audi performance badge. Jones managed to clock 4.37 seconds from 0-100km/h at Gerotek, which is quick in anybody’s book. It’s in line with the RS 5 Sportback, which recorded 4.1 sec a week before and the RS 5 coupe, which managed 4.17 sec during Mark’s test last year. The generous-sized rubber, optional quattro all-wheel drive, electronic-stability control and RS sports suspension plus dynamic ride control make the RS 4 a solid and sure-footed customer at high speeds.
The car certainly isn’t one you would want to take to the track every weekend. But it’s not built to tackle twisties at break-neck speeds. Like Jones says, this car is tailor made to cruise down the Autobahn to the Swiss Alps with skis in the back.
A fun weekend for Fritz und Gretha from Frankfurt all the way to Bern. South Africa might lack an Autobahn and snow, but the offering has enough going for it to make it appealing. It will offer Tshepo and Nomzi a comfortable cruise from Joburg to Polokwane with little Thandi and Sibo seated in luxury in the back and the family dog Nemo and their luggage sharing the boot.
The loveable lab should be fine, as the boot offers 505 litres of space, which can be increased to 1 510 litres with the rear seat folded down. And when Nomzi dozes off while receiving a divine lower back massage fitted to the front seats, Tshepo will not be able to resist the temptation to flirt with the wrong side of the law and put those six cylinders to good use. Providing Nomzi stays asleep, Tshepo will almost certainly opt for Sport in the drive select dynamic handling system and definitely sport a satisfied smile long into the bushveld. The claimed fuel consumption of 8.8l/100km is not going to hold in the real world.
Our test model returned figures of 12.7l/100km, but flooring the Avant from robot to robot – which is hard to resist – sees that shoot up to almost 15l/100km. The RS 4 Avant is priced at R1.211 million, with our model also featuring R247 164 of extras.
You will definitely find something a bit quicker in this bracket, while at the other end of the spectrum, you can get more space with considerably less horses in tow.
The RS 4 strikes a balance somewhere in between, offering performance yet ample space for four adults and plenty of boot space. With some sexiness to boot. The station wagon is dead, long live the station wagon.