It’s hard to create an introduction for the Audi RS4. It began life in 2001, with Audi’s B5 platform powered by a modified twin-turbocharged Cosworth 2.7-litre V6 from the S4. After only one year in production (only available as an Avant), production ceased. That was until 2006, when Audi announced the arrival of the B7 based RS4, available in sedan, avant and cabriolet. This sent autophiles around the world into frenzy.
Competing against BMW’s M3 and Mercedes’ C55 AMG (and soon to be C63 AMG), Audi had a big task ahead of them. With technically only one year of production practice with the RS4, most questioned the RS4’s ability – that was of course until they drove it.
With that in mind, I rushed over to Audi to grab the keys and hit the road, not knowing what to expect.
The inner –
It’s everything a super-car wants to be. Getting in and out is certainly no task for the faint-hearted. A short loss of concentration will lead to a firm prod between the cheeks from the RS4’s insanely supportive race seats.
Once in the seats though, the massive pews ensure that the only movement that occurs will be that from the bowel due to barrelling through corners at ludicrous speeds.
The driver and front passenger’s seats have electrically adjustable side bolsters (lower and upper) that can vary the hugging intensity. The seats look like those featured in Skaife’s V8 Supercar, let alone a road-going soccer-mum lookin’ wagon – as eloquently described by one passer by.
Normally I would bitch about the fact that a $170,000 car doesn’t have steering wheel audio controls. Not this time, mainly because the audio controls have been replaced with several buttons – an S button, a Set button and + and – buttons. “Outrageous” I hear you say, “au contraire” I rebut. The latter three buttons control different aspects of the vehicle’s menu system, including the lap timing function for those occasional track outings.
The S button mounted on the steering wheel does everything short of sexual arousal – as that comes later when you nail the throttle. Hitting the S button causes the driver’s side bolsters to tighten and it also opens up two butterfly valves at the end of the exhaust, creating a noise that can only be described as a category five hurricane meeting a heavy metal concert – times three. The audible level of engine noise from the inside of the car is commendable. Audi did away with any fancy noise deadening, instead opting for a brilliant amount of V8 rumble. One grumble I had with the steering wheel was the dodgy RS4 badge that kept falling out of the bottom of the steering wheel!
In lieu of the missing steering wheel controls, all audio functions are controlled by the Audi MMI. The RS4 comes standard with a colour LCD screen which includes satellite navigation, television, radio and CD functions. The screen can also be flipped down to reveal two SD memory card slots, along with a DVD slot (for the navigation data).
The aluminium faced pedals are perfectly spaced and also constantly grippe. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve jumped into a car with damp soles and almost continuously slipped off the pedals. The brake and accelerator pedals are also spaced closely enough for heel-toe braking, catering for the slightly more enthusiastic folks. The gear lever is also aluminium shod and feels like pushing a spoon through soft honey when shifting, it’s an absolute hoot to drive with.
Although the rear seats don’t hug passengers anywhere near as much as the front seats, they still offer fantastic support for hard cornering and hair-raising driving. Leg room in the rear is often limited due to the shape of the front seat backrests, resulting in a slightly cramped compartment for larger folk.
The BOSE sound system is a pretty decent unit. With 10-speakers and 190-watts of pumping power, the output is good enough for most punters. The 6-stack CD-changer is housed in the glove box. Sure, it’s tucked away from sight but it’s a pain in the rear to reach across to the glove box from the driver’s seat to pull CDs out. In addition to that, most manufacturers use an in-dash CD-changer system, Audi would certainly benefit from a similar arrangement.
An issue common to all Australian delivered A4s is the annoying position of the centre armrest. Although comfortable, the centre armrest is constantly in the way of the handbrake handle. Reaching the handbrake handle with the armrest down is a task in itself; it’s a case of bending your arm around the front of the armrest to grab onto the handbrake handle, and once latched on, the armrest needs to either be lifted out of the way or pushed out of the way with the motion of the handbrake.
The boot is extremely spacious considering the sole purpose of the vehicle. There is no spare tyre under the boot floor (not even a space saver), it’s in-turn replaced by a tyre repair kit which includes an air-compressor and sealant solution that can be inserted into the tyre to cover up any holes. The amplifier for the sound system, along with the satellite navigation DVD console and subwoofer are located to the left and right of the boot, inside a side pocket, conveniently hidden away out of sight.
In general, the interior is a great place to be. Some people complain about the firmness of the seats over long distances, but with the compliance of the suspension over rough surfaces, I never found this to be an issue.
The outer –
Aside from the gigantic brakes, the RS4 Avant looks like any other Audi A4 wagon. Some may find that totally absurd for a $170,000 car, in fact, I find it totally acceptable.
The lucky few who actually knew what the RS4 was almost ran their cars off the road when I came in the opposite direction. Those lucky few knew exactly what this wolf in sheep’s clothing is capable of.
From a distance, the ultra-flared wheel arches and lowered, muscular stance give the car away. There are also two RS4 badges on the rear edge of the side body kit, along with an RS4 badge on the grille and one on the rear. From rear-on, there are two massive oval shaped exhaust pipes that emit the dirtiest sound this side of a Metallica guitar solo at full flight.
The unique RS4, 19” alloy wheels fill most of the low-profile Michelin tyres, whilst the optional cross-drilled ceramic brakes fill almost every single inch of the 19” alloy. A set of metallic silver roof racks also add support in the event of a rollover.
Most sports cars nowadays have faux holes attached to the front air dam to look slightly more impressive. The RS4 is no exception, except these two air inlets are certainly anything but faux. The two air inlets positioned to the far left and far right bottom corners of the front spoiler provide air to two small radiators attached to the front bar. There are also two sets of fins on either end of these air inlets that act as an exhaust for the air after it has circulated through the small radiator.
On the road –
The first few words that came out of my mouth after dropping the throttle were “Ho-ly sh-it, this is f’en insane!” I honestly wasn’t expecting this fire-breathing, toned down version of hell to be so damn responsive and exhilarating – and this was before I had even considered touching the S button.
The first thing I noticed about driving the RS4 was the absolute ease involved in operating it. The clutch is springy, yet short. The brake feel is just…oh my God and the steering is simply to die for. The steering wheel is just absolute bliss, whilst the turning ratio is on par with that of the Mitsubishi Evolution IX.
Starting the RS4 involves a key and a finger, one for the ignition barrel and one for the starter button. Once the key’s in the right spot, the starter button surrounding lights up red and a quick jab of the button sends the starter motor into a hurried frenzy, pumping power to turn the RS4 over.
The RS4 is a grumpy little shit when started from a cold start. If you listen closely to the engine, it sits there repetitively barking at you like a traditional V8. There’s none of this noise deadening malarky, anyone in a 20 metre radius will know that the RS4 is warming up and getting ready for combat. Even after starting the car and pulling away, the RS4 jolts back and forth until it’s had time to get warm and wake up. It feels like such a raw car…that’s what I love about it.
After a few clicks of soft driving, the engine’s at operating temperature. I was constantly amazed just how easy the RS4 was to drive with minimal attention in traffic. Changing gears is a one finger job and rowing through the cogs is seamless and fuss-free, making the RS4 a viable daily cruiser.
A few days driving in city conditions was enough for me, so I packed some lunch and headed toward my favourite test track – The Great Ocean Road. Our sexy lookin’ test vehicle was fitted with a set of neck-bending brakes that are the size of small children.
The $13,000 8-pot ceramic, cross-drilled brakes measured 380mm up front and 356mm at the rear. The front brakes literally fill the entire 19” alloy wheels, any larger and they’d be rubbing against the alloy wheels. These things have a guaranteed service life of up to 300,000 kilometres and are 50% lighter – per wheel – than regular steel discs. A few things that I noticed with these brakes are that they tend to squeal when they’re cold and work optimally when they’ve had a bit of heat stored in them.
After overtaking a horde of slow-moving traffic (at err…legal speeds) I arrived at the 20km twisty section of road right before my first stop. At this point I tapped the S button on the steering wheel. After a moment the seats started hugging me in tightly and the two butterfly valves on the exhaust flapped open to yell at anything and anyone in a 5km radius. The S (Sport) mode sharpens accelerator response (quite dramatically) and changes the RS4 from a loutish vigilante into a semi-psychotic, axe wielding mad man.
I arrived at the first sharp, low-speed bend with caution, not quite sure what the Audi would do. After braking for the bend, I turned in and started jumping on the throttle to exit. It was bloody impressive; up came the next bend, same story, this time with a bit more speed and power on the exit. This time it was bloody awesome. Along came the next hard bend. This time around I piled in some more speed and nailed the throttle earlier, the grip was just insane, it simply felt endless.
This immense amount of grip is due to Audi’s stellar quattro all-wheel-drive system, coupled with the mechanical torsen differential. Also adding to the equation are the tyres – Michelin Pilot Sport (255/35 R19 all round) at $850 per corner.
After stopping for some lunch and to admire the Avant’s stunning disposition, I trekked forth.
With some confidence in the car, I was eager to push a bit harder. I arrived at a hairpin bend that I’ve only ever taken at 50km/h maximum before. I dropped down to second gear at around 4000rpm and braced myself for the bend. I hit the bend at 60km/h and start turning in at half a lock. Halfway through the bend I look down at the speedo and I’m doing 70km/h before jumping back onto the throttle for the exit of the corner. I’m left gob-smacked at the insanity I had just witnessed. Newton’s laws had me parking the Audi between two gum trees off the edge of the corner, yet I managed to push through harder than ever before without even the slightest twitch of hesitation.
One of the amicable traits of this engine is how far it can be revved in gear. You can travel just north of 8000rpm (8250rpm) before the rev limiter cuts in. Yes, you read it right, 8000rpm…in a V8. Normally cogs need to be exchanged on the exit of a corner to pile on further speed, the hearty 4.2-litre Audi V8 simply wants to keep revving, it’s just an absolute fallacy.
Throughout the entire torture session, the brakes didn’t fade once, not even damn close. The entire time I was able to jump on the anchors, wipe off a heap of speed and not have to worry about lack of brake pressure or smoke billowing out of the wheel arches.
The noise coming from the engine and exhaust at 7000rpm is simply to die for. From afar anyone could be mistaken by thinking a fighter jet was coming over the horizon, it’s a noise that V8s used to make years ago, before dB intervention and pollution limits were introduced. The RS4 does away with all that rubbish and gives the driver one of the rawest cars available on the market.
The steering is just sublime. The steering ratio is short and sharp, whilst the communication through the wheel makes it feel like you are actually directly connected to each tyre. The weight of the steering is quite pronounced, meaning that a bit of hard work is required to steer this rig – and that’s a good thing.
You won’t be jolted around the cabin when driving over some Aussie B-grade roads either. Although the suspension is compliant and keeps the RS4 flat through a bend, it absorbs bumps nicely and creates a subtle and caring ride for passengers.
The quattro all-wheel-drive system employed in the RS4 uses a totally mechanical torsen differential that sends power to wheels depending on the levels of inertia and torque that it detects. The system isn’t even electronic – it’s entirely mechanical – which proves that computers and gizmo-gadgets are not the be all and end all in motoring.
To give you an insight into the way the system aids driving, here’s an example of what it felt like. After entering a corner and jumping on the throttle on the exit, the faster you went, the more stable it felt. There was never a point where the car felt like it wanted to understeer off the road; it was entirely compliant the entire time. The proof of the torsen’s ability could be seen when releasing the throttle mid way through a hard bend. There would be no power going to the wheels and it would feel like any other car being pushed through a corner.
Grip to the road was aided by a set of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (255/35 R19), retailing for $850 per corner. This would have to be some of the best rubber I have ever tested, seldom squealing and making a fuss.
It’s hard to imagine that Audi engineers have gone so far above and beyond with the RS4. Even in avant form, it boasts absolutely remarkable performance and never wants to fight the driver. There were times during hard driving where I would have to stop for a moment to try and comprehend what had just happened. During the experience, everything feels natural and un-aided, when in reality, trying anything like that in an Aussie sports car would result in all sorts of dramas.
On the road, the Audi RS4 is practical enough to use day-in-day-out without any issues. It’s complacent enough to putter around the city, whilst at the tap of a button; it becomes one of those cars that you will read about in history books years down the track.
The best part about it is that rich, pompous nits who don’t know how to drive won’t bother buying the Audi RS4, simply because it doesn’t demand as much attention as a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. That’s why you can be assured that people driving the RS4 know about their cars and know exactly what to look for in a sports car.
Under the hood –
It’s pretty unique, a dirty big V8 in a car the size of an A4, it almost defies logic. After opening the bonnet, all you see is V8 and nothing else. Everyone I showed the engine to simply stopped and looked for a few minutes, uttering not a single word and staring in total awe.
Watching the engine sit there makes the brain sizzle, wondering how this thing can perform the stunts it does. The engine sits extremely far forward, it almost sits outside of the car. My initial thoughts were understeer, but with a natural 60 percent power bias to the rear, it manages to belay the horrid trait. Plates of carbon fibre are used for labelling, reducing weight to an absolute minimum.
At 7800rpm (that’s not a typo!) the 4.2-litre V8 produces 309 of the sweetest kilowatts you will ever experience. At 5500rpm, the 32-valve (with two inlet and two sodium-cooled outlet valves per cylinder) exhumes 430Nm of torque. This combination of potent lunacy is enough to propel the RS4 from naught to one-hundred clicks per hour in just 4.8-seconds. And let me tell you, plenty of unsuspecting traffic light duellers found that out the hard way.
Fuel consumption is 13.5-litres/100km during a combined cycle. During harder driving, expect this figure to increase, possibly into the twenties.
Price, safety and options –
The Audi RS4 is available in three guises. There’s the sedan, avant (being test driven) and the cabriolet. They retail for $164,500, $168,100 and $187,500 respectively.
The standard features list is quite comprehensive in the RS4 – being the most expensive A4 based vehicles on offer. You can expect to see: Front and rear parking sensors; anti-theft alarm including interior monitoring and tow-away protection; front and rear fog lights; Bi-xenon adaptive headlights with washers; metallic paint; security engine immobiliser; dual-zone climate control with pollen filter; cruise control; electric windows; electric mirrors; auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors; RS sports seats; leather upholstery; RS steering wheel; navigation plus, DVD based with integrated TV tuner; BOSE sound system with 10-loudspeakers and 6-stack CD player; rain sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights.
Safety features are certainly not overlooked either. Standard across the RS4 range are: Driver and passenger airbags with dual-stage inflation depending on severity of impact; Electronic Stability Control (ESP); ABS brakes; Electronic Differential Lock (EDL); Anti Slip Regulation (ASR); Brake Assist (BA); quattro all-wheel-drive with asymmetric and dynamic torque distribution; servotronic speed-sensitive steering; side airbags for rear passengers; curtain airbags for front and rear passengers; sports suspension with Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
There are a few options available across the RS4 range, these include: Black exterior styling package; ceramic brakes (fitted to test vehicle - $13,000); double glazing of windows; electric glass sunroof; electric solar sunroof; multifunction sports steering wheel (not in RS4 design) and seat heating for front seats.
I spent most of the time explaining what the RS4 was to people. It would be rare to come across somebody who would fall over backwards when I uttered that two letter, one number combo. That, in my opinion, is what defines a truly unique car. The Audi RS4 has the ability to out-handle almost any production vehicle this side of $300k and to think that most “car people” are oblivious to its existence is pure seduction.
In most cases, you would find me whinging about the lack of electric seat adjustment in a $170,000 car. With the RS4, I honestly didn’t care; the sheer rawness of the thing had me from hello – or “depress clutch pedal to start engine” to be more precise.
Coughing and spluttering before the car was warm, dismal braking performance on cold-start applications and even a dodgy steering wheel badge that kept falling out couldn’t have bothered me in the slightest.
Audi should be forced – by the Government and the motoring journalists’ guild – to offer counselling for RS4 withdrawal symptoms. Almost anything that I ever drive from here-on-in will always be just that little bit less than the RS4 was. I almost had to have my hands pried open when handing the keys to the blue wagon back. I tried pretending that I had lost the keys and the car had been stolen…but they caught my bluff – and I now subsequently have a restraining order against me, but that’s not for here.
Although I shouldn’t admit this – as it would show bias…or something like that. I am utterly and totally in love with this car. It’s not even remotely unreasonable to ask $170,000 for this thing, it could cost $200,000 and I would still wholeheartedly recommend it. With that said, no car is ever perfect, but in my eyes, the Audi RS4 is damn near enough, that’s why I’m giving this thing five stars out of five. Don’t like it? Sue me.
If you ever get the chance to drive one of these – or even sit as a passenger – go for it, it’s an experience that you will never forget. It’s something that I will remember right up until I hit the grave.
CarAdvice rating (out of five):
- Paul Maric