There are those who would criticize the Audi RS4 Cabriolet, saying the big V-8 engine in its nose only amplifies the under steering tendencies of its Quattro all-wheel-drive system; that it costs a truckload of cash; and that a cloth top couldn’t be as good as a folding metal roof—like most convertibles du jour. To which the only reply can be: fie, pish, and pshaw!
As V-8s go, this one is at the top of the timing chain. You may know this power-plant from such vehicles as the much-lauded R8 supercar. It’s an all-aluminum 4.2-liter that uses direct fuel injection to cook up 420 horsepower at 7800 rpm and 317 pound-feet of torque at 5500 rpm. That is an impressive output of 100 horsepower per liter—without forced induction. So no turbo lag, just eager throttle response. And 90 percent of maximum torque is on tap from 2250 to 7600 rpm.
Small cars for big bucks is not usually the rule of thumb automobile manufacturers employ to lure customers into their dealers’ showrooms.
But, most rules have their exceptions and German manufacturer Audi has a few of them for sale right now. The car I’m talking about is the Audi RS 4, the most potent offspring of its bread-and-butter A4 sedan.
Most people, understandably, will find it hard to comprehend why anyone would spend $70,000 or more on a car whose usefulness can be duplicated for half that price, or less.
But for a few well-to-do driving enthusiasts with an appreciation of excellence, a need for some real-world practicality and a passion for a world-class driving experience, this Audi might just make the most sense of all. Developed by Audi’s tuning division, the Quattro GmbH is a closer relative to Audi’s exoticar – the voluptuous two-seat R8 coupe – than it is to the look-alike A4 sedans that cart commuters and small families from place to place.
And, “look-alike” should not be confused with “looks the same.” The RS 4 sits 1.2 inches lower than its counterpart, the front wheels are spread 1.5 inches further apart, the rear wheels are nearly two inches further apart, and there are numerous subtle trim differences.
In addition, practically every mechanical part of the RS 4 has been upgraded, strengthened or revised to make it a sports sedan of nearly unparalleled competence.
A sharp-eyed driver behind the Audi RS 4 might notice the larger tires on the car. The cozy interior is packed with everything a performance driver could desire.
The RS 4′s kinship to the vaunted R8 is in the engine compartments, where the two seemingly dissimilar vehicles house identical versions of Audi’s most spectacular V-8 engine, An almost completely re-engineered and strengthened version of the 4.2-liter powerplant found in several other Audi models, it features direct fuel injection, two double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
The result is 420 horsepower, 317 pounds-feet of torque, a redline of 8,250 rpm and 0-60 times of less than five seconds. Sounds like a high-strung, unfriendly brute fit more for the racetrack than the daily commute, right? Wrong!
With maximum torque available throughout most of its power band, this V-8 will pull the two-ton Audi sedan along just as willingly at 25 mph in 6th gear as it will race eagerly to its rev limiter.
Nearly every mechanical part of the Audi RS 4 has been upgraded, strengthened or revised.
From inside the car, it never sounds as if it’s working hard. But, stand by the side of the road as it streaks past in “sport” mode and you’ll hear, even feel, its powerful forces at work. Heck, it’s even able to return 20-plus miles per gallon of premium fuel when handled gently.
For the record, the EPA estimates fuel mileage at 14 per gallon around town and 21 on the highway and that qualifies the RS 4 for a stiff gas-guzzler tax.
A six-speed manual transmission, the only one available, is the perfect partner for the engine, with gears precisely spaced to extract the most the engine has to offer and a short-throw shifter that snicks effortlessly from cog to cog. The clutch, too, is light, with a smooth uptake.
The specially tuned aluminum sport suspension, featuring a four-link setup at the front wheels and double wishbones in back, is primarily responsible for the twin responsibilities of agility and a comfortable ride. But it has help.
With the engine forward of the front axle, the RS4 has a weight bias that would normally give the sedan a fair amount of under steer.
Thanks to Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control, which reduces body roll and pitch, the car handles neutrally in most circumstances.
In addition, Audi’s trademark Quattro all-wheel-drive system directs 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear in normal driving situations to enhance the car’s handling ability. When conditions require, it automatically assigns power to the wheels with the most traction.
The car is also equipped with stability control, which will intervene to help keep it on its intended path if an overzealous driver heads into a corner too fast. Expert drivers who can find a time and a place to explore the RS 4 at its limits can turn the system off.
A powerful car needs powerful brakes, so the engineers have attached pizza-sized discs and cooling ducts to the 19-inch wheels in a system originally developed for race cars.
Finally, the power-assisted steering offers strong directional stability and plenty of feedback.
With all of the emphasis on all-out performance, one might expect the RS 4 to have at least a few rough edges. Not so. It is also a luxury car in the truest sense of the word, with Silk Nappa leathery upholstery and all the comfort and convenience accessories one would expect to find in one of Audi’s limousine-like A8 sedans. It also comes with a full complement of safety features.
You can take mom on a leisurely Sunday drive and she’ll never suspect that you actually spent all of that money to satisfy the wannabe racer that lurks inside all driving enthusiasts.
Audi understands the limited appeal of this high-priced small sedan, no matter how intoxicating its qualities, so it ships them to the United States in extremely limited numbers. Still, for 2008, it is offering an extra treat to about 300 well-to-do Americans – the RS 4 cabriolet.
Nearly every mechanical part of the Audi RS 4 has been upgraded, strengthened or revised.
While the RS 4 comes at a base price of about $70,000, including that $2,100 gas-guzzler tax and $775 destination charge, the convertible arrives fully loaded for $85,500.
If you want one of these cars, you better hurry. The RS 4 will go on vacation for an unspecified amount of time when the redesigned A4 is introduced for the 2009 model year.
Those who can’t quite afford the RS 4 can take heart, too.
Audi also sells an S4. It’s a closer relative to the A4, but it has a spirited, 340-horsepower V-8 engine, is also lots of fun, and comes with a starting price of $48,610 for a manual-transmission model. At $1,700, the gas-guzzler tax is lower, too.
Throw in some extra cash and it can also be purchased in station wagon or convertible form. An automatic transmission is an option.
Not only will the S4 save you up to $20,000, your mom still won’t have to know what you’re really up to.
Buy a Toyota Prius and you get a backup camera, keyless ignition, iPod integration and travel over 50 miles for every gallon of gas poured therein. Buy an Audi RS4 and you don’t even get self-dimming mirrors, and you can only drive 11 miles per gallon of dead dinos (EPA notwithstanding). The Prius will set you back $25k. The RS4 costs three Prii. At freeway speeds, the Toyota is a near silent and comfortable cruiser, whereas the Audi sounds and feels like a volcano making love to an avalanche.
I only tell you this because the moment I saw the RS4 a Toyota angel appeared on my left shoulder and an Audi demon manifested itself on my right. And then I drove the RS4 and the demon kicked the snot out of the angel.
Allow me to dispense with the unimportant stuff. The RS4 looks like Shawne Merriman in a tight blue shirt, its mirrors are too small and the interior is stereotypically Audi-perfect minus the ugly, useless strip of tacky carbon fiber trim half-circling the dash. The stereo sounds tinny and the back seats are a joke. Got it? Good.
Most buff books clock the RS4′s 0-60 time at 4.6 seconds. That’s stupid fast indeed, just ahead of its main competition, the M3. However, what they leave out is that the RS4 can do 0-110 in 4.7 seconds. Or at least it feels like it can.
Blindfolded, you would swear the Audi is being launched from a trebuchet. Sitting forward of the front wheels is an all-aluminum, 317lbs., 4.2-liter miracle of human imagination. Yes, it makes 420hp, but so does a Dodge SRT-8. While fun, the Dodge Boys’ 6.1-liter Hemi is far from miraculous. The RS4′s V8 is nothing short of a revelation.
Let’s say you’re cruising at 80mph in sixth-gear and the engine is doing 3,000rpm, the mechanical equivalent of sipping a latte. You downshift to fifth and the engine quickly and smoothly spins up to 4,000rpm. In most cars, the engine would slow you down; the RS4 just screams louder and burns more gas. Your velocity remains unchanged.
More proof? In first gear, release the clutch without touching the go-pedal. You won’t stall. You’ll go. Also, a V8 with an 8,250rpm redline is mechanical heroin.
Fine, so the engine is a torque-tastic beast, but they put it in an Audi so it’s nothing more than a bloated understeerer totally devoid of road feel and reflexes, right? Dead wrong. I have a turgid, secret back road I use to evaluate the handling prowess of my testers.
Until this week, Porsche’s Boxster was the champ. I could whip it through the turns at 70mph. For comparison’s sake, the nearly-as-nifty handling Miata could “only” do the twists at about 60mph. The RS4 dominated the two-mile stretch at 100mph, and if I wasn’t so ham-fisted it could have gone faster. Much faster.
Audi used every trick in the playbook to get the RS4 – with 58% of its weight over the front wheels – to handle near-on perfectly. Credit the DRC (Dynamic Ride Control) which hydraulically links the diagonal suspension bits to each other. As the front wheels read the road, the rear shocks preemptively (and correctly) react. This setup works so well the WRC just banned it.
The engineers also made sure every body panel in front of the doors is composed of kilogram saving aluminum. And the 19″ Pirellis are fantastic. While the initial turn in isn’t as effortless and eager as say an EVO, this two-ton all-wheel driver can safely carry more speed through a corner than you can handle. After the apex, the RS4 can blast sideways with such force that you will swear you are piloting violence.
And that’s before you push the innocuous little button marked “S.” Normally, the RS4 is faster than whatever car you are driving next to, sounds bonkers and has a devastatingly punishing ride. Push the button though, and three things happen.
First, the throttle control is remapped so that the rev-happy mill will crank faster with less input. Second, valves open in the mufflers changing the sound from Howard Dean’s scream to Gunnery Sgt. Hartman showing Joker his war face. Lastly, the shocks get firmer and the ride goes from mercilessly painful to f-you. I absolutely love it. Forget violence, you are now driving war.
There aren’t enough superlatives (or space) to properly describe the vulgar joy of driving an RS4. For instance, I haven’t even mentioned that the brakes are stolen from Lamborghini’s Gallardo. Nor did I tell you that while normally quite brave and stupid, I was too frightened to turn off the handling nanny. In short, if you have the means, the RS4 is your end. Right. Now excuse me. I’ve got some sinning to do before the Audi man comes and it’s time to repent.