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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - RS4 sedan

Launch Story

Audi logo4 Apr 2007

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

IF YOU don’t believe Audi can make cars as sporting or exciting as its Munich-based nemesis then it cordially invites you to reconsider with the knockout RS4, a 309kW V8 super sedan that really does float like a butterfly and stings like a B... MW.

We like:
Sweet and soulful V8, forceful performance, four-seater practicality, superb grand touring abilities, supple ride

We don't like:
Price, ageing A4 it is based on, not much else

IN one very emphatic way the latest RS4 is quite like nothing that Audi has ever offered the really keen driver.

Sure, it’s a development of the S4, a 253kW 4.2-litre V8-engined B6-series A4 quattro that’s been to boot camp to kick BMW M3 butt – but which it emphatically can’t if it is the more entertaining sports car you’re after.

In fact both saucy A4s are strikingly similar superficially, prompting the casual observer to question whether that ‘R’ stands for ‘rip-off’ when it adds a substantial 33K on top of the $131,200 S4.

After all both share much the same body, although closer inspection reveals a much more aggressively detailed beast in the RS4 – check out those wheelarches, diamond-meshed grilles front and rear, wider side skirts and 19-inch alloys.

You’ll also find a virtually identical interior – discounting of course the fabulous Recaro seats (that bolster your buttocks and sides when you press the Sport button sited on the wonderfully flat-based steering wheel), bespoke instrumentation, silly push-button starter, and acres of cool aluminium inlays.

They do add a sense of occasion to the basic six-year old A4 architecture, although the reality is that these cars are starting to look and feel a bit long-in-the-tooth inside and out.

And on paper they’re both 4.2-litre V8s, driving all four wheels through a six-speed gearbox, using much the same steering and four-link front and trapezoidal-link rear suspension systems.

But that’s where most of the similarities cease. And the evolution of the Audi sports sedan commences.

For starters, the 4163cc V8 delivers its wares like a Japanese motorcycle manufacturer was responsible for it. If you imagine a Honda S2000 with eight cylinders (a Honda S4200 perhaps) then this might be it.

If you press the aforementioned Sport button the already towering performance – that’s 309kW of power and 430Nm of torque, remember – comes on stronger, faster, sooner and louder, gaining a rawer metallic edge that’s extremely engaging and inviting.

In either setting, the 4.2 FSI V8 revs insanely to 8250rpm, aided by a surprisingly light yet solid-feeling short-shift gearbox that’s a pure pleasure to use. For this reason alone the extra money asked over the auto-only S4 seems worth it.

And here’s another un-Audi RS4 attribute: the ride is actually acceptable – impressive even – despite 19-inch wheels, super-fat rubber, stiff sports suspension and some unexpectedly rough and rutted roads GoAuto found once it unintentionally strayed off the beaten tracks of country Victoria.

The trick dampers firm up when needed to alleviate pitch and roll without the thump and crash you might get in an S4. More money well spent here too, then.

But the best thing about the RS4, and the one that’s likely to be the dealmaker for many drivers, is that this Audi really actually does feel more like a rear-wheel drive car when driven near the limit (in this case on the quite unforgiving Calder Park racetrack).

At crazy high speeds, on a damp surface, with the stability and traction controls neutered, the tail will start to slide, and then eventually snap, at will, and in a way that no Audi has ever done in a good way before. You can also catch it, do it again, have fun, and go back for more.

And while the steering isn’t as super-sharp as you might hope for, there’s enough sensitivity and feedback to feel more connected than you ever have in an S4.

Obviously, re-engaging stability and traction quells the racetrack fun, but both electronic nannies are less intrusive regardless in the RS4 application, so in the real world on ragged and/or wet roads the car is still as dependable as you’d expect with something wearing the ‘quattro’ badge.

Audi has proved that this new 60:40 torque-split quattro driveline set-up (dialling up to 85:15 in extreme conditions) can work a treat. Bring on the future Audi sports cars.

So the refined RS4 rocket ship is the best of both worlds then – R for racy, rowdy and raucous, and S-for-safe-‘n-secure, without being snoozy or stolid in any shape or form.

Not only is it more than 33K better than the S4, the RS4 makes its disappointing sibling redundant.

And maybe, in its own small, solid and sensible way, the newcomer might even be a sort of cut-price BMW M5 – the sublime E39 version with the heavenly V8.

And that’s certainly something you could never have said about any Audi up until now.

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