Audi RS 4: A Tour de Fast

Audi has emerged as the most improved European car manufacture in the 21st Century thanks to its desire to please both the speed freaks and comfy craving buyers. At the top of that list is the RS4, which is simply the best Audi sports sedan ever. The problem is that unless you are a car buff you aren’t going to notice this escapee from the land of high-speed fantasy on your local roads. Its looks are nearly identical to the 200 horsepower Audi 4, which at $29,000 price tag is fully $40,000 less than the RS4. In other words buying a $70,000 RS4 isn’t for those seeking attention, but by those who want to own one of the world’s truly great high speed touring sedans.

There are a few other notable world-class sporty sedans such as the BMW M3, Mercedes C-Class AMG, perhaps the Cadillac CTS-V, and the Lexus FS. However, truth be told, the Audi RS 4 is a better vehicle. The reason isn’t just the horsepower, but the luxurious interior treatments, all wheel drive stability, and relaxed V8 engine that can get deliver 26 mpg on the road if you can hold it to legal speeds. Its only drawback is a manual transmission shifter that does not like to be rushed.

Since there are only a handful of these playful sedans being built by Audi the potential buyer might be forced to make a quick decision without considering all the facts. After all, it is nice to have a family oriented hot car that can terrorize BMW drivers or chug along at “rush” hour with equal ease, but do you really need a V8 engine that can be whipped to unleash 420 horsepower?

The base Audi A4 with CVT yields fantastic fuel mileage, provides 200 turbocharged horsepower, and is comfortable to drive. It costs $29,000. Rather have a V8, well the S4 costs $50,000 and has a similar sized 4.2-liter V8 engine that makes 340 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 302 pound-feet of torque at 3,500. What do you get for the extra $20,000? Cachet, yes, both more notable is a more dynamic sedan with huge brakes, an engine that revs to 8200 rpm and sounds just like a jet turbine, and a suspension system that is pot hole friendly as well as race track ready. It is amazing, but realistically with just 1000 or so planned for production it might be a moot point. Obviously, most people are going to go for he S version and pocket the difference. Too bad, as they aren’t going have the adventure of driving a racecar to work.

The RS4 is that rare type of car that enjoys terrorizing BMW owners or just chugging along during “rush” hour with equal aplomb. What is does not offer is a lot of what we call “splay” room. That is the space that allows the driver’s leg to rest against the center console while the other is on the dead pedal. The A4 is too tight meaning that your accelerator-controlling limb rests at an odd angle. Other that this is one sweet chariot.

Mom’s view: The clutch has a high take-up point and the transmission linkage can get hung up between gears at high rpms if you don’t practice a lot. Of course, this is the type of practice most people prefer over piano lessons or math tutoring.

Crash scores were good as one can imagine with huge disc brakes that have eight pistons for each front disc brake and four brake pads, an Electronic Brake pressure Distribution feature, have special flow vents to cool them and measure over 14.4 inches in front and 12.8 in the rear as well as side and front airbags most everywhere, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners, rear door child safety locks child seat anchors, a remote anti-theft alarm system engine immobilizer, daytime running lights xenon high intensity discharge headlamps, tire pressure monitoring, headlamp washers front, head rests with whiplash protection, and speed sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. These are the only brakes that I have tested that provide more feedback and whoa power than the BMW. They are unbelievable and, as mom always says, wipe your brakes when they are wet and that it what this Audi does automatically.

The interior is a little too sporty for my tastes with red piping stitching together the nice black leather. The seats are fairly comfortable but aren’t in the same category as the Saab, and it is difficult to get your hand between the door and the seat to reach the 8-way power adjustments and lumbar support. There is also heated seats that work well, but not in the same league as the Subaru or Saab. The rear seats are split folding and yield a large and very usable cargo area. The trunk is easy to open with a nice handgrip. The usual power features are here as well as one touch power windows all around and heated outside mirrors. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and has a nice feel to it. There are also 12-volt outlets in front and back and dual zone climate controls. An active interior air filter, and easy to reach controls abound. You think with all this good stuff Audi would have taken the time to make a gearshift knob that wouldn’t burn your hand when the weather was hot, but they didn’t. The steering wheel and the gearshift are scorching to the touch. Be warned and cover them with a towel. And this is a $71,000 car.

There are carbon fiber trim elements, but the basic interior is understated and has elegance to it with quality materials and workmanship evident. The storage areas are easy to access and the glove compartment is adequate. The red needles in the gauges are a bit overwhelming at night and could be more restrained. Copying the Lexus wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Driving this tart is a study in self-control. Acceleration is seamless rather than awesome. It is much like a jet airplane at take-off. Plenty of thrust, but not Mercedes AMG like where the chassis actually shutters as the engine’s torque twists the frame and the engine bellows its challenge. The RS4 is more refined, but just as fast.

The brakes are unbeatable, the handling so reassuring that you start to believe it is really you and not the car that makes corners melt, and the looks of the car are so non-threatening that you don’t attract unwanted attention. That being said, this is the best looking super sedan although the front spoiler is too low for practical users. The 19-inch wheels need flared fender wells and the integrated rear spoiler don’t shout boy racer as much as subtle.

I love this car. You can lug it down to 1500 rpm in sixth gear and it doesn’t kick. Take it to the grocery store and it is hospitably. Park it at work and your boss wouldn’t look twice. And, after work, you can relieve the tension right about when you hit third gear. A hoot to drive.

Dad’s view: A little tight for me, but oh that engine. With 420 horsepower this V-8 can stay on task until you reach 8250 rpm or achieve lift-off. And, the push you into your seat torque comes to play at just over 2000 rpm and stays with you until 7600 rpm. This is not your uncle’s Audi A4S. In fact, it is an entirely different engine. You can get to 60 mph in under five seconds, but the real fun isn’t its acceleration, but in the completeness of the package. Yes, it is fast and yes, it stops well, but it does all of this while treating the passenger and drive with respect. Need you forget, the all wheel drive system and the suspension are the hidden jewels as they perform miracles in getting a 4000 pound sedan to act like its at 2000 sports car.

The suspension and the Quattro all wheel drive system has been extensively modified. The rear wheel bias has been dialed in with a 60:40 setting as standard and the ability to transfer all the power where it is needed and there is a built in stability control unit, too. The front four-link and rear double wishbone set-up have been augmented by a hydraulically controlled value system that sets the suspension for the type of terrain the RS4 is passing over. If can soften or tighten the shock absorbers and the result is a much better ride than the competition over a variety of surfaces that Audi calls it Dynamic Ride Control. In other words under braking doesn’t upset this Audi and pitch and roll are negated. All of this in a car where its large V8 engine is essentially placed ahead of the front axle which results in an unbelievable 58/42 weight distribution. In another car this would be a recipe of understeering disasters. Not in the RS4. In fact, Audi offers a two-step ESP unit where the first phase kills traction control and the second the entire stability control program. Don’t even think about it. You need all the electronic help you can as this car is much more hefty than it feels.

My biggest surprise with the RS4 was the engine. Although displacing as much as that in the S4 it is more sophisticated and the extra 90 horsepower over its stall mate is more refined. The 32-value powerplant has 12.5:1 compression rating and even with its amazing 7800-rpm power peak is still tractable on the street. Whereas previous Audi hotrods have used turbos and thus had a lot of midrange punch and not much after 5500 rpm, the RS4 just keeps on giving. At idle the sound is just a touch blurby, but once up to operating speed it sings. Of course, if you hit the S button on the dash it open a value in the side of the exhaust pipe and the result can be felt as well as heard. It is best not to touch the S button anywhere near law enforcement.

Despite moving the battery to the trunk and other weight saving strategies such as using the extensive use of aluminum, the Audi is over 500 pounds heavier than a BMW M3. You notice that extra weight when cornering, but not in the real world. The Lamborghini sourced brakes, large tires, and altered Torsen differential make the Audi feel far more connected to the road. However, the Audi ride can wear thin over poorly maintained roads.

Overall, this is a very compelling sedan. Certainly there is no doubt the model shall be sold out, but for me the seats weren’t all that comfortable, I didn’t have enough room to spread out when driving, and the high clutch pick-up made it easy for smooth starts, but difficult to judge when aggressively driven. And, why else would you buy this model?

Unemployed woman’s view: I liked the look of the dark rims and the two large tailpipes were quite dramatic, but what stole my heart was how obedient this sedan was. Once you master the clutch it doesn’t seem to care what gear you are in it is ready to romp or just roll along. A sweetheart of a disposition. The RS4 sits a bit lower than the A4 and this is great for stability, but makes steep driveways a concern. I loved the idea of the RS4, but for the money I would buy the S4 and save the $20,000 and my friends would never know.

Recently graduated male’s view: The sound system is a disappointment. The AM/FM in-dash stereo holds six CDs with MP3 Playback. The ten speakers just don’t provide a quality sound and the radio reception is sub par. The volume is speed sensitive and there is also a Sirius satellite radio. The controls are not that easy to operate at speed and the readouts are difficult to see in bright sunlight. If everyone could copy the one in the Hyundai Santa Fe the world would be a better place. The look of the RS4 is special, but unless you truly want to be different than really isn’t a good reason outside of a race track to consider this Audi. Personally, I like the A4 just fine and with the price of gas rising it would suit me better as my college loans are just waiting to come due. A great driving car, no doubt, but one that appeals more to the seat of the pants than the pocketbook.

Family conference: For $71,000 we expected a more furious vehicle that would unleash the horsepower dogs of war with more shock and awe. We also expected a better sound system, standard GPS, and not to have to worry about burning your hand on the gearshift. The air-conditioning was also hard pressed when the temperature went over 100 degrees. That being said, this is an elegant, if sedate, super sedan that may be related to the A4 and A4S but barely. It is a high-speed racecar and family-touring vehicle in one. If you can justify the cost and living with a 16.6 gallon gas tank that limits you to 250 miles between fill-ups on premium fuel more power to you; literally and figuratively.

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