With an open road ahead of me, I am finally able to wind out the lovely motor. Gently rolling it out in first gear, the RS 4 sprung ahead when I floored the accelerator and instantly sprinted through the revs. An eyeblink before the 8,250 RPM rev limiter, I selected 2nd gear and repeated the process over again. I am shoved into the seat as the quattro AWD drivetrain provides perfect grip and the strong V-8 feeds me instant torque. I am able to run the car through 3rd gear to redline before slower traffic forces me to brake. Thrust is smooth, very smooth. The pull through the rev range was very consistent and turbine-like. The engine doesn’t explode with power on the top end like many high-strung powerplants, but rather the driver is greeted with a firm shove all the way from about 2000 RPM to redline. The power delivery is always mannerly and never brutal. As usual for an Audi, the car is deceptively fast. If any engine is to be described as sewing machine smooth, this is it. It happily spins faster and faster with no signs of being stressed or strained. It doesn’t have the raw power, torque or acceleration of a modified B5 S4, but the engine is just so much more refined. Once the magazines publish instrumented testing, I expect 0-60 times around 4.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 12.8-13.0 @ 106-108 mph.
Soon, I am met with the A6 Autobahn. On the cloverleaf highway entrance, I hustle around the ramp and try to get a feel for the cornering. Body controls are flat and in check. Steering firms up compared to slow speeds, but could use slightly more feel. Once I am on the Autobahn, I am able to run the car up to triple digit speeds a few times. Traffic wouldn’t allow me to get up over 235 km/h (146 mph) however. In any case, stability remained excellent throughout.
Also very impressive were the new 6 piston brakes (lifted from the Lamborghini Gallardo) with 365 mm cross drilled rotors up front and 324 mm rotors in rear. Throw out the anchor and you are greeted with a very solid and progressive pedal feel. After a handful of Autobahn stops, no signs of fade were detected, although one would have to be on a racetrack to really test the limits of the braking system. After watching two of Audi’s DTM racing drivers hammer lap after lap out with a stock braking system, I can confidently say they are the best to ever come standard from the factory on an Audi car.
On the way back to the Audi pits, my chosen route takes me through some more windy country roads. During this part of the drive I could really feel Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) system at work. DRC is a mechanical system, which diagonally links dampers on opposite corners together. The direct effect is that body roll, pitch, and dive is drastically reduced. This was not only apparent when driving the car, but also when comparing the new RS 4 to the old RS 4 out on the track. Through the corners, I was only pushing the car to 8/10, so any effect provided by the new asymmetrical 40/60 quattro differential could not be felt. It is my opinion that it would take 10/10 racetrack driving, or a low traction situation to realize the benefits of the 40/60 quattro versus the former 50/50 system. Neither of those options were available to me.
Once reentering the Hockenheimring grounds, I took a slight detour to “play” with the car a little at a large, open parking lot. In a skidpad type test, I gradually increased the cornering speed to get a feel of the car at the limit of adhesion. The amount of grip the new RS 4 generates is quite impressive. However, the “at the limit” handling still leaves room for improvement in my opinion. When the limits are exceeded, you are greeted with safe and dull understeer. Even with the ESP off, I was not able to get the tail out with the new 40/60 differential. One blame factor here is the relative lack of torque compared to the grip available. Another factor lies within the suspension calibration. I feel Audi still has some ways to go if they intend to compete with the driving involvement/experience of the RWD competition. This new RS 4, however, is a step in the right direction and certainly an improvement over a stock B5 RS 4 in terms of suspension.
Soon I’m back at the Audi and quattro GmbH paddock. Like the gentleman before me, I’m back slightly late and I’m not quick to relinquish the keys to the new RS 4. However, the yellow gas pump on the DIS and the 10 km to empty tell me it’s probably time to give it back. On a side note, a totally unscientific gut feeling on the gas mileage tell me the fuel consumption is good given how hard I was driving the car. This is undoubtedly one of the side benefits observed from the FSI injection system. Given the lighter weight and FSI technology, I would be very surprised if the fuel consumption isn’t better than the current S4.
Overall, my experience with the new RS 4 was very positive. The fit, finish, and construction of the car are first rate. There are many wonderful touches like the carbon fiber trim on the dash and under the hood (over the throttle body), red valve covers, excellent navigation system, and seats that are among the world’s best. The 4.2 liter V-8 is a jewel and a pleasure to rev all the way to its lusty 8,250 RPM rev limit. I have nothing but good to say about the brakes.
There are also a few things I think Audi can still improve on. The thrilling torque present on Audi’s turbo cars is missing. The stock exhaust could use a little more “oomph”. I wish the “at the limit” handling was a little more neutral. Lastly, I wish Audi could have gone a little further with weight savings compared to the S4. Potential owners are advised: part of the weight savings was achieved through elimination of the spare tire. The battery lies within the spare tire compartment in an attempt to improve weight distribution.
Overall, the new RS 4 is quite a technological achievement for Audi. It may not be a class leader in terms of performance, but it makes up in overall competence and versatility. The car will perform well 365 days a year in rain or shine. It will also carry 5 people and a trip’s worth of luggage. If you’re looking for the ultimate in 4-door, V-8, AWD performance your list will be quite short. If you are looking for a high performance sedan, which doesn’t compromise refinement and luxury, the RS 4 may be the perfect fit for you.
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