|September 18, 1999
IAA 1999 - Focus on new Audi RS4
Imagine a car built without limits or boundaries. Unbridled speed is inherent. Agressive styling is both required, but natural. The features and specs are world-class. This car, which made its world debut at the 1999 Frankfurt Auto Show, is the Audi RS4. The car is produced by quattro GmbH, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Audi AG which is dedicated to providing a wide-range of products to satisfy personal styles and individual requirements.
I had the pleasure of actually being inside the new RS4, albeit not while it was moving. I was assured, however, that the car I was sitting in was a real car, and not just a "frame" with nothing underneath. Audi plans to launch the RS4 by early 2000, so they have undoubtedly built a small fleet of these beautiful cars for crash testing, emissions and road testing. The car at the show, however, looked like it had never touched the pavement! I could never get my hands on the keys to the car (the representative from quattro GmbH was sure of that), so I couldn't check the mileage.
Audi has included some nice touches on the inside of the car to remind the driver that they have something special -- something more than just transportation. The colors black and silver dominate the styling within. The best example of this are the immensely comfortable Recaro seats. Although Audi says that the RS4 will come with three different seat upholstery options, the show car had a very unique leather/fabric combination. The side sections and the head rests were in black pearl nappa leather, while the centre panel of each seat was leather with a woven-in aluminum thread. The detail on these seats is illustrated clearly in some of the pictures shown below. The trim strips throughout the car were done in black varnish, which was something that I hadn't seen in a recent Audi. Black anodised material was also used for the inside door handles, the release button on the handbrake, the gearbox gate ring and the glove box lock. The result was an overall look of agressive continuity. By using black accents rather than either chrome (too much like the TT) or wood grain (too "everyday"), the car has a very unique look in the interior.
The exterior of the car has been thickened-up in a number of ways using body styling. Flared enders with large air intake ducts, a lowered front apron, a rounded rear apron, a small spoiler on the roof edge and wide ground effects on the sides -- all of these features together give the car a very poised, powerful look. When I use the words "thickened-up" above, I don't mean to imply unecessary bulk. I simply get the feeling that the car is bursting with performance.
One thing that I noticed immediately was that Audi chose a different wheel design for the RS4 in Frankfurt. Rumor had it that the Audi AG executives were at the convention center the night before the show opened making last minute changes to car positions, lighting and other details. It wouldn't suprise me if a last minute decision was also made about the wheels on this car. Personally I liked the showcar wheels better than the wheels in the press photos. Normally I am not a fan of wheels with more than 5-6 spokes. However, while the spokes on the press photos wheels looked overly wide and not particularly performance-oriented, the 9-spoke wheels shown at the show really seemed to fit the sporting character of the RS4 much better. Sized at 8.5 x 18 and shod with 255/35 ZR 18 tires, they undoubtedly put forth an amazing effort at holding the monster power from all four wheels to the road.
My overall impression. What, do you think it would be anything less than supreme enthusiasm? Audi and quattro GmbH have teamed to produce a 380-hp masterpiece. It seems appropriate that Audi would resurect the RS badge for a car with this type of performance and styling. And they appear to have built a car to live up to that name. My only gripe is that it is unlikely that it will ever make it (at least through any official channels) to North American market.
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