New car review originally published in CarBuzzard.com December 5, 2006
To the teenager with the slammed and primered Honda at the Sheetz gas station in Somerset, Pennsylvania: A kid from rural Pennsylvania turning gangsta rap to full volume will not impress the driver of a 2007 Audi RS4–even if Audi driver is an automotive journalist and it’s not his Audi.
To everyone else: Our teenage friend may have had some idea what the Audi is, triggering the response. At least the three-inch lowered ride height, 255/35-19 performance tires and the “V8” badges on its front fenders should have given some idea that it was something faster than his Honda…which is probably one of the biggest understatements since someone said the Dixie Chicks are better singers than political philosophers. Well, duh.
Of course, we’re admitted g-force junkies, which explains why the carbuzzard.com staff is so impressed the 2007 Audi RS4. The RS4 delivers g’s like googling for goggles.
Again, duh. The Audi RS4, nominally a member of the Audi A4 family, is a small sedan tweaked to a fare thee well. Sharing the same basic body, the engine compartment is stuffed full of a compact high performance 4.2-liter V-8 (not the same as other Audi engines of the same displacement) that’s teamed with a six-speed manual transmission and the latest iteration of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive.
The 4.2 produces a prodigious 420 horsepower, just a smidge more than 100 horsepower per liter (the actual displacement is 4163 cc). At least 90 percent of its max torque–317 lb-ft at 6000 rpm–is available from 2250 to 7600 rpm. The engine is Audi’s first production example of its high engine speed concept. It also uses Audi’s FSI direct gasoline injection for improved emissions and more power.
The Audi RS4 is the first from Ingolstadt to use the latest version of quattro that has what Audi calls asymmetric/dynamic torque distribution with a self-locking center differential. The simple explanation is that it puts the torque to the wheel that can use it and when needed can lock the center differential solid. Forget sloppy all-wheel drive systems with open differentials. The RS4 thinks about which wheel to send the torque and does it real time. Look for the same system in the Audi S8 and Q7.
The RS4 sits some three inches lower than the A4–about the same as the A4 with the sport suspension–and in addition to basic sport suspension trickery dips deeper into the magic handling bag for Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control. This system links diagonally opposite shock absorbers hydraulically to check body roll and brake dive without resorting to electronic controls. Audi also recalibrated its vehicle stability program for the RS4. It comes in later and stays in effect for a shorter time, essentially giving the RS4 driver a longer leash to work the RS4.
Huge ”inner-vented” cross-drilled brake discs–14.4-inch diameter front and 12.75-inch rear–provide maximum stopping under all conditions. Scoops in the front air dam provide cooling air to the front brakes and–totally cool–NACA ducts in a belly pan on the underside of the chassis blow air on the rear brakes. In the rain (the RS4 knows when its windshield wipers are on), a “dry braking function” gently applies the brake pads at regular intervals to wipe the discs dry for a quicker response in the wet.
Adding neat stuff, however, can easily pack on the pounds. Audi engineers aggressively sought the lightest components from the small stuff to major components including an aluminum hood and front fenders for the RS4. Audi claims 8.65 pounds per liter–or 3630 pounds curb weight. That’s more weight than the 505 hp Z06 Crovette and seemingly a lot for a relatively small car, but then the RS4 is tightly packed with technology and power bits, and that–while retaining street civility–moves the needle further around the scale.
To make sure no one mistakes it for the ordinary A4, the Audi RS4 has a distinctive grille, shaped differently and flanked by horizontal grilles below the bumper. The silver-colored outside rearview mirrors are another easy cue.
There’s little inside to distinguish the Audi RS4 from the A4 other than a few subtle badges, carbon fiber inserts where otherwise wood or aluminum trim would go, and “RS4” embroidered on the front headrests. A closer look, however, reveals a tachometer redlined at 8000 rpm, more about which later, and the electronic trip meter includes a lap timer. Cool. The RS4’s seats are by Recaro, deeply bolstered and a snug fit. The standard leather has a textured “matte” finish called “silk Nappa.” It’s not slick and slippery. The back seat is like that of the A4, a tight fit with limited leg room, really more a 2+2 with four-doors.
The 2007 Audi RS4 earns its exclamation mark, however, when the ignition key is turned. The starter spins the V-8 faster and a few times more than lesser engines before it wakes up with a rumble. It’s not loud, just intense. Blip the throttle and it’s not exhaust that’s heard but a mechanical whine from under the hood. Ditto when the car moves away in first gear.
The clutch isn’t particularly heavy though the take-up is quick, typical of German cars, and it takes a bit of practice to be smooth. It makes it hard not to be herky-jerky when changing gears. At least the gear lever of the six-speed manual transmission has a worthy heft to it. There’s a solid mechanical feel without the hard metallic edge of a gated Ferrari shifter.
For all its power, the Audi RS4 is an easy drive around town. There’s the sensation of restrained power, of strong but civilized horses making make their presence known to the driver. But to change metaphors in mid-stream, it’s possible to drive this car like walking around with a loaded 12-gauge: just keep the barrel down and the revs below 5000 rpm. And don’t pull the trigger or push the throttle pedal too hard. The aforementioned torque spread easily accelerates the RS4 regardless of where in the rev range it is.
However, drag race starts are not really appropriate for the Audi RS4. With that fancy all-wheel drive and art gum eraser grip on the pavement, the RS4 has all too much traction and such behavior qualifies as abuse. Like any good road racer, the Audi RS4 appreciates a rolling start.
Nail the throttle, though, and the Audi simply lunges and just keeps going. Shift into second–first gear sure didn’t last very long–and the RS4 repeats the process and then again in third. Then comes a revelation: those shifts were made about 6000 rpm. We left 2000 rpm on the table.
Try again. This time first seems to last a nanosecond longer, but second sails past six grand on its way to eight and the bwoooaaah from the V-8 is heady, intoxicating. The same in third. Say what one will about spinning a four or a six or even a rotary into high revs, taking a V-8 into the stratosphere of highway rpm is a giddifying experience. Oh, let’s do it again. Redline is officially 8250 rpm. Enjoy them all.
Speaking of velocity, this car is the reason that brakes are sometimes called “anchors.” Pushing the center pedal is like the Navy arriving in the harbor, except without the splash. Based on specs, fade at the track would be slow in coming at worst and never a factor on the road.
Cornering grip is tenacious and balance impeccable, so much so that it discourages throttle usage on gollywiggling roads. Just on cornering ability alone the RS4 will go as fast as prudence allows. The rest of the world isn’t calibrated to the RS4’s capabilities.
Ride is firm, well-controlled but not jiggly, no worse than any other sport suspension, although the tires tramline on grooved pavement and try to climb out of ruts in semi pounded asphalt. Certain road surfaces set up an odd resonance with the tires and wheels making it feel like they threw a weight. But overall, the RS4 is agile, responsive and says yes sir, now sir, right away, sir, to driver requests.
Our test Audi RS4 was painted Repeat Offender Red–Audi calls it Misano Red Pearl Effect–a deep, intensive crimson. Surely the choice of red is good for the Audi RS4. Sticks of dynamite are red.
Still, it attracted little attention except from those who know, and for those, it turns their heads like the Dutch kissing dolls, invariably followed by pointing and explaining to those less aware exactly what makes that rather ordinary looking sedan so special.
Sometimes it makes kids in Hondas turn their sound system up to “bleed.” That’s when it’s really good to have 420 horsepower. One can almost outrun noise.
Philbert J Thrombockle comments: This is one of those cars that makes no sense, at least from a practical standpoint. But you knew that. Audi claims 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, 0-125 mph in 16.6 seconds. Why would you need that unless, say, the bread is really really going to go stale if you don’t really really hurry home from the grocery store.
The Audi RS4 has an EPA rating of 14/20 mpg city/highway. We actually did better than that, with 23 mpg highway, cruise control set at 74 mph. Mixed driving yielded a 16 mpg reading. Hurrying home from the grocery store brought fuel “economy” down to 10 mpg.
Speaking of feet (weren’t we?), we were less than happy with the relative placement of the brake and gas pedal, further apart and on different planes, making heel-and-toeing more difficult than it should be. Perhaps Audi is still gun shy from the “unintended acceleration” controversy–traced to misapplication of brake and gas pedals on automatic-equipped cars–of the Eighties. A company can almost go out of business so many times, we suppose.
Gearhead detail: The 4.2-liter V-8 has a compression ratio of 12.5:1.
Consumer detail: Audi has discontinued its full-maintenance for the life of the 4-year/50,000 mile warranty, reducing it to the lesser of 12 months or 5,000 miles. Or not even the first oil change.
Department of If-You-Have-To-Ask: If you’re driving a primer-painted Honda, look the other way. Our test 2007 Audi RS4 came without options, listing at $66,000, plus $2,100 gas guzzler tax and $720 destination charge for a bottom line of $68,820. No options means no hardship, however. Heated front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, headlight washers, cruise control, Audi Symphony II+ audio are standard on the 2007 Audi RS4, along with Bi-Xenon headlamps, plus seat-mounted side-impact front airbags and full side-curtain airbags.
The kid’s Honda? One nasty woofer, owner installed.