Audi has a long and noble history of producing extraordinarily fast four-wheel-drive cars. The first, the RS2, was based on the Audi 80 and launched back in 1993. Developed with the help of Porsche it redefined the super-fast family estate and remains iconic (and expensive) even today.
A couple of in-house, A4-based models followed, serving as decently warm hors d’oeuvre to the fastest of them all, this the RS4. Based on the current model A4 Avant it is fitted with a 4.2-litre V8 engine that develops 444bhp and 317lb ft of torque, all of which is channelled to the tarmac via Audis legendary quattro drivetrain.
To launch the model, Audi invited us to their Neckarsulm factory – where all fast Audis are developed and many are made and told we could drive an RS4 back to the UK as fast as the local speed limits allowed. We hesitated for, oh, all of half-a-second before accepting. Sometimes the life of a motoring journalist is hard and unrewarding. Not today though
The Audi A4 Avant is a beautiful car anyway, but after youve flared the wheelarches, fitted some big alloy wheels, and painted it Sepang Blue it becomes even more compelling. Sometimes, we would hang back in order to let one of the other press pack cars overtake us, just to be able to get a glimpse of it from the front, side, and back. In fact, one of the nicest views Ive ever seen on a press launch is the row of a dozen Audi RS4s that were sitting outside our hotel in Germany.
If you like bling, youll probably wonder what on earth Im talking about. If you value discretion and enjoy taking your pleasures privately you will understand perfectly. Let me put it this way; you are unlikely to see one featured in The Only Way Is Essex.
The dash to the autobahn took us through city streets and minor roads. Not the place to exploit the chassis and engine then, but perfect for absorbing the RS4s interior. Our car was fitted with black nappa leather sports seats with pronounced side bolsters, a feature that came into its own when the going got twisty. But at low speeds theyre supportive, hugely adjustable, and heated. (The latter feature was much appreciated, as it was gloomy, cold and raining as we set off. Perfect Audi Quattro weather, then.)
The rest of the interior is just as well-judged. Everything fits with even, tiny gaps, feels as good as it looks, and falls to hand. Its intuitive and aesthetic; what more could you ask for?
Well, a bit more legroom in the back wouldnt go amiss for a start, and nor would a bigger boot; ours was full with the full-size spare wheel that Audi had thoughtfully provided. (Audi are nothing if not thoughtful; they gave us each not one, but two, packed lunches, just in case the adrenaline rush chased away every last vestige of blood sugar.) Bags, and the all-important wicker picnic hamper, had to go on the back seat. But then there is always the Audi A6
if you need more space, isnt there? Or a Transit van.
We hit the autobahn at a far old lick and then trebled it, something we were able to do very quickly because the RS4 simply goes as fast as you want to and does so immediately. Ours was the unrestricted version, good for 174mph, although it does cost you an extra 1,300. Probably worth it though, just to be able to say you topped 160mph, like we did. (Im not bragging, honestly. We just felt that we ought to test the cars full dynamic range. And we did. Boy, how we did)
Hit the throttle hard and the engine makes a glorious wail, joined shortly afterwards by a harsh, extraordinarily loud bark from the exhaust. Remember the superhero comics you read when you were a kid? The ones where every action is accompanied by an exclamation: Kappow!, and Zammo!? Thats the RS4, that is.
The ride varies from good in Comfort to extremely uncomfortable in Dynamic. So uncomfortable in fact that my co-drivers glasses kept sliding down his nose. And remember; autobahns are relatively smooth compared to motorways just about everywhere else in the world. I settled on Auto as the best setting for the suspension, Comfort for the steering to stop it being horribly stiff, and Dynamic for the engine and exhaust to keep that instantaneous punch and anti-social noise. Thus set, the RS4 is a joy.
The S tronic box is a delight and neither of us felt the need to interfere and change gears manually. Like the engine, the gearbox just does what you want it to, when you want it to. And its the same story with the quattro drivetrain, which shuffles the engines power around the four wheels in varying proportions depending on the traction available and your driving style. You never notice it, but you do appreciate the linear traction that it provides.
You might not think a loud, stiffly suspended car would be a desirable long distance companion, but the RS4 is an inter-continental express with few equals; we covered 600 miles in just over eight hours and in the post-blast analysis we agreed we would very happily turn round and drive it straight back to Neckarsulm if only Audi UK would let us.
Faults? Just the one; the steering is heavy and a bit lifeless. Works well enough, but doesnt communicate as effectively as youd like. A bit like Jack Reacher, in fact.
The engine is, as you might have guessed, rather good. It revs to an astonishing (for a V8) 8,500rpm, by which time its delivering 444bhp – and making quite a decent fist of providing an accompanying soundtrack too. Engines simply dont come any more user-friendly than this. You want slow-speed schlepping? No problem. You want to initiate launch control and hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds? Just press the throttle. And hang on. Spot an overtaking opportunity? If you think the gap might be big enough, it is.
The price you pay is not terribly good fuel consumption. We stopped trying to work out how many miles we were getting per gallon and did it by time instead. The answer? Two hours. You need to stop – to be on the safe side every two hours. Which is 250 miles in Euros.
Value for Money
The basic RS4 costs about 55,000 OTR. Ours, however, cost nearly 70,000. How? Why, the liberal application of optional extras of course.
And they arent cheap. Weve already mentioned the scandalous 1,300 that Audi charge you to remove the speed limiter they put on in the first place. (Or, in the real world, not do anything in the first place, which nice work if you can get it.)
Things get even dafter after that. The sports seats cost 2,135 and probably arent worth it. The 4,000 ceramic brakes definitely arent because the standard steel jobbies do the job very well.
The Sports Package, comprising the noisy exhaust, 20-inch alloys, and sports suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, should be standard, but youll end up buying it for no other reason than the wheels look so damned sexy, snuggled under those wheelarch blisters. And the exhaust sounds so nice. There goes another two-and-a-quarter grand.
Other desirable bits and bobs include a 600 Bang Olufsen DAB stereo, 350 telephone prep, and a three hundred quick CD/DVD player. Call it 60,000 OTR with a decent spec and not a penny more. At that price its a steal.
The Audi RS4 is an astonishingly fleet, profligate, beautiful anachronism and I want one very much indeed. No other car that I have driven in recent memory has delighted, surprised, cosseted, excited, rewarded, and stimulated me quite so much. If you can afford the entry charge you wont be bothered by the 20.1mpg fuel consumption or the 815 that the government will take from you for road tax in the first year because youll be too busy hoofing it round Europe with the worlds largest grin on your face.
Rivals? Well, there is the, er. Or the, er, whats-its-name? No, actually, it doesnt have any. None at all.