First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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Stuttgart, Germany – Talk to Stephan Reil, who heads up development at Quattro GMBH, about the Audi RS4, and it can seem like the car’s all about the numbers: 420 horsepower, 317 lb-ft of torque, 8,250-rpm redline, optional 19-inch wheels, 380 mm brakes with eight pistons each, 0-100 km/h in less than five seconds, a top speed (if you were to remove the limiter) of almost 300 km/h, and 8 minutes and 14 seconds to get all the way around the Nurburgring racetrack – a remarkable number for a four-door sedan, let alone a serious sports car.

The RS4 is about all of these things. It is furiously fast - faster even than the V10 S6. Its massive tires give it tenacious grip in corners. Its brakes haul it down, time and again, from huge speeds with little effort, no drama, and zero brake fade. And you need to be really alert not to keep bouncing off the rev limiter in each of the six manual gears, the V8 engine revs up so fast. Guide the RS4 down a country road and it seems easy to cover ground at one and a half times, even twice, the speed you might do it in a normal car.

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
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But that's only half the story. What sets the RS 4 apart is how special the whole thing feels.

It starts with the looks. Yes, it's an A4 sedan shape, but only the roof and the front doors are shared with the more common models. That means everything else - the flared wheel arches front and rear, the aggressive nose with the huge horse-collar grille and massive air intakes, the rear spoiler which has been integrated into the bodywork rather than added on - is different.

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
Click image to enlarge

The RS 4 has a custom-built, hot-rod look that justifies the $90,000-plus that Audi will charge for this car when it goes on sale in July. The wheels are huge, but are barely big enough to contain the brakes behind them. Reil says that the smallest set of winter tires you could fit to the RS4 would still have to be 18 inches.

Unlike the S6, the RS4 is not built on a regular assembly line. While the monster 4.2-litre V8, special six-speed gearbox, and other major mechanical pieces are fitted on the regular A4 production line, it leaves for Quattro's Neckarsulm facility about 75% finished. There, it's custom-fitted with special aerodynamics, those huge wheels (which are too wide to be fitted on the line), a cross-linked Dynamic Ride Control suspension system, and a special RS

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
Click image to enlarge

interior that includes seats that look straight out of a race car, a special steering wheel, and carbon-fibre trim and all the electronic gadgetry you'd normally pay extra for in an A4.

Still, the RS 4 that we get won't have an interior quite as cool as the European model you see in the pictures. It won't, for instance, have that awesome flat-bottomed steering wheel because of some arcane North American airbag regulations. Our seats will be pretty racy, but they won't have the adjustable Euro side bolsters or the racing-harness holes in the back, thanks to side airbags being required. And the centre console will have a pair of cupholders that displaces the starter button that makes starting the RS4 such a ceremony when you swing in behind the wheel.

Don't worry, though: it still feels pretty special. Even from idle, the engine's sound throbs with latent power. Roll away from a stop, and it sounds like a barely muffled race car. Accelerate hard and its sound hardens too, until you're blasting forward on a wall of sound that's sure to shake the neighbours' windows. This is before you discover the Sport button on the steering wheel, which like most such buttons, sharpens the throttle response so that the car charges even harder. But the party trick here is that the button also opens a couple of flaps - one in the intake system and another in the exhaust - which not only let the engine breathe easier, but produce a lot more noise. Muffler? What muffler?

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
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While the S6, stiff ride and jumpy throttle aside, is a fairly refined car, the RS4 makes no pretence. It feels like a sports car. A lot of it has to do with the size: a whole class down from the S6, the RS4 just feels nimble and chuckable on European roads in a way that its big brother doesn't. But the rest comes from the electric responses the car has to all its major controls. Those huge tires and the revised steering dart the car into corners with a flick of the wrists. The brakes bite instantly when you touch the pedal. And the cornering borders on astounding. It's not just the traction afforded by the Audi's big rubber footprint and all-wheel-drive; it's also the lack of nose-dive and body sway, thanks to that cross-linked suspension.

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
Click image to enlarge

Pressure down on one wheel pressurizes hydraulic fluid which travels to the opposite corner, balancing out the car's attitude while you corner.

Is the RS4 compromised? Absolutely it is. Those huge front seats intrude further on a rear cabin that was already tight by class standards. Only kids will want to ride in the back of this thing (and don't forget to feed them Gravol). The adaptation of Audi's latest electronic systems into the vertical A4 dashboard has resulted in a bit of an ergonomic mess, with the major controls on the passenger side of the car. And in Sport mode, the throttle has such a hair trigger that it requires a lot of concentration to drive in traffic. Then there's the price, $94,200, which will be closing in on S6 territory.

First Drive: 2007 Audi RS 4 luxury cars first drives audi
Click image to enlarge

Even though the S6 is a bit slower, it comes rolling on a more modern platform, has even more power, and offers a more balanced set of attributes as an all-round driver.

Don't think of the RS4 as a sport sedan. It's only a sport sedan in the way something like skydiving can be considered a sport. But for automotive extremists looking for huge thrills in a compact, four-door package, the new Audi has suddenly become an easy answer to the question a hundred (or so the company thinks) Canadians a year will ask.

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