2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4. Click image to enlarge


Article by Chris Chase; photos by Paul Williams

In medieval times, if one swordsman wanted to challenge another to a fight, he’d “throw down the gauntlet,” or, more plainly, toss one of his armoured gloves at the feet of his prospective opponent.

How times have changed. Or have they? High-end German carmakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have been doing a lot of gauntlet-throwing lately, but in the more modern, figurative sense: one-upping one another with ever more powerful, capable and luxurious cars, with the main difference between then and now being that horsepower and handling have replaced the sword and scabbard.

The latest in the “mine’s-bigger -than-yours” sweepstakes comes from Audi in the form of the RS4, and it’s a gauntlet like King Arthur and his boys never knew: sexy, speedy and available in stunning colours like Misano Red, Imola Yellow and Spring Blue.

The RS4 is the newest member of Audi’s rarefied RS family of supercars, which occupy the top shelf in the company’s performance hierarchy. Judged simply by its engine – a high-revving, 420-horsepower, direct-injected V8 – it’d be hard to disagree.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4. Click image to enlarge

Drive it, however, as Audi gave us the opportunity to do at a recent preview event in Ottawa, and it’s clear that this car is worthy of Audi’s vaunted RS designation.

Our route took us along the winding and narrow back roads of west Quebec: roads, fittingly enough, not unlike those found in the backwaters of Europe. Of course, a car with this much power would be most at home on the German autobahn, where it would be a cinch to reach the RS4’s 250 km/h electronically-limited top speed. But you don’t need the autobahn to know that this car can reach extremely extra-legal speeds on public roads – narrow ones, with real traffic coming in the other direction. Oh, and people at the end of their driveways, collecting their mail: on at least one occasion, a local shook his fist angrily as our Misano Red RS4 sped past his peaceful country home.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4; badge photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

And while dawdling along main street in the lovely town of Buckingham, Quebec, it was easy to spot the people who knew that this was no ordinary Audi, their necks craning to follow the RS4 as it burbled by. But the transformation from pedestrian A4 is subtle enough that most onlookers won’t give you a second glance, if they even look once.

Most of the RS4’s exterior cues are functional: extra scoops up front funnel additional air to the engine intake as well as toward the front brakes to aid in cooling; a small rear decklid spoiler helps out in the aerodynamics department; a 30-mm-lower ride height increases high-speed stability. The big 19-inch wheels look showy, but they’re the smallest that will fit around the huge 365 mm (14.4 inches) front brake rotors (clamped by eight piston calipers; the rear brakes are only slightly less impressive at 324 mm (12.75 inches) across).

Otherwise, there’s a different grille, a unique rear air dam that houses dual exhaust outlets, door sill extensions that enhance the car’s stuck-to-the-road stance, and RS4 badges on the grille, trunk, rear doors, steering wheel, gauges and stitched into the seats, plus V8 badges outside, below the turn signal repeaters.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4. Click image to enlarge

But never mind what it looks like on the outside; get comfy in the rather sombre, mostly-black interior and get the show on the road. The flow of power from the RS4’s potent engine is seemingly endless. With 420 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. of torque – 90 per cent of which is available between 2,250 and 7,600 rpm – and an 8,250 rpm redline, the RS4 accelerates like a startled cat. Audi claims a 0-100 km/h sprint of 4.8 seconds and 0-200 in 16.6. For a point of reference, most cars can move from zero to a hundred in something like eight to 12 seconds. So yeah, this thing is wicked fast.

One of the RS4’s coolest features, from a gearhead’s point of view, is the button on the dash labelled “S” for “sports.” Press it for sharper throttle response and a more aggressive exhaust note. By reducing restriction in the exhaust, it also allows the odd old-school “pop-pop” backfire as the driver goes from one gear to the next.

Fling the RS4 into a fast curve and hang on tight! It takes a set instantly, the tires dig for grip and the g-forces build. Regardless of whether you’re on the throttle or off, there’s no over- or understeer, just a wonderfully balanced cornering attitude, thanks to the RS4’s quattro all-wheel drive system. In the RS4, 60 per cent of the engine’s torque is routed to the rear wheels, and the remaining 40 per cent to the fronts, but the system can send as much fore and aft as needed if a wheel (or wheels) begins to slip. There’s also a self-locking centre differential at work under the car, and Audi’s Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) to help keep it shiny side up. This last feature is fully defeatable, too, allowing a purer driving experience for those who know (or at least think they know) what they’re doing. For mere mortals driving on public roads, however, we think it’s best to leave it on.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4. Click image to enlarge

At just under 1,800 kg, the RS4’s curb weight is hardly svelte, but it’s only about 10 kg heavier than the 340-horsepower S4, despite all the extra hardware the higher-performance car carries. The hood and front quarter panels are lightweight aluminum, as are most of the suspension bits. Almost as a testament to the quest for weight savings, even the interior door handles are made of aluminum and slotted to save a few grams.

Naturally, the RS4’s ability to stop is as impressive as its go potential. Stand on the middle pedal at whatever speed and those huge brakes grab and haul the car down to a stop in extraordinary fashion.

But if the RS4 is a like a startled cat at higher speeds, it’s a pussycat at saner speeds. Road noise is higher than in standard A4s, but not by much, and the ride from the Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) suspension – which connects the dampers at individual wheels to a central valve to reduce body roll and pitch during acceleration and braking – is certainly firm but surprisingly comfortable on all but the worst roads. Even the clutch, which has to clamp together tightly enough to put all that power to the road through four sticky tires without slipping, feels light enough to be tractable in day-to-day traffic and is easy to modulate. The shifter is a work of art, a precise mechanism that makes it hard to miss a shift, even when the car is being hustled.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Of course, cars cost money, and with cars as capable and potent as this, the cost is substantial. To put things into perspective, one could purchase a nice house in rural west Quebec for the $94,200 that Audi wants for the RS4. Add in the $5,790 Premium Package (DVD-based navigation system, six-disc CD changer, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, memory settings for the driver’s side seat and outside mirror, rain-sensing wipers, Bose stereo, Bluetooth connectivity and power rear and manual side sun shades), $500 for rear side airbags, and the $700 destination charge, and you’re looking at more than $100,000 for a car that to untrained eyes, looks a lot like a regular A4 with some nice aftermarket bits.

Of course, to those who know, the RS4 is so much more than that. Mostly, though, it’s a direct challenge to BMW, whose next generation M3 is in the works as we speak. With the upcoming 335i Coupe packing 300 horsepower and basically rendering the last-gen M3 a lame duck in the German horsepower wars, it’ll be very interesting to see what BMW’s M division’s next move will be.

2007 Audi RS4
2007 Audi RS4; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Rumour has it – and it’s a believable one – that the next M3 will use the 5.0-litre V8 from the previous generation M5. That motor made about 400 horses in the M5, and with some tweaking, there’s no doubt that BMW could squeeze out more to create an RS4 challenger.

What the RS4 also means is more choice for the well-heeled auto enthusiast, though those with the means will have to act fast. Audi doesn’t know yet exactly how many RS4s it will build; RS cars are typically built in very limited numbers, and we were assured that Canada would get no more than 100 cars per year, for no more than two years, so it’s a guarantee that it will be rare. Indeed, Audi pegs the typical RS4 buyer as a 45-year-old male with an average household income of $175,000; a rare demographic in itself.

But when keeping up with the Joneses is important, you can hardly do better than to park a bright red gauntlet in your driveway.


At a glance – 2007 Audi RS4

  • Type: Four-door, five-passenger sports sedan
  • Notable: Incredible performance, great manners and four-door practicality; low production numbers
  • Available: Now
  • Pricing: $94,200 base; more than $100,000 with all available options


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