photos by Jill McIntosh
July 2, 2008
Ottawa, Ontario – If you’re looking for a standard test drive article on the 2008 Audi RS4, you’ve come to the wrong place. A standard test drive, which typically covers the more mundane aspects of vehicle ownership like trunk space, fuel economy and rear seat legroom, just doesn’t work for the RS4.
That’s because the RS4 is not a typical car. Read those items I just listed … well, the Audi RS4 transcends them all. In fact, the experience of driving this car transcends the experience of driving just about any other car on the road. So who cares about its trunk space (it’s huge, actually), fuel economy (not great), or rear seat legroom (I didn’t even sit there)?
No, as I say, what the RS4 is about is the experience of driving. Or more precisely, the opportunity to include in your life a succession of experiences that remove you from your everyday cares and responsibilities, and replace them with nothing less than an elevated mental state.
True, other substances are known to produce similar results, but the RS4 is street legal (well, mostly), will eat racetracks for lunch, and its four rings in the middle of the grille will get you exclusive parking at the very best hotels.
There are several cars that are fast and classy, though, and they don’t cause auto writers to wax philosophical. What does the RS4 have that makes it so special?
It’s got to do with the connection between your mind and body. Now don’t laugh; let me explain what I mean. You make a decision to move your arm and you expect it to move instantly, right? Choose to open your hand and there is no time between the thought and the action. Turn your head from left to right, right to left, and these actions are effectively a fait accompli. It’s how we move around.
Well, I’m telling you, the RS4 is like that. Decide to go faster and you are going faster; decide to stop and you’re stopped. Hint at changing lanes and it’s done. Request extreme power, and you have it. And in the process of this remarkable synergy between driver and car, the RS4 makes extraordinarily pleasant sounds that actually have the effect of raising your heartbeat.
So you see this is a different order of car than we’re used to testing. How shall I put it? It’s addictive.
But some of you may want the details; the numbers. You really don’t need them, but okay, here goes.
The $94,200 2008 Audi RS4 is a limited-edition four-door sedan based on the A4. It’s got Quattro all-wheel drive, of course, with 40:60 front-to-rear torque split for optimized balance and handling. The Recaro seats are leather, with contrasting piping and "RS4" embossed on the seatbacks. Wheels are 19-inch titanium-look (part of the Titanium Package; 18-inch wheels are standard); tires P255/35ZR19; engine is a 420-horsepower 4.2-litre V8 that redlines at a startling 8,000 rpm, moving the RS4 from zero to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds (and many sources indicate it’s faster than that); six forward speeds from the short-throw manual gearbox; cross-drilled 3,658-mm rotors with eight-piston calipers at the front (from the Lamborghini Gallardo) and 3,521-mm cross-drilled rotors at the rear; hydraulic Dynamic Ride Control suspension; bespoke mirrors, carbon fibre interior inlay, special exterior venting and ducting to help cool the brakes and engine (speaking of cool, a very cool flat-bottomed performance steering wheel is standard in the rest of the world and we deserve it here). And speaking of the world, the 2007 RS4 was World Performance Car of the Year.
You can choose from seven colours (mine was Daytona Grey), two interior colours (black or silver), add a $6,300 Premium Package that includes Bose audio, a navigation system, driver’s side memory seating, among other features, and delete the sunroof (at no charge!). You can also buy an Executive Package that opens up the colour palette and adds even more conveniences.
So does that take your breath away? Millimetres and aspect ratios, horsepower and pistons, steering wheels and cross drilled rotors. Yeah, yeah, it’s got all that; you don’t even have to think about it. The car is well-equipped.
But there are a couple more items of this type that I do have to mention. For instance, you’ve got to check out the speedometer. It reads to 310 km/h, but 100 km/h is straight up at 12 o’clock high (which means that two-thirds of its calibration occupies the latter one-half of its travel). This can be, shall we say, interesting when you put your foot down hard at 70 km/h and let off at what may appear to be a few conservative points past "straight up."
On that occasion, you can so easily find yourself in outrageous territory — that is, confiscate my license and my car — as the needle almost instantly nudges 200. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but I feel I should warn you about the trick speedo, just in case.
The second item is an innocuous button on the dash marked "S." This, according to an Audi representative, is the "fun button." Should you not be having enough "fun," which seems totally implausible in this car, you can press "S" for Super, or Sport or Stupid-Quick, and just totally go crazy. The RS4 will accelerate even faster, it will roar, it will fly. You’ll want to press it all the time.
Oh, and there’s one more thing I keep recalling. It’s the tactile satisfaction of shifting gears, and more specifically, the gearshift lever itself. It’s ribbed, like a piece of industrial engineering that designers usually cover to make it look prettier. It feels like you’ve got your hand in the actual gearbox, that you’re connecting directly to the cogs and synchros as they hook up and propel the car. It’s a great shifter.
That’s as specific as I’m going to get. The RS4 is a nugget, a jewel, an ultimate PIV (Personal Indulgence Vehicle). It has minor flaws that in this context are so picayune that I’m not even going to mention them. Okay, I’ll mention them. The navigation and CD system is inscrutable; some of the buttons on the centre stack are too small, as are the fancy rearview mirrors; and the price, as several of my colleagues have pointed out, is not friendly to Canadians and really should be lower.
But this is such an integrated, super car to look at and to drive you’ll forgive its minor inconveniences and fiscal excesses. If you’ve got a hundred grand to plunk down on a car, this could be the one. Given the RS4’s transcendent qualities, maybe you can write it off as therapy.
Pricing: 2008 Audi RS4
|(Premium Package of garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, driver’s side memory, navigation system, six-CD Bose stereo with SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers, rear sunshades and heated rear seats $6,300; Titanium Package of titanium-colour wheels, exhaust tips and mirrors, black window trim, black grille surround and piano black interior trim $1,000)|
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturer’s web site