November 15, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2007 Audi RS4

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Stuttgart, Germany – If you are reading this you already know what I’m going to write. You will have no doubt already read every single review of the RS4 that you could find. You know that it is, through some sort of corporate alchemy, a heavily modified Audi A4. You know it’s fast, you know it’s sexy, you know all about it.

You have NO idea.

We, like you, thought we knew what to expect. We thought we understood what we were talking about here. We thought wrong.

The RS4 is simply one of the most incredible, most brilliant, most obsessively refined pieces of engineering ever. Not just among cars, but ever, as in it’s up there with the Pyramids, the Xiang Dam, the CN Tower and the wireless TV remote. If no car company ever made another car again, there really wouldn’t be any reason to care.

It’s not because the RS4 is the fastest, or the most powerful, or the best looking car ever, or even that it’s remotely affordable. No, the thing is that the RS4 is perfectly hewn and crushingly capable.

It all starts with the twist of the key. The magnesium caped, red accented motor spins to life transmitting scintillating little vibrations throughout the car. A prod of the gas spikes the tach and a ripping snort cuts the air behind the massive dual exhaust outlets. You grip the meaty sport wheel, the seat grips you, the hammer drops, the revs rise, the clutch pops, the AWD tears at the road and YOU ARE F***ING GONE! Second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth….waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!! The soft limiter acts like the guiding hand of god as you shriek down the Autobahn at 270 km/h…in the rain!

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Even at V-Max the RS4 is as planted as Ayer’s rock. Stephan Reil, General Manager of development for Quattro GmbH (the company that builds the RS4), told me over spaetzle, zuppe with spaetzle and a side order of – you guessed it – spaetzle, that completely uncorked, the car will do 300 km/h. The limiter is a half-hearted concession to an old gentleman’s agreement between Audi, Mercedes and BMW, to limit top speeds to an official 255 km/h. So much for that.

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Quattro GmbH builds the RS4 after it has been partially completed on the regular Audi A4 assembly line. Unlike some manufacturer’s hot rod shops, they don’t need to dismantle any part of the RS4, just finish it off. Differentiating the RS4 from the regular A4 is a 420-hp 4.2-litre 8000-rpm V8, 40/60 front/rear split AWD system, 19-inch wheels, 14-inch brakes with eight-piston calipers, different seats, different trim, completely different front and rear fenders, hood, bumpers, trunk lid and rear doors – not to mention suspension tuning and a massive helping of bad-assed-ness.

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On the road the RS4 covers irregular pavement with aplomb. The faster you go the better the suspension works – adeptly keeping the tires in contact with the pavement and you in contact with the world of the living. You can drive the RS4 like a grocery getter if you want and it’s perfectly docile when doing so, but you can tell that it’s far happier with the engine spinning 8000 rpm, tires fighting for traction, two wheels off the ground and hell bent for leather. Presumably, the RS4 will understeer at the limit – it ought to with that massive engine hanging over the front axle like a trebuchet’s counterweight – but we couldn’t make it. Turn the wheel and the nose swivels immediately and the car adopts a neutral attitude. Pour in the power mid-corner and the RS4 explodes past the apex. If there is a limit we couldn’t find it and if you do find it on a public road you are more than a bit of an idiot. Bombing along wooded mountain roads the RS4 leaps from one corner to the next, seemingly thrusting its weight side-to-side, positioning itself for the next bend. Credit here must go to the innovative cross-linked shocks with hydraulic pressure travelling diagonally across the car to supplement the traditional anti-roll bars.

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Equally at home on the Autobahn or winding country roads, the RS4 simply destroys other performance cars. We cruised on and off at between 220 and 250 km/h with occasional runs at the 270 km/h limiter. High-speed ride quality is plenty comfortable on Germany’s billiard-smooth highways and the steering always seems to have the right amount of feel and weight regardless of the speed.

Hard charging corners and high-speed cruising both require exceptional brakes and well, you got ‘em. We dropped anchor several times from 250 km/h to avoid Dutch tourists and Polish truck drivers who can’t quite seem to grasp the whole fast lane/slow lane thing. The pedal is as firm as 60-year-old fruitcake and easy to modulate within its shallow range of travel. You can feel the tires’ grip through the brake pedal allowing the car to dance at the limit of adhesion.

The only dynamic element that can occasionally make you look like a jerk is the abrupt throttle tip-in when in ‘S’ mode (faster throttle mapping and forces several intake and exhaust flaps into max-attack mode.) It’s most noticeable when taking a pregnant pause to balance the chassis. Try to ease back in and it can bit rough. Best not to pause.

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There are but three differences between the Canadian spec RS4 and the Euro cars. We don’t get the start button (who cares), the aggressive optional Euro seats (wide asses rejoice!) or the gorgeous, flat-bottomed, alloy-and-leather steering wheel. This last one is a big deal. The car will still drive brilliantly without it but the steering wheel is a critical visual cue to the driver that he is indeed piloting something truly exceptional. The reason, we are told, is that the alloy-look plastic flat portion doesn’t pass U.S. crash requirements. We aren’t the U.S.

The RS4 goes on sale roughly when you read this and will cost about $95,000. Five Gs more with Navi and some other gadgets. This is a good deal.

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