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2007 Audi RS 4

Audi Gets Serious About Its Smallest Sedan

    There’s good news and bad news regarding our review of the hottest Audi to hit these shores since the RS 6 discovered exactly how limited “limited production” is when Ingolstadt stopped turbocharging the daylights out of its midsize sedan in 2003.
     The good news is we got our anxious little driving-gloved hands on an example, and not just any example. This was an Imola Yellow screamer so shockingly noticeable area cops were planning Hawaiian vacations on their lunch hours. A radar detector or cleavage should come standard.
     The bad news is our time with the car came in the middle of December. And since this is Michigan the car was wearing Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D rubber. That means we were shortchanged on the car’s ultimate performance.
     Don’t get us wrong, it still handled all the corners we could throw at it. But when it came time to strap on the testing gear and send Rocket Ship 4 into orbit the snowshoes compromised every aspect of its performance potential.
     So there are no test numbers to get excited about. We’ll have to take Audi’s word that the car scampers to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and tops out at an electronically limited 155 mph. But we can tell you what it’s like to drive. In a word: good. In more words: So freakin’ awesome you’ll wonder aloud what happened to BMW.
     The RS 4 doesn’t need umpteen suspension settings and oodles of modes for an overly complicated auto-manual transmission. No sir. This Audi reminds us of BMWs of yore when the driver controlled the car and computers knew their place. (In the interest of full disclosure we should note starting with the 2007 model year BMW now offers a true manual in the M5, and we thank them for that.)
     A do-it-yourself 6-speed manual is the only transmission offered and the satisfaction that comes with a perfectly executed downshift is as rewarding as ever. Clutch take-up is spot-on and the pedal is not particularly heavy so a full day of shifting will leave you no worse for wear.
     A traditional suspension setup featuring an aluminum four-link front and double-wishbone rear is charged with keeping tires to tarmac and thanks to anti-roll bars at both ends and Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control excess body roll is kept in check. First introduced on the RS 6, DSC connects the car’s dampers diagonally through a central valve and does so without electronics. This version has been revised to save weight and occupy less space. We can testify the car’s ride quality remains taut but very comfortable. We were shocked at how well nasty roads were soaked up; even frost heaves didn’t upset the car. Considering this sports sedan rides on 255/35R19 tires we were genuinely impressed.
     Our example turned in cleanly despite the snow tires, but we suspect they were responsible for numbing up the steering even more than is usual in an Audi so we can’t pass judgment in this area yet.
     Suffice it to say the monster 8-piston front brakes, measuring 14.4 inches, were too much for the snow tires to handle. We did some 60 to 0 mph braking tests just for fun but couldn’t get within 25 feet of the distance this car is cable of stopping in. We liked the initial bite though, and the brakes felt easily modulated through the middle pedal.
     Of course, all of these great performance characteristics don’t mean a thing if they get the engine wrong. But they didn’t. They got it very, very right. We’re talking instantaneous throttle response, power anywhere on the tach, an unbridled eagerness to rev to the 8,250-rpm redline and a noise rivaled only by the exhaust note.
     The 4.2-liter FSI V8 is simply a masterpiece. It’s a showcase for the modern performance engine. The pistons and connecting rods have been lightened and strengthened, and the crankshaft and cylinder heads have been revised. Exhaust valves are sodium-filled and it works together with the direct-injection system to provide a remarkable 12.5:1 compression ratio.
     Yes, the horsepower peak of 420 is at 7,800 rpm, but with an engine this smooth and a sound this glorious it’s hardly a chore to keep the revs up. Plus 90 percent of the 317 lb-ft of peak torque is available from 2,250 rpm to 7,600 rpm. This engine means business. It’s also nice that Audi doesn’t cover it up with a plastic shroud like some competitors. It sits exposed showing off its red valve covers with two stylish carbon fiber covers to mount the badges on. The way it should be.
     Twist the key and you’re limited to 7,000 rpm until the engine warms up and unlocks access to the sky-high redline. Then it’ll take all the restraint you can muster to keep this car at legal speeds. So marvelous is its ability to hold the road that corners can be taken at twice the posted speed without a hint of nervousness. Audi’s permanent quattro all-wheel drive system is largely to thank for the characteristic rock solid feeling at speed. In the RS 4 it is tuned to send 40 percent of the power forward and 60 percent to the rear wheels. Of course the Torsen center differential can send all the power to whatever end needs it should conditions dictate a change.
     A press of the dash-mounted Sport button provides even quicker throttle response and you’ll also be rewarded with an exhaust note that will make unnecessary throttle blips impossible to resist. Drivers should be prepared to never see the EPA rating of 14-mpg city and 21-mpg highway actually materialize.
     It’s pretty much standard A4 garb inside save for the superb Silk Nappa sport seats and carbon fiber trim. To be completely honest the A4 family interior is getting old, but materials are still solid and ergonomics are quite good so we won’t complain too much. The RS 4 offers a great dead pedal and driver’s position and the shifter is right where you want it. Overall it is a business interior with few frills.
     The same goes for the exterior where the aggressive 19” wheels are the easiest way to tell this isn’t your standard Audi. Pictures don’t do the car justice because the aggressive fender flares aren’t that apparent, but the vehicle looks superb regardless. It’s just enough to set this car off as something special but not enough to scream, “Here I am!” Unless, of course, you were crazy enough to order your example in yellow.
     No, we weren’t able to bring you hard evidence of just how capable this car is. But even on snow tires we fell in love. It’s quick, seats four, has monster brakes, a real trunk and is as refined as you’d expect any Audi to be. It’s not perfect, but for $68,820 it is really, really close. We can’t wait to get one to the track.

The Good:
Great engine, great transmission, great handling, great brakes, all backed by a 4-year or 50,000-mile warranty.
The Bad:
Weighs almost 4,000 pounds, cramped rear seat, $2,100 gas-guzzler tax.
The Verdict:


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