Driven: Audi RS4
Harris gets to grips with the reborn Audi RS4 - has it kept the magic of the last one?
You know the basic numbers by now: 450hp at 8,250rpm, 317lb ft at 4,000rpm and an empty kerb weight of 1,795kg. Now it would be ridiculous to suggest any 3 Series-sized car with 450hp was lacking guts, but compare the torque-to-weight ratios of this and the previous B7 RS4 and they don't tell a pretty story for the new car. They share the same 317lb ft - although you waited 1,500rpm longer in the old car - and yet the B7 weighs 80kg less. It's 177lb ft per tonne versus 186lb ft per tonne. That is not progress. For the record, a C63 AMG, even without the power-pack, has 442 lb ft.
Nor, for some people, does the deletion of a manual gearbox in favour of a dual-clutch unit with seven forward gears represent an improvement. The chassis is effectively an updated version of the S4's 4WD system with the clever Sport Differential travelling through lighter aluminium suspension components and some very fancy, optional 20-inch forged wheels.
To these eyes, the RS4 absolutely looks the part - I'm sure it has the showroom battle already won for many people with those blistered arches, that matt chromework and a suggestive shoulder-line. This car does subtle-threatening as well as anything in recent memory. The cabin is standard Audi A4 with extra trimmings and new clock faces - which means in many ways it's beginning to look and feel a bit dated, some of the plastics are unpleasant, but the RS touches really lift it. Our car had the standard seats, but buckets are an option. Good to note that the standard chairs go nice and low.
Simplicity, made complex
I have nothing against toys and some level of adjustment theatre, but the RS4 is too complicated for me. This is a car that is supposed to do all things for most people - lump children, dog, grandma and wardrobe and then reward the driver when he or she is alone. That was one of the best things about the last RS4 - it just worked out of the box.
The optional Dynamic steering (variable ratio) is probably best avoided. In the heaviest setting it's dead and requires way too much effort and the way it adjusts the amount of lock required according to speed is sometimes counter-intuitive. I didn't get to try the standard electro-mechanical steering, but a man I trust said it was better but still incapable of drawing you into the experience. I want to drive a car on 19-inch wheels and with normal steering ASAP.
Strangely, this is a car that actually comes alive when you absolutely grab it by the scruff and hammer it: then you really reap the benefits of that 8,500rpm limiter, the fast shifts and a 4WD system that remains neutral through a turn and then allows some slip from the rear axle. It's not a drift king, but this car doesn't feel front-driven - and that's the biggest advantage it holds over the B7 RS4.
This leaves the RS4 in a slightly confusing situation. Push very hard and it reminds you that Audi's RS engineers are willing to de-specify the brand statement understeer, but at sane speeds this car is both lacking in sparkle and low-effort performance. Ride comfort will be marginal in the UK too - even on the softest setting.
For many people the RS4's blend of badge, all-weather performance and brilliant styling will already have sealed the deal. I agree that it's a compelling recipe. But it isn't perfect and in lacking that one-stop omnipotence and not having enough torque for low-pulse devastation, for me it doesn't have the magic of the B7 version. The first time you drove one of those, you just found yourself thinking, "This is pretty much bang-on-the money." The same isn't quite true this time around. Equally, if you just love revving the tits of an amazing V8, this might just be the car for you.
Engine: 4,163cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (S Tronic), 4WD
Power (hp): 450@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 317@4,000rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited, increasable to 174mph 'on request')
MPG: 26.4mpg (NEDC combined)