Friday 17th February 2012


Does the new RS4 herald the end of the German power war? Harris reckons it might

I've written more about Audis in the past two months than I have for the past five years. There's lots of new metal coming from the land of the four rings. This week we have a new RS4. Last week we had an uprated TT RS with red wheels. Ew.

Anyways, there we were thinking it might be canned when Audi sends everyone some photos and a spec sheet of a buxom looking small estate car called the RS4. On its own, this would be of little significance, but I have a feeling in my waters that the new, third-generation RS4 has unwittingly signalled the end of an era that we currently call the 'power war'.

TT RS Plus - plus power, plus chintz...
TT RS Plus - plus power, plus chintz...
In years to come, when people try and identify the moment car manufacturers were cured of the impulse to wave their genitals at each other, it might be Wednesday 15 February 2012 - the day of the embargo for all RS4 information.

I will now attempt to support this theory.

Audi has been at the forefront of the power race for over a decade now. Unable to match BMW M or even Mercedes AMG at the end of the 90s, it took the decision to enlist the help of Cosworth and boost its 2.7-litre bi-turbo V6 to 380bhp. I remember the B5 RS4 launch in Munich: we were told the cars had 155mph limiters and they all sailed into the 170s. Audi engineers used the word 'tolerance' and then sniggered.

Cosworth unleashed power war with B5 RS4
Cosworth unleashed power war with B5 RS4
The original B5 RS4 became a cult car because it was so fast, usable and tweakable. Owners didn't care that people like me crapped on about steering feel, it would take the kids and the dog and, after MTM had messed with it, cruise at 180mph to Geneva.

BMW never felt the need to respond to the RS4. Mercedes gave us the C32 AMG, which had nothing like the firepower on paper but was so much more violent than the claimed 349hp that the V8 362hp C55 which followed never felt quite as quick. But Audi remained the boss for power.

Further supported by the release of the first RS6 - complete mit 450hp twin-turbo V8, which pre-dated the 479hp E55 AMG Kompressor. Which didn't have anything less than 500hp according the German TuV organization. And so it went on.

Meet the new V8, same as the old V8
Meet the new V8, same as the old V8
Now look, I'm not going to list the increases and swings in power between ze Germans, or even what was going on in the US, but it was quite clear that Audi always felt it necessary to have the biggest trouser bulge. BMW had a 500hp M5, Audi produced a 580hp RS6. Whatever Audi's cars lacked in dynamic terms, they recouped through knuckle-size.

And now we have a 450hp RS4. No turbochargers, 30bhp more, and the same torque as the B7 RS4 - which was launched back in 2006. That last fact is eye-opening.The new RS4 is unlikely to weigh less than the B7 because it has a heavy dual-clutch gearbox and is physically bigger, so it is unlikely to feel any quicker than the car it replaces. Which is now seven years old.

Is this progress? I don't know, in fact I'm struggling to know how to respond to the specification of the new RS4. As someone who has whinged in and on several magazines/blogs/websites about the evils of ever-increasing outputs that help conceal the crazy mass of these vehicles, I now find myself sitting looking at the vitals of a car which, according to my mantra, should be applauded for detaching itself from the cycle-of-evil-horsepower and I feel what seasoned interwebbers refer to as 'meh'. 450hp: that all you got Audi? World class hypocrisy, I know.

B7 RS4 just as fast as the new one
B7 RS4 just as fast as the new one
Pathetic, isn't it? Perhaps it's the mechanical similarity to the B7 version that means the new car doesn't capture the imagination like the last two versions, maybe we expected something more - I don't know. Either way, the guts are disappointed.

But this is surely a milestone in one of two ways. The great power-aggressors of Ingolstadt have stood firm and called-away their heavy artillery. If this can be viewed as an end to hostilities in Germany, then that's probably a good thing because it will force them to compete for more sensible honours. Kerb weight would be a good place to begin.

Equally, this might just be a statement of intent from Quattro GmbH. It feels the RS brand is now established enough to no longer need a power figure that steals glances on the newsstand and on Google. If so, it's a brave decision at a time when Mercedes will sell you a C63 estate with 487hp and so much more torque that it is almost in different class to the RS4.

I just have this lingering feeling that the RS4 marks a tipping point in the evolution of the very fast car. When a brand that has defined itself by out-thrusting its rivals settles back and says 'enough', I think we can call that a significant event.

Next week, Audi will announce an 860hp RS6, and I will never utter another word on this subject.



Author: Chris Harris
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