There it was. Parked in the car park at West London Audi. We had taken the demonstrator for a thrash — sorry, I mean a test drive — a week earlier. It was too tempting to pass up the opportunity, but I’ll come to that in a minute.
It sort of sat there scowling at us as if to say, ‘Go on, I dare you to drive me’. This car sets itself apart from other Audis. It’s different to the older model RS4s and more recent RS3 and RS6s. More sculpted¦ like a bodybuilder. It possesses a ‘designer gone mad’ quality that can only be described as ‘attitude’.
While it gives itself away immediately with the subtle RS4 badging and aluminium trim, you can’t help notice those flared front and rear wheel arches, the 19-inch wheels with 255/35 ZR19 Pirelli P Zero tyres, the huge disc brakes and callipers (lifted from the Lamborghini Gallardo), the engine cooling grills and front vents for cooling the brakes. Then you walk around the back and see those huge drainpipe-like exhausts.
Big enough to swallow a small dog (in case you’re having trouble finding somewhere else to store it).
The next thing you notice is how difficult it is to get into. Manoeuvring oneself into the front Recaro seats is a bit like doing the high jump. The first few times it’s a bit painful, but you quickly develop a ‘knack’ for it (a sort of Dukes of Hazzard, General Lee thing).
Take a Seat
The major seat adjustments are manual (height, back, position), but the other knobs and button are the interesting ones. The front lever adjusts how tightly your thighs are held in position, the next one back squeezes around your upper waist, and then there is an adjustable lumbar support. It might be difficult getting in, but once you’re in, you’re not going anywhere. There is a position memory for the electric controls.
Once you’ve wedged yourself in, the next thing you notice is the steering wheel. Now this is cool. Not only is it a small sporty leather moulded wheel, it’s also got this cool aluminium piece at the bottom with the RS4 logo on it. Matching that are the aluminium pedals and starter button, and subtly placed RS4 logo’s around the car. The next thing that strikes you is the number of controls. It’s like the cockpit of an F40 fighter jet. What do all those buttons do?
The next challenge is getting it started. Key on, clutch in and err¦ push the starter button. A bit gimmicky, but it seems to make an impression. One passenger said, “I’ve always wanted a car with one of those.” God knows why. I guess at least you’re unlikely to try to start it when it’s running already. Not that there would be any chance of failing to notice that it’s running, given the noise it makesSo we sat in the car park, blipping the throttle, attracting looks from punters passing through the car park. That lovely V8 rumble. It’s actually got a louder button as well.
The S button on the steering wheel (Schnell?) has four main effects. Firstly, it makes the exhaust note deeper and louder by opening a couple of flaps in the intake system the exhaust. Secondly, it sharpens the throttle response, making the car faster, but more difficult to drive in slow traffic. Thirdly it makes a little green S light up on the dashboard. Finally, the seat gives you a little squeeze in the arse. I’m not joking.
Literally, it clenches you around your lower back and buttocks. Unfortunately, this only effects the driver’s seat, so you cannot impress unsuspecting female friends with a furtive electronic buttock pinch. However, it does hold you in impressively tightly — which is useful given the speed this thing will go around a corner.
Pulling out of the car park and turning onto the main road, I noted how easy this car is to drive. No heavy clutch or steering, impossibly twitchy throttle or notchy gear change. When driving at low speeds, the steering feels as if it will be too light, but it becomes heavier and more responsive as you gain speed. It is certainly neither too light, nor lacking in driver response.
Being a V8, the RS4 has almost boundless torque. Almost 400 Newton metres is available from around 2000rpm, peaking at 430Nm at 7600rpm. Because of this, it will accelerate away very quickly, even from low speeds in fifth or sixth gear. You don’t even have to bother to change gears in order to out-accelerate most cars on the road.
However, it’s not just a V8, it’s an aluminium V8. While a lot of production V8 engines struggle to rev beyond 6000rpm, with the aid of FSI (Fuel Stratified Ignition), this one tops out at 8250rpm with peak power of 414bhp arriving at 7800rpm. And when the engine revs to that point, that V8 rumble turns into more of a race car howl.
This car is fast — very fast. In fact, it feels fast even before you get to 5000rpm. However, at that point, you are pressed back even further into your seat and realise that things are only getting started. If you can find enough clear road, the acceleration through first and second gears feels exhilarating, but it’s when you’re in third and hitting the power band that you suddenly realise how insanely fast this car is.
The sounds the car makes are just fantastic. Clearly, in order to handle the amount of power flowing through it, this car needs an industrial strength drive train. I guess that accounts for the whine the car makes as you accelerate. It sounds a bit like a jet engine winding up, combined with the rumble of a V8 race car.
So, back to that test drive I mentioned earlier. After a wee jaunt westwards through London, we turned back and managed to find a clear stretch of road on the on-ramp to the M4 Eastbound. Here was my opportunity. Overtaking a couple of cars on the roundabout, I popped the sport button, felt my buttocks clench together and accelerated through first and second up the on-ramp. I slammed it into third, reached the motorway, had my first ‘this is insane’ moment and wondered why all the other cars were travelling so slowly. I glanced down at the speedo and realised I was doing 120mph. Damn, better get a Road Angel.
After wedging myself into my new car, Andy (who works for West London Audi) took me through the demonstration of how everything works.
The coolest thing lurks behind the screen for the Sat Nav system. Push a little button below the screen and it folds out revealing the slot for the Sat Nav disc, and two SD card slots. You simply copy MP3 files from your PC onto an SD card, stick them in the slot, and hey presto, you have a ‘juke box’ of music in the car stereo. How cool is that? They never skip like CDs can, and you put whatever you like on them (either ripped off a CD or downloaded from the internet) and the storage capacity is virtually unlimited.
To give you an idea, you can fit around 500 tracks on a 2GB SD card, so the two slots give you capacity for about 1000 songs. That’s about 50 hours of music — enough for a jaunt from London to Budapest and back without listening to the same track twice.
While we’re talking about music, this car must have the best non-aftermarket stereo system I’ve ever experienced. Not only is the audio clarity and definition excellent, it’s also very loud. If you crank it right up, you don’t get distortion, you get a kick in the back from the bass. If you get your hands on an RS4, pop in something like, “I can feel it” by DMX or “Life Goes on” by Tupac to see what I mean.
Doing my best to drive in a restrained fashion, I headed back down the motorway home with the stereo cranked up loud. Just as I was overtaking someone on the M4, I felt a strange vibration and realised that, although the stereo was so loud it had drowned the sound of the engine out, I could feel it through rumbling up through my seat.
Andy assured me that there’s no need to run the car in. Sounds good to me. So, there was no reason not to test top speed on the way home. I thought I’d test whether or not the 155mph speed limiter works. I can tell you that it doesn’t. At least, not up to 165mph, when I started to run out of road. Those huge discs and brake callipers I mentioned earlier certainly do the job. Their performance and responsiveness in terms of hauling the car’s speed down is impressive in any situation. Most cars I have driven exhibit some brake fade when you’re braking from 160mph to rest.
Not this one. Apparently this is something to do with the cross-drilled, inner-vented brake having flow-optimised ventilation geometry incorporating Naca jets on the underfloor of the car. Okay, whatever; it seems to work.
The next task was to establish how this thing fares against a BMW M3. Having owned an M3 convertible, I’m quite familiar with the M3, but one really needs to put the two side by side. So I arranged to meet my friend Jerry (who owns an M3 coupe), swap vehicles and go for a drive. Being a six cylinder, you need to rev the M3 a bit more to get it moving. The noise of the M3 sounds a bit tinny next to the RS4’s deep-throated rumble.
The conclusion? I think Jerry put it best after he drove the RS4. We pulled over, got out of the cars and said, “Damn, that’s fast. It makes the M3 seem pedestrian”. I could not have put it better myself. Plus it’s a four-door saloon to boot (no pun intended).
Next stop was Silverstone. How did I wangle that? Because I ordered the car around two years ago, I was right at the front of the waiting list.
The first cars were supposed to be delivered by December 2005. As an apology for being a bit late, Audi offered everyone on the list a free Audi Driving Experience day at Silverstone. I’ll focus on the highlights of the day. Luckily, it was wet (no, I’m serious). The wet track gave us a great chance to test the limits of the cars without having to travel at dangerously high speeds. The first was the fast lane change exercise, usually involving spinning the RS4 at about 100mph — a great laugh.
The second was a bit of track driving in the RS4. We were supposed to be doing it with the traction control (ESP) on, but on about the third run I could not resist taking it off. The first two corners were fine, but on the third, I lost the back end (that’s right, in a 4WD car), corrected, over-corrected and bought it back in again. I sheepishly pulled up to where our German rally driver instructor was sheltering under the bonnet of an RS4 and he said, “Zat is vy you keep ze ESP on”. Okay, point taken. Later in the day, the instructors took us out for a few ‘sideways’ laps of the track. That’s where this car really showed how different it is to other Audis.
This latest generation of Audi’s quattro drive system has a 40 (front) to 60 (rear) asymmetric/dynamic torque distribution with a self-locking Torsen centre differential. Um¦ okay. So in English, this means the power goes to the wheel that needs it most with a slight bias towards the rear. In other words, it has the traction of a four-wheel drive vehicle, but the handling dynamics at the limit of traction not dissimilar to a rear wheel drive car. What I really mean is you can get the tail out if you want to.
The drive system gives this car an edge in terms of handling. It really does stick to the road like glue and a lot of courage is required to find the car’s limits. If you reach them, the traction control system will save you from getting sideways. That is, unless you want to get sideways, in which case holding down the traction control button for three seconds will sort you out.
Audi quote a 0-100kph time of 4.8 seconds — 0.1 sec faster than the M3 CSL, 0.1 sec slower than the BMW M5. However, I have seen reports of the car achieving 4.5 second 0-100kph times and quarter mile times in the region of 12.5 seconds. It would not surprise me. Top speed is likely to be in the region of 180mph (290kph), assuming the speed limiter actually works — I’ll let you know.
Could It Be Better?
The RS4 is a very well thought-out vehicle. It contains minor features that make a big difference: like the SD card MP3 player; storage boxes under the boot floor so smaller items don’t slide around in your boot; and a satellite navigation system feature that gives you a 3D picture of an intersection as you approach it (so you know exactly which exit to take).
There are a few things I would have liked that the RS4 doesn’t have. The main thing is controls for the stereo on the steering wheel. But the sport button and the built-in lap timer that than can be operated by other buttons on the wheel more than make up for it. I would have liked there to be a tow bar option, but I guess I’m probably on my own on that one.
The only other downside is fuel economy. While, in a car like the M3, you can achieve 25mpg consistently, the V8 engine in this thing really sucks up the gas. You notice it particularly on short trips, where you’re likely to average about 15mpg. On a longer run, you will get more like 20-25mpg, possibly more if you’re not driving hard.
When you drive this car, everyone wants to race you. Mostly people in BMWs and Audis, but by no means limited to those two. It’s weird — the M3 is the same. It’s like the car is some benchmark that everyone wants to test themselves against. Some guy in an S4 convertible decided he wanted to race me on the way up to Cheltenham recently — like he really thought the S4 would be faster ?
However, the greatest thing about this car is the sheer pleasure of driving it. The wonderful noise it makes, the ease of acceleration even at low rpm in high gears, the speed at which is overtakes, the precise handling and almost boundless grip. All this in a car with five seats and decent boot space. What more could one ask for?
2006 Audi RS4
Engine: 4163cc quad cam alloy V8, 84.5mm bore, 92.8mm stroke, 12.5:1 compression, variable valve timing, sodium-cooled
Driveline: 6-speed manual, permanent Quattro four wheel drive, automatic locking Torsen centre diff, electronic diff lock EDL.
Suspension: Front- Independent four-link, single-tube shock, coil spring, radius link Rear- Double-wishbone, anti-roll bar
Brakes: ABS, dual-circuit with diagonal split, electronic brake force distribution (EBD), ventilated and perforated discs with eight-pot callipers front and rear.
Wheels/Tyres: 5 spoke 18×8.5, 255/40/R18 all round.
Performance: 309kW at 7800rpm, 430Nm at 5500rmp, max speed 250kph (limited),
0-100kph 4.8 seconds, 0-200kph 16.6 seconds.
Words: Evan Maindonald Photos: Quinn Hamill