Audi RS4

The RS4 is evidence that Audi has rediscovered the key to making driving fun and exciting. It is simply the best car that the company has ever produced, says John Simister

Price: £49,980
Engine: 4,163cc, V8 cylinders, 32 valves, 420bhp at 7,800rpm, 317lb ft at 5,500pm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0 to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, 20.9mpg official average
CO2: 324g/km

Can an Aston Martin and an Audi occupy the same sentence? It looks like they just have, just as they occupy adjacent slots in an alphabetical list of car prices. But there is more reason than mere etymological coincidence. Take the newest examples of both brands.

Last year we covered Aston Martin's new Vantage V8 in these pages, thrilling to its engine note, loving its combination of searing high-revs power and easy low-revs cruisability. And that magnificent engine bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Audi's new RS4, the fastest road-going Audi ever - and yours for £49,980.

The Audi's engine is a little quieter most of the time (although it, too, has the Jekyll and Hyde personality split brought about by an exhaust bypass valve), but the character, the crispness, the fabulous excess of energy, all are shared.

The RS4's figures are astounding. Eight naturally aspirated cylinders, 4.2 litres, 420bhp pouring out to the wheels. (Thus is the Aston upstaged: it achieves "just" 380bhp from its 4.3 litres.) That Audi power is fed to all four wheels, because this is a quattro-drive. Then there's the speed, electronically limited to 155mph but potentially rather more, and the ability to pass 60mph after 4.7 seconds.

And then there's the engine's ability to scream to stratospheric heights as it performs these feats, levelling off only when the rev-counter reads 8,250rpm. That's Aston-like, too, except that the British car isn't quite so rev-happy (only 7,500rpm, poor thing). No Audi has performed feats like these before.

This latest RS4 is far removed from the already rapid, also V8-powered, S4, not least because it has a six-speed manual transmission instead of a video-game automatic. But the last RS4 was a big disappointment. It had huge pace from its twin-turbo V6, but there was no drama, no thrill, no sense of bonding with the machine.

It took the RS6, based on the old-generation A6 and powered, like this new RS4, by a hefty V8 with not a turbocharger in sight, to show that Audi could once again make a really rapid car that is also fun to drive. Making the driver feel involved in the driving process, generating satisfaction from the experience instead of trying to numb it, these have long been Audi blind spots.

Yet it hasn't always been like that. The original Quattro was a highly exciting car. But after this, Audi seemed to lose the knack.

The RS6 was such a breath of air that it almost seemed to be an Audi mistake. To drive it was to drive an Audi in a roadscape cleared of fog, in which everything happens instantly and sends back messages as to how the happening is happening.

Into this mould is cast the new RS4, as different in character from the not-really-sporty S4 as it can be. Unlike the RS2 and previous RS4, which were estate cars (and probably the most rapid of the genre you could buy), this RS4 is a saloon. Its body is wider than a regular A4's, thanks to flared-out wheel arches; the front wings are of aluminium, as is the bonnet.

The engine has FSI direct injection, as is now the Volkswagen Group way, and an extraordinarily high compression ratio of 12.5 to one. It has race-specification connecting rods, so it will stay together at the high speeds that are the secret of its power production.

Its pistons move up and down at a maximum rate of 25.5 metres a second, about the same as a Formula One car's. Each cylinder sucks air up to 70 times a second during which time the ignition system supplies 550 sparks, and the lubrication system is designed to cope with a 1.4g cornering force before all the oil ends up out of reach of the oil pump.

And here's an Audi first, an admission at last that really fast cars work better when the rear wheels do most of the work of power transmission. Left to its own devices, the system directs 60 per cent of effort to the rear instead of Audi's usual 50 per cent. This proportion can alter according to the amount of grip available to each wheel, but the starting point is that of a proper sports car with a little bit of power oversteer.

What else? Enormous brakes, with eight-piston calipers at the front, and the Dynamic Ride Control first used on the RS6.

Time to try it out, beginning by pressing the start button that's now de rigueur for a sporting car. The V8 woofs into life, ready for the off. Into first, second, third; the RS4 is immediately very rapid, pulling hard - harder than the Aston - from low revs right through to that stratosphere. But there's something odd about the accelerator response. The first part of the pedal's movement is unresponsive, making an accurate blip hard to meter when you're trying to smooth a downshift. Also, if you throttle back suddenly for an upshift, the whole driveline oscillates springily.

Then I press the Sport button on the steering wheel. The accelerator's response becomes crisper, cleaner, easier to fine-tune, although the change in mode is progressive enough not to cause a sudden surge of energy while the new settings take effect. And the seats, if you have the optional sports seat pack, narrow themselves by 15 per cent to clamp you more firmly for the sporty drive you're about to have.

I'm not sure about that last part. If you've been happy with the way the seats already were, the sudden intimacy is unsettling. I found myself readjusting this electric lateral support back to its former position.

Into a corner, feel the steering connect precisely with the road, feel how easy it is to point into a corner and adjust the line with steering or accelerator. It's transparent, it draws you in, it talks to you; it powers out of a bend like a BMW M6 but without the fear of an incipient powerslide and sudden electronic intervention. It is, in short, so unAudi-like that, deprived of visual clues, you would not guess the make.

It also rides very well, better than any other Audi A4 in the model hierarchy, whether on standard 18in wheels or optional 19in ones. A few laps of Pirelli's test track at Vizzola, near Milan, confirmed how agile, how controllable and how hugely adhesive this car is. It is, in fact, the best Audi ever.

The rivals

BMW M3 £41,875

Only six cylinders and 343bhp, but what a crisp, beguiling engine. Ride is too firm, but on the right roads this two-door coupé is a fabulous drive. Based on previous 3-series; production ends soon.

CADILLAC CTS-V, £45,000 approx

Left-hand-drive only, but this razor-edged, Corvette V8-powered ultimate CTS takes you where you never thought a Cadillac could go. Cabin feels cheap at this price, but terrific rear-wheel-drive fun.

MERCEDES-BENZ C55, £48,790

Another V8, less racy than the Audi's. Automatic transmission takes the edge off the sportiness, but this top C-class is an understated and rapid performer, albeit overshadowed by the RS4.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker