PASADENA, Calif. Audis hot new sports sedan, the RS 4, challenged my perception of sports-sedan performance with a 420-horsepower V-8, rear-biased all-wheel drive and racetrack handling that is capable of humbling many serious sports cars.
This very special version of the A4 is a rolling billboard for Audis Quattro GmbH performance division, which did the engineering. Audi plans to import roughly 1,000 of them at a base price of $66,000. A premium package, which adds the navigation system, Bose audio system, Bluetooth system and heated seats, adds another $4,700.
The 4.2-liter V-8 is completely new. Direct fuel injection, which Audi calls FSI, squirts fuel into each combustion chamber. More accurate fuel metering, plus the cooling effect of the directly injected fuel, enabled Audi engineers to raise the engines compression ratio to 12.5 to 1. Audi also enabled this engine to have an 8,250-rpm maximum redline, which is quite high for a production V-8. Audi said the RS 4 accelerates to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds and has an electronically limited top track speed of 155 mph.
Audi invited auto writers to put the RS 4 through its paces on roads outside of Pasadena and at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif.
The limited production RS 4 looks like a tricked-out A4. It wears fatter wheels, bulging fenders and a more aggressive front fascia. Only the roof and front doors are shared with the standard A4 sedan. Because the V-8 engine is heavy, the hood and front fenders are made from aluminum to save weight and to improve the front-rear weight distribution. Improving weight distribution is another reason the battery is mounted in the trunk where the spare tire normally resides.
Despite the cars high state of tune, it was amazingly docile and easy to drive in the city. The six-speed manual gearbox is a breeze because the linkage is light and direct. The clutch felt equally light and easy to modulate.
Even though the RS 4 was at ease in city traffic, I could sense that it was a tad impatient, like a thoroughbred chomping at the bit. Its free spirit shined brightly as soon as we left the confines of the city and began to dive through the tight twists and turns of the Angeles Crest Highway. This legendary road that runs through the San Gabriel Mountains tests any vehicles backbone, and the RS 4 shone brightly.
Winding through the mountains at a brisk but reasonable speed was a pleasure because of the tight suspension, 19-inch wheels and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Even at a moderate pace, the RS 4 was delightfully intuitive in its reaction to input from brakes, throttle or steering. Charging through the gears was great fun not only because the gearbox ratios are so nicely spaced, but also because the engine loves to rev. I dont remember a V-8 that embraced rpm with such enthusiasm.
The Sport button on the center console enlivens the engine even more because it quickens the throttle response and opens a baffle in the muffler for an even throatier sound.
While the RS 4 might love to live at warp speed, public roads arent the place to experience that. The track at Willow Springs was the proper venue for some flat-throttle driving.
On the road course, the RS 4s uncanny grip on the road was immediately rewarding. There were a couple of straight sections where it was possible to reach nearly 120 miles per hour in fourth gear and the gigantic brakes were mightily impressive when it was time to slow for turns. Willow Springs is fairly fast, so most of the track was driven in third and fourth gears. The car was undoubtedly capable of taking the long sweeping turn eight at well over 100 mph, but the seat of my pants always told me to back off considerably.
The beauty of the RS 4 is its potential to pound flat-out around a racetrack one minute and cruise comfortably on the highway the next. And it does both without a great deal of compromise in either environment. Thats the ultimate compliment.
Price: The base price of the RS 4 is $66,000, not including a $720 destination and $2,100 gas-guzzler charge. The $4,700 premium package includes a navigation system, a six-disc CD changer, Homelink, automatic-dimming interior and exterior mirrors and compass, drivers side seat and mirror memory, rain sensor for wipers, upgraded Bose sound system with Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, heated rear seats and sun shades for the rear seat. The sticker price of a loaded RS4 comes in at $73,520.