You’ll have to read Page 5 for more details on what it’s like to flog a 420-horsepower, all-wheel-drive German sedan wearing Pirelli PZero tires on a track, but here’s a hint: Chances are this car’s limits far surpass your own. Available for comparison was a respectable ride in its own right, the 340-horsepower Audi S4. However, after several laps in the RS 4, the S4 felt less powerful, less hunkered down and secure in the corners, and less stable barreling full bore down the straights. The S4 is a remarkable ride, but the RS 4 makes it feel like a Hyundai. Apparently, an extra $20,000 buys more than fancy bodywork and carbon-fiber trim. Commuters will be happy to know the RS 4 is also a competent daily driver, except for issues with rear seat room and a stiff ride. Thankfully, neither point is a concern when throttle-steering around a corner on a closed course.
Anything with a $68,820 price tag (including a $720 destination charge and a $2,100 gas guzzler tax) should be big on standard and lean on optional. Such is the case with the 2007 Audi RS 4, which comes decked out with a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, headlight washers, heated mirrors, adaptive high-intensity discharge headlights, dual-zone climate control, power heated Recaro front bucket seats, leather upholstery, and a lap timer. There’s also a power sunroof that, like all side windows, features one-touch opening and closing, as well as a 10-speaker audio system with an MP3 player, subwoofer, and six-disc CD changer. The $66,720 sticker also buys a rear parking aid, a tire pressure monitoring system, a trip computer, an exterior temperature gauge, and six airbags – two front, two front-side, and two side-curtains.
Should that bounty of equipment not be enough, a short list of options aims to satisfy buyers of the fully-loaded persuasion. In exchange for $4,700, the Premium Package offers multiple memory functions, rain-sensing wipers, electrochromic interior and exterior mirrors, Bluetooth capability, heated rear seats, a power rear sunshade, a navigation system, and a Bose sound system. Individual options include Sirius satellite radio, rear side airbags, brushed aluminum interior trim, and a sunroof delete option for weekend racers looking to cut weight.
Nuts and Bolts
Audi engineers put a lot of work into making the 2007 RS 4 more than a glitzed-up run-of-the-mill sedan. The primary ingredient is a 4.2-liter, dual overhead cam, 32-valve V8 engine pushing 420 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 317 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,000 rpm, 90 percent of which is available between 2,250 and 7,000 rpm. This potent aluminum power plant uses a six-speed manual transmission to direct energy to each of the 19-inch alloy wheels and 255/35 Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The popular Audi S4 also houses a 4.2-liter V8, yet the RS 4’s version has been overhauled with all new internals; even the aluminum used to construct the block is different. The RS 4 also utilizes a tweaked exhaust system with two large oval outlets rather than the S4’s quad tips, and an S button on the instrument panel opens things up for a louder, deeper sound while also putting a quicker response behind the aluminum accelerator pedal. All told, the amped RS 4 pushes an additional 80 ponies and 15 lb.-ft. of twist when compared to the revered S4 and reaches 60 mph in 4.8 seconds instead of 5.3. The top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, and maximum revving takes place at 8,250 rpm.
Using the brand’s quattro all-wheel-drive system with a Torsen center differential, the RS 4 usually functions with 60 percent of the output going to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front, though 100 percent can be reapportioned to the front or rear as necessary. If only Audi’s engineers could better distribute the 3,957-lb. curb weight, calculated to be 58 percent carried in front and 52 percent in the rear. The 2007 Audi RS 4 sits 1.4 inches lower than the A4 and rides on a four-link front suspension with a double wishbone setup out back. Dynamic Ride Control employs a central reservoir joined to diagonally-connected dampers in an effort to limit pitch and roll.
Front and rear tracks have been widened, the 36.4-foot turning circle is more than a foot tighter than the S4’s, and the cross-drilled brake rotors are larger by 20 mm and 4 mm, front and rear, respectively. Functioning vents in the lower front fascia and liquid jets help to prevent brake fade, and automatic brake drying heightens stopping ability in wet conditions by causing slight, periodic contact between the pads and rotors. The braking system also features ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. Audi’s Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) includes a two-stage defeat whereby one touch of the button on the instrument panel deactivates the traction control, while a second touch turns the system off completely – best to play with this mode on a track or in a big, empty parking lot, and make sure that all insurance policies are current. Steering is addressed by a rack-and-pinion system with Servotronic speed-sensitive assist.
Some may wonder what the difference is between the Audi S4 and the Audi RS 4, and how can anyone discern one from the other? There are several design cues separating the two, some more apparent than others. Among the more obvious examples are the flared wheels wells (sculpted into the body work and not simply tacked-on parts), gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels, dual oval exhaust pipes in place of the S4’s smaller quad tips, the hunched-down stance, and RS 4 badges on the trunk lid, rear door moldings, and upper grille. The front fenders and hood are constructed of lightweight aluminum, and a subtle spoiler has been incorporated into the rear body design. Overall, the doors and roof panel are the only exterior panels shared between the RS 4 and other A4 models. Collectively, these enhancements transform this car into one mean looking German sedan, one that looks intimidating in the rearview mirror and track-ready from behind. And after chasing a few at hyperactive speeds through twisty canyons, it’s fair to say that even in yellow, there’s tremendous joy in watching this Audi do its thing.
Designers also performed a few tweaks to the RS 4’s interior by adding silver piping to the leather seats; stitching perforated leather to the steering wheel, shift knob, and emergency brake handle; and placing carbon-fiber trim around the shifter, on the doors, and along the dash. A high-quality mesh headliner matches the grain used on the A-pillar, which runs continuously almost to the B-pillar so there’s no ugly seam for the driver to look at. Everything inside of the 2007 Audi RS 4 is first-rate, from the soft leather to the padded plastics used on the dash, door panels and the cushioned armrests. The front bucket seats, made by Recaro, have bolsters that would stifle the movement of a sugar-fed kid on Halloween, with plenty of power adjustments, a manual pull-out section that lengthens the bottom cushion, multiple heat settings, and beefy headrests. The only downside is the hard center console that rubs uncomfortably against the driver’s knee in aggressive turns. A manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel provides a wide range of adjustment.
Rear seat passengers are afforded less respect, as evidenced by the tight knee and foot accommodations. Head room is plentiful, and three adjustable headrests are provided. But hard front seatbacks beat up passengers’ knees and getting lower extremities into the footwell is darn near impossible. A fold-down center armrest includes two retractable cupholders, a first-aid kit, and opens the way for a ski bag to be extended into the cabin.
…With one hand firmly planted on the perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel and the other on the shift knob, pump the tach up a few hundred rpms and drop the light-effort clutch. ESP is on, and we’re in S mode, so the Pirelli PZero tires used for today’s track run grab like a mofo and throttle response is immediate, putting 317 lb.-ft. of torque to work almost immediately and rocketing the 2007 Audi RS 4 out of pit row. That’s a good number, but find yourself in the wrong gear and the engine will bog down a bit – better to dance with the rev limiter and saddle up to play equestrian. Spin the motor into the 7,000 rpm range, where the S mode has opened up the exhaust to make beautiful music, then slide in the clutch, flick the tranny into second, pop that third pedal and the response could snap a neck. Just don’t try too hard to find second – that almost guarantees a blown shift.
Enter the race track at the approach to turn one, hammer down in the straight to turn two, track out and drop a quick pat on the brakes so the RS 4 takes a set, then rip around a wide sweeper while feathering the throttle. The tight steering does an excellent job of communicating grip, all while speeds reach 80 mph heading into the apex. By now it’s full on as the RS 4 tracks out and then tucks back in before braking hard into turn three. There’s no fade or shudder, as will be the case after each lap performed on this sunny, 85-degree day.
Turn three is a tight uphill left where most cars would give up the goose, either losing traction or unleashing a nightmare of buzzing and power-cutting stability control systems. The RS 4 hunkers down with no such nonsense, or any signs of under- or oversteer. The V8 is revving high in third gear around a horseshoe kink heading into a downhill right hander; dump some muscle on the throttle tracking left and then right just before a strong pump of the brakes and a sweeping left. After a quick flick into fourth gear, crest a gentle rise in a soft curve to the right and then put hammer down for the back straight, reaching about 110 mph before it’s time to bend into turn eight.
Some brake pressure at the end of the straight transitions weight to the front, preparing the RS 4 for a long, high-speed sweeper with a tricky entrance to the final turn on the course. Track out near the end of turn eight, and then cut into the last apex before heading full throttle into the front straight. Gently track left, perform quick foot work to find fourth and then fifth, and blast past the pits at about 125 mph before standing hard on the brakes and downshifting into third. Now, repeat the whole thing over again, except faster this time because you’re learning the track. After several laps, it was clear that the 2007 Audi RS 4’s unrelenting acceleration, infallible brakes, responsive and precise steering, and exceptional overall stability make it an ideal daily driver/track car.
On the way to and from Willow Springs, we had a chance to evaluate the Audi RS 4 in more traditional circumstances, on highways and back roads where the majority of buyers would spend their time. Impressions were much the same as on the track, though we came to fully appreciate the easy clutch in heavy traffic and enjoyed decent visibility thanks to the small rear quarter windows. At these slower speeds, the S-mode button made the exhaust noticeably louder at higher revs, though the quickened throttle response was a bust unless engineers actually intended to give the car a too-sensitive pedal. S mode works great while flogging the RS 4 on the track, but around town it has little benefit. Body roll on and off the track was almost nonexistent, and while hard to notice barreling along on the big track at Willow Springs, a jaunt on the highway unveiled a decidedly stiff ride and some unruly wind noise from the top of the windshield.
Does Audi plan on introducing cabriolet or avant versions for the RS 4?
There are no plans at this time for U.S. sale of an RS 4 cabriolet or avant.
How does the 2007 Audi RS 4’s price compare to the S4?
Pricing for the 2007 Audi S4 is not yet available, but the 2006 model carries a base price of $48,820 including a $720 destination charge and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. That is exactly $20,000 less than the 2007 RS 4.
When does the 2007 Audi RS 4 go on sale?
Sales officially begin in June, though 750 orders have already been taken. Audi plans on selling 1,000 U.S. units in the first full year of production, while another 100 RS 4s will make their way to Canada.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Audi RS 4
Base Price: $68,820 (including a $720 destination charge and a $2,100 gas guzzler tax)
Engine Size and Type: 4.2-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 420 at 7,800 rpm
Engine Torque: 317 lb.-ft. at 6,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,957
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 14/20 mpg
Length: 180.7 inches
Width: 71.5 inches
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Height: 55.7 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.3/34.3 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 37.9/37.1 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 13.4 cubic feet
Competitors: BMW M5, Cadillac CTS-V, Cadillac STS-V, Chrysler 300 SRT-8, Dodge Charger SRT-8, Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG
Photos courtesy of Audi