Audi RS4 – 2008 First Drive: Exclusivity – make something rare and, as seems to often be the case, people will clamor to have it. From diamonds to interviews to expertise, that which is deemed short in supply rises exponentially in demand, outdone only by a grossly inflated price that’s sure to follow. Simply put, we all want what we can’t have…even if we didn’t want it before we knew we couldn’t have it.
That’s the cynic’s view, one we’re admittedly quite familiar with. It also represented our initial impression upon being introduced to the 2008 Audi RS 4 Cabriolet, a drop top variant of the uber impressive sedan that will be made available to only 300 U.S. buyers. The $85,000 starting price, adjusted to include destination and gas guzzler charges, requires an extra outlay of about 20 large compared to the sedan. Our inner cynic was firing on all cylinders.
Then we started crunching the numbers. Despite less muscle under its hood, the RS 4 Cabriolet is in the same performance ballpark as the BMW M6 Convertible, a vehicle that runs about $25,000 more and is delivered sans Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive technology. A true comparison test is the only way to feel out the winner here, but the more important point is this: The 2008 Audi RS 4 Cabriolet deserves to be considered amongst the niche of performance luxury convertibles. That’s exclusivity awarded not because of limited supply or high prices, but rather because of basic merits.
Credit for the RS 4 lineup, including the all-new Cabriolet, goes to quattro GmbH, a subsidiary of Audi that’s responsible for the S Line products as well as exclusive vehicles such as the RS 4. This performance-oriented group is focused, in part, on giving Audi street cred when compared against the likes of BMW’s M cars and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG series.
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The Basics: Model Mix
Audi has made ordering a 2008 RS 4 Cabriolet a simple affair – there’s but one trim and it’s fully-loaded. Besides the 420-horsepower V-8 under the hood, every example rolling off the assembly line features a nine-speaker Bose sound system complemented by a six-disc CD changer and Sirius satellite radio service, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system, and a host of creature comfort features. All models include eight-way power front seats with driver-side memory, heated front and rear seats cloaked in Silk Nappa leather, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and much more. Buyers should also enjoy the standard wind blocker and triple-layer “acoustic hood” soft top designed to keep this convertible unusually quiet.
When it comes to options for the RS 4 Cabriolet, there’s little discuss. The six-disc CD changer located in the glovebox can be replaced with an iPod interface and brushed aluminum can be selected as a replacement for standard carbon fiber interior trim.
Unlike the RS 4 Sedan, the Cabriolet comes fully-equipped, a point glaringly clear in its base price. That equates to $81,900, or $15,000 more than the four-door variant minus any options. Big bucks, to be sure, but don’t think you’ll be walking out of the Audi dealership for less than $82,000. There’s the $775 destination charge to factor in, along with a $2,100 gas guzzler tax, bringing the tally to $84,775. Tack on another $775 if you’ve got to have yours delivered in Sprint Blue Pearl Effect paint.
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What’s New: Outside
Buyers keen on an Audi convertible, aside from the TT, have three choices: Audi A4 Cabriolet, Audi S4 Cabriolet, and now the Audi RS 4 Cabriolet. They come with escalating degrees of testosterone, from the mainstream though luxurious A4 to the “Hold on, Sally!” RS 4. To clearly distinguish the most powerful variant from its lesser siblings, the RS 4 Cabriolet boasts a unique front fascia with a honeycomb grille and lower honeycomb inserts. The flanks feature air extractors in the fenders, widened wheel flares surrounding 19x9-inch alloys, and lower side skirts. From the rear, RS 4 and S4 models look strikingly similar except for tailgate badges and the RS 4’s large dual tailpipes (the S4 uses four smaller pipes).
Audi has a solid reputation for building quality interiors, something even casual observers can now appreciate as they pass by a drop-topped RS 4 on a sunny day. Well-bolstered sport seats feature RS 4 nomenclature embroidered into the backrests, alloy and carbon fiber elements are used as tasteful decoration throughout the cabin, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with secondary controls appears ready for some aggressive driving. Designers have avoided the employ of exaggerated lines and attention-demanding curves, instead utilizing a flat dash with just enough shape to appear elegant, and thick, secure armrests and sills which impart a sense of strength. Above it all is a triple-layer soft top designed to limit noise intrusion.
Under the Hood
Power for the 2008 Audi RS 4 Cabriolet comes from the same V-8 found in the brand’s macho muscle sedans and race-bred R8 supercar. The 4.2-liter aluminum powerplant features FSI direct injection, 32 valves, dual overhead cams, and a lofty 8,250-rpm redline. Horsepower reaches 420 at 7,800 rpm while 317 lb.-ft. of torque is unleashed at 5,500 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission works in harmony with quattro all-wheel-drive to put power to the pavement; Audi claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed electronically capped at 155 mph. Cruise at those speeds and you’ll see fuel economy ratings even worse than the 12-city/19-highway estimated by the EPA.
In addition to its stout powertrain, the drop-top RS 4 boasts serious hardware designed to deliver solid handling. The package includes Servotronic speed-sensitive steering, a four-link front suspension that works with a double-wishbone setup out back, beefy cross-drilled disc brakes, and 19-inch alloys rolling on 255/35 Z-rated rubber.
It’s horrible to imagine, but accidents happen to all types of drivers and cars, even hot drop-tops like the 2008 Audi RS 4 Cabriolet. To avoid those situations or limit injury should they become unavoidable, the RS 4 Cab features a generous assortment of safety equipment, such as front-side airbags, a tire pressure monitor, and antilock disc brakes. Drivers who find themselves in slick situations will also benefit from electronic brake force distribution and Audi’s Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP).