The RS4 sits at the heart of Audi's performance car range.
It is its core performance vehicle, which is strange
because it's a small estate car.
But that's the reputation on which Audi's built itself.
This is the new 2012, 450 horsepower S Tronic RS4.
But I suppose to understand what this car is, what it
stands for, and what it wants to be, we ought to take a look
at where it came from.
So this is the story of the RS4.
And so this is where it all began--
the B5 RS4 from 2000.
This car makes me feel old because I went on
the original launch.
And I remember that day very, very well.
Because we all landed at Munich airport, saw the estate
car and thought, 381 horsepower--
that's quite a lot.
And it didn't weigh too much.
It was about 1,600 kilograms.
The Germans then said, go out for a drive on the Autobahn.
Go down some country roads, see what you think.
And we all came back going, how fast did you go?
And everyone said, about 175 miles an hour, and then the
limiter cut in.
This was explained in terms of tolerances.
Because they said the tolerances were a bit weak on
The fact is, it was a genuine 180 mile an hour car.
But apart from going really, really fast, it didn't have
that much to offer.
It was a bit loose to drive.
It appeared to have very little body control.
It would smack into its bump slots at the merest hint of a
bump at 55 miles an hour on some roads.
And the brakes were pretty terrible.
The break pedal was a typical Audi.
The steering wasn't very good.
You get the story.
It was one of those classic Audis.
It was a really fast car, but that was about it.
And I've come back to it 10 years later, and I really,
really like it.
It's got so much character.
And you know what?
The turbo motor has got enormous torque.
They only claim 325 foot-pounds.
That was actually more than the car that replaced it.
But it feels just so pokey.
You leave it in fourth gear, pull out of a village, and it
just surges away from you.
But it was a classic Audi.
And you know what?
It still feels like it.
This is a very fresh color.
It must be some special run-out model.
I can't remember whether they did one.
It's got some Porsche-style Recaro Pole Position
leather-covered bucket seats.
It's got an Alcantara wheel.
It's a really, really nice thing to be in.
It just struggles with its suspension.
I'm sure you can sort that out.
I did some research on these the other night, because I
might be tempted to get one as a kind of family car.
And maybe if Neil wants to wreck it as well, we can use
it for shooting.
But it seems there's so much you can do with this car.
MTM and other tuners have got them well above 550
horsepower, and they're still absolutely bulletproof.
This motor, remember 2.7 Biturbo V6,
was tuned by Cosworth.
In fact, it was completely redesigned by Cosworth.
And it's so strong.
Really nice car.
And do you like the way it looks?
I like the way it looks.
I think it's really, really cool.
It just looks punchy, and big shoulders, and angry.
And of course for the UK, where I live, this is the
perfect estate car.
You can get four people in.
You can get a load of luggage.
You can get your dogs.
And of course, it's all wheel drive.
So when it lashes with rain--
not like it's doing today, although it did earlier for a
this remains a very fast car, as M3s just
spiral off and hit trees.
The B5 RS4 was actually a cult car from
the moment it arrived.
But the car that replaced it is arguably the definitive RS
model from Audi.
And this is the car that kind of defined what
Audi RS could be--
the B7 RS4.
420 horsepower from a naturally aspirated, 4.2 V8,
317 foot-pounds of torque, so less torque
than the car it replaced.
But a set of dynamics that were best described as
That's how I wrote about this car when I first
drove it back in 2005.
I remember thinking, the biggest compliment I can pay
this car is to say, it doesn't in any way feel like an Audi.
It steered properly.
It rode pretty well.
It had a brake pedal that, if your shoe leather was within
three millimeters of touching it, didn't force your head
through the windscreen.
It was just a really nice car to drive.
And it left us all thinking, why would
you have an M3 again?
It was a datum point for Audi RS.
But do you know what?
They've been so hit and miss since, that I think this B7
RS4 presents perhaps the biggest
challenge to the new car.
Because the new car's engine is very closely
related to this one.
It has a DSG gearbox.
Now that's going to make it faster and more efficient.
But this car's six-speed manual, is an
utter, utter enjoy.
It's so much nicer than the shift in the B5.
In fact, as a package, the RS4 Avant, to me, still looks like
one of the most attractive small cars on sale.
It's beautifully proportioned.
And BMW, to this day, must be thinking, why didn't we build
a small estate car, because Audi's running away with the
The shift from B5 to B7 brought a completely different
character as well.
Whereas the turbocharged B5 is all about torque and surging
performance, this is a V8 you've got to rev out.
It wants to get beyond 7,000 RPM whenever you can.
This is the first time I've ever driven them back to back.
And I have to say, it's quite eye-opening because the B5 is
a more effortless car and gives its
performance more easily.
This thing, you've got to be right up.
And you do enjoy it when you're up it.
But then it uses so much fuel.
And it is just quite busy.
What does the new RS4 have to do to be better than this car?
It has to be very, very talented.
It really does.
I can't see it being an awful lot faster, because it's going
to weigh a bit more, even though it's got a bit more
power and torque.
That should even out the power to weight ratio.
I'm sure the DSG gearbox will do some good things for it.
But do you know what?
As an all-around package, I think it's going to struggle
to be better than this car.
It doesn't seem like five years since
the B7 RS4 left us.
Maybe that's because it still looks and feels so fresh.
The new car is supposedly faster, more efficient, and
But I also want to know if Audi has returned to the old
It just felt so right.
Will the new one?
Oh, we're in Austria, by the way.
Now as ever with these press drives, they are a less than
We haven't got much time.
The roads are a bit wet.
That kind of helps the four-wheel
drive RS4, I suppose.
But it'd be nice to spend a bit more time with the car to
get to know it.
But in the time I spent with it, there are two things I
want to talk about.
First of all, choice--
choice of electronics, chassis configuration.
I think the RS4 probably has too many.
I get in it and I can choose how the throttle responds.
I can choose how the steering responds.
I can choose how the dampers respond, how the
And do you know what?
I've been playing with it for three hours and on a mixture
of roads, and I've not found a single setting that kind of
does it all for me.
I'm constantly having to fiddle and play.
And I don't necessarily like that.
The other thing is torque.
I want to talk about torque.
Because I think this car is in some ways defined by it.
It doesn't have much.
And 317 foot-pounds is about the same as the last car.
And it weighs a little bit more.
It still revs.
It'll rev to beyond 8,000.
And it's utterly glorious when you do that.
The question is, how often do you actually
do that on the road?
Torque is such a useful commodity for getting around
And the RS4 is actually a wonderful car for just living.
First off, in the RS4 you avoid
all the dynamic settings.
Dynamic chassis gives you damping that basically wants
to throw you off the road.
It's so stiff.
Avoid the dynamic steering.
To me, it adds a load of weight that I don't want.
It's electromechanical in this car.
So yeah, we're back in the realms of not quite knowing
where we are on the road.
There's not much feel.
I mean, Audi has traditionally struggled to give steering
feel with a hydraulic pump.
The combination of Audi and electromechanical steering
slightly fills me with the fear of God.
This is the optional dynamic steering, which
is a variable ratio.
So it's quick at low speed and slow on the motorway.
I didn't find it intuitive and would just have the normal
On these damp roads, though, it's a really fast, capable,
But it's one that feels big.
Does it feel better than an RS5, which is a car I didn't
actually get on with?
I think it does feel a little bit better.
I think there is some of the suppleness there
was in the B7 RS4.
But I still--
you know what?
I don't think it's a return to their absolute glory days of
that last B7 RS4.
I'd want to spend a bit more time in it to
really get to know it.
But you know what?
If it was just exceptional, wouldn't it be leaping out at
me straight away?
Wouldn't I be thinking now, I want one of these?
And I'm kind of not.
317 foot-pounds is quite a lot.
But you have to work this car to get around the place.
Just leave it in drive, and then use it as
an automatic gearbox.
And I reckon, unless you absolutely pin this thing,
you're at the mercy of fast diesels.
And that should not be the case in a car that's got an RS
badge on it.
As a package though, this remains a really nice car.
I've always found the RS4 a bit confusing.
Because though it's never been quite as good to drive as the
equivalent M3-- although the last one did run
it very, very close--
but as something to live with, as a package to live and use
every single day, the practicality of throwing the
dog in the back, have the children fight behind you, and
have your lady wife next to you, it's been a lovely car.
It's just been so usable.
And when you wanted to go fast, it would go fast.
And it had the all-wheel drive traction as well.
That hasn't really changed.
It still is a compelling package, because it has all
It has space, all-wheel drive.
And for me as UK buyer, road user, traction is everything.
Much as I like doing skiddy stuff, well, I don't live my
life like that.
I'd like to go sideways about every single roundabout on the
way to Tesco, but sadly, it's just not practical.
I also think this car looks great.
They've got the bubbled arches just right.
The interior's high quality.
Audis are just items, aren't they?
They're beautiful items.
And we know that.
Well, it's so effective and efficient.
The shifts are really fast.
In automatic mode, it's predicting
what you want so well.
Do I miss the manual?
I kind of do.
But I have to say, in this kind of car, this
gearbox does work.
It's not that bad.
And because it's so intuitive and sharp, I'm not going to
kill it with the gearbox.
As I said, I think the torque is a bit more of an issue.
Some stats on that chassis.
The crown-gear center differential controls
40, 60 in normal driving.
But up to 70% can go forwards and 85%
backwards in extreme cases.
There's torque vectoring too.
Those wavy break discs shave three kilograms.
0 to 60 takes 4.7 seconds.
Top speed is 155 or 174, if you pay some crazy sum to have
the limiter lifted.
When you drive it like this, and you get all that noise,
it's pretty magnificent.
And I wonder whether Audi did make the right decision to not
have a turbocharged engine.
Because that's the crux of this.
If this car had one or two turbocharges, it would have a
lot more role on performance.
It would be a faster car in everyday driving.
I suppose there is a slight mismatch going on here.
The powertrain in this car is really at you.
It wants you to get up.
And it wants you to get your foot down, to get all the
performance, to get beyond 8,000.
Below six, it's just not that quick.
The chassis, though, isn't quite as
willing to play the game.
Because in the harsh chassis settings, it doesn't
perform that well.
It's just too stiff.
And in the softer ones, well, it's just a little bit softer.
But on damp roads like this, there's no denying.
It's a clever thing.
Maybe Audi organized the rain so that it would just show off
this car to the best of its abilities.
But what's this car up against?
To me, the RS4 has become a car that anyone that wants
compact performance that doesn't look too punchy from
the outside, but has subtle strength and is kind of
visible to those who know what they're looking for, to me,
the RS4 is that car.
It kind of defines the marketplace.
But there is one other car that kind of does it as well.
It might even be a bit more exuberant.
And do you know what?
Even though we're in Austria, we just happen to
have one with us.
Now, in the world of the mental, small estate car, this
C63 AMG does kind of reign supreme, doesn't it?
457 horsepower-- and this is a key figure in this little
442 foot-pounds of torque.
That's over 120 foot-pounds more than the Audi RS4.
And on the road, it absolutely dominates the way the cars
behave, or the differences between them anyway.
Because the Merc-- you really can leave it in a
lower gear and haul.
In the Audi, you've really got to row the gearbox.
It's a very different engine.
The Audi feels very motorsport, very rev-hungry.
It makes that quite distinctive, almost DTM-style
noise that they've engineered into it.
This car is just a muscle car.
It really is just mopar out of Stuttgart.
It's absolutely sensational.
It's rear-wheel drive so today, on slippery roads, it's
And the traction difference between the two isn't actually
as massive as I thought it would be.
And the Mercedes, of course, is just massive fun when it
does start to move around a bit.
You enjoy yourself.
But let's come back to these being everyday cars.
Which one would you choose?
Come back for that in a minute.
Let's do a bit more driving.
In the Mercedes, you don't configure anything.
You get in, put a key in a hole, turn it, and go.
It has the MCT gearbox, which means that you can put it in a
manual mode that will shift quickly.
But it's still nothing like as fast as the DSG.
As an automatic, it's very, very nice.
You can just leave it in drive.
And it seems to just shift when you want it to shift.
It's like it's sort of linked into your head.
Steering, again hydraulic--
it's just simpler than the Audi.
It's a theme that runs through this car.
It's not as complex on paper.
But when you get in it, it just kind of works.
It doesn't have a load of chassis settings, and throttle
settings, and what have you.
It just has a massive 6.2 liter V8, nice hydraulic
steering, nice damping, and it just gets on with it.
And I find that recipe quite compelling.
I think it's a lesson for perhaps where we might go in
Just because electronics give us a load of choice doesn't
mean we need the choice.
The C63, then, is probably a better one-stop
option, than the RS4.
That doesn't mean I think it's the overall better car.
But I need to do a bit more driving.
So we'll come back to that in a second.
There's no doubt that the Mercedes is the
faster car as well.
It just picks up from zero revs, and it goes at any point
in the rev range below about 8,000, because the Mercedes
won't rev to 8,000, that is.
This car just feels punchier to me.
And this doesn't even have the optional performance pack.
And it doesn't have the optional differential.
If it had both of those, I think it would be a foregone
But then the price gets quite punchy.
The Audi is actually a bit of a bargain for the money.
But I'd like to know what the options are.
Because you know what it's like with these German cars--
tick a few boxes, and before you know it, you've got an
OK, these are the facts.
The RS4 looks great, goes fast, and is especially good
in the wet.
The trouble is, it lacks torque.
The optional dynamic steering is pants.
The optional Dynamic Ride Control with MMI plus makes
the car too bloody complicated to drive and to
do voiceovers about.
In the B7, you just got in and it felt right.
In the B8, you have to fiddle.
From the apex to the exit of the corner, the new car is a
But the rest of it is just lacking a touch of magic,
which is harsh, because the C63 is dripping with magic.