15 Jan 2014

Driven - Audi RS4

Colin Hubbard reviews the 2014 Audi RS4

2014 Audi RS4

After a lovely sunny winter's day driving the cream of the Audi range including the fabulous R8 V10 Plus and RS6 it was the more down to earth RS4 that got under my skin and was the one I wanted to take home. Let me tell you about the RS4.

The first RS4, the B5 model, was launched in 2000 with a twin turbo V6.  Then in 2006 the B7 was launched with a mighty and much praised V8 engine which won over the hearts of the motoring press for its sweet handling chassis and playful character. This 2012 ‘B8’ model RS4 uses an evolved version of the B7’s V8 and is only available as an Avant bodyshell although a similar mechanical package can be experienced in 2 door set up in the RS5.

The mechanical set up is a naturally aspirated V8 with 4.2 litres pumping out 444bhp via a 7 speed twin clutch gearbox to all 4 wheels via a centre diff sending 60% of the drive to the rear and 40% to the front. The V8 engine ensures the car has plenty of character to please on a daily basis and the output of 106bhp per litre for a naturally aspirated lump means it’s a fairly racy unit delivering its peak power towards the upper rev range at over 8,000 revs.
2014 Audi RS4

On paper it sounds like a perfect recipe for a hot estate but all this hardware adds weight and it tops the scales at 1795kg, the same as a C63AMG Estate which is up on power and torque from its ridiculously sized 6.2 litre V8.

The C63 is the only real current rival to the RS4 but whilst the C63 does have that superb engine the package is dominated by it and thus spends it’s time chasing its tail whereas the all wheel drive Audi just grips and goes, it’s relatively down on power V8 sending just the right amount of power to the front wheels which makes it safe but playable.

The outside is familiar Audi A4 Avant from a distance but get closer and it’s been adorned with box arches which are a slightly rounded version of the ones from the original Audi Quattro and provide some drama and exclusivity from the other A4 Avants on the road. The box arches being the automotive equivalent of breasts add some drama, some beauty to the already handsome Audi 2 box shape. The front features an integral splitter to the lower edge of the bumper to aid downforce and with the fairly mean looking Xenon lights and large honeycomb grille combine into an aggressive front end. 

At the rear there’s a sculptured diffuser with a massive oval black exhaust protruding from either side and a small tail spoiler sits at the top of the tailgate.
2014 Audi RS4

Filling those 36D arches are optional 20” alloys (standard size is 19”) which are part of the Sports package consisting of sports suspension, dynamic steering and a sports exhaust. For me it's an essential package that makes the RS4 the car it is, offering that little more edge but without being overly shouty or aggressively suspended like S Line equipped Audis of old. Misano Red paint finishes the outside with some silver coloured mirrors to differentiate the RS over the other cooking models.

The cabin’s the usual high quality Audi affair and a good blend of quality fit and finish along with some well chosen materials. Quite how Audi succeeds in making better interiors than its rivals always astounds me.  How difficult can it be?  Not difficult at all it appears for Audi.

The A4 isn’t a massive car but its dimensions provide easy town centre manoeuvring along with sufficient interior space for 4 adults and the rear seat up 490 litres of luggage space betters the Merc by 5 litres. As standard the front seats are part leather part Alcantara with fixed headrests and are just right for the sporty nature of the car.  They're very comfortable yet provide just the right amount of lateral support for when the V8 is towards its rev limited and the chassis is receiving a full work out. There are optional all leather bucket seats but they really are not necessary as the standard seats are up to the task and in this trim choice look and feel superb.
2014 Audi RS4

The instruments are nicely laid out with 2 large dials for speed and revs, a central fuel computer and with the small fuel and temp gauges positioned at the outsides. The Speedo increases in increments of 20mph and can be tricky to read the 30s, 50s and 70s which are the common speed limits in Britain so would benefit from a reworking for the British market.

The flat bottomed steering wheel is a joy to operate with a slightly grippy perforated leather grip and a well judged diameter, not as fat as an M-Sport BMW but all the better for it.

At the centre of the dashboard is a large colour display for the Sat Nav and on board computer functions complete with Google Earth aerial photography. The screen is in a good location for viewing when driving but the Google imagery is too slow witted and I found it difficult to view when driving so quickly turned it to standard mapping.
2014 Audi RS4 interior

The engine starts with a nice thump and you can feel its mass turn in the body.  As it’s a naturally aspirated engine I’m expecting some decent vocal entertainment and as I give it a little rev it growls at its potential. The only downside to the RS4 is that it is only available as a self shifter but the 7 speed S Tronic box does mean faster changes leading to quicker acceleration than a manual and in addition it will reduce fuel consumption by dropping into a high gear whenever possible during everyday driving.

On the open road and it’s a lovely place to be, the engine's responsive and freely rev-able giving rapid overtaking acceleration.  A quick check reveals 40-70mph can be achieved in 3.2 seconds which is impressive for a fairly heavy estate car, in part down to the high revving V8 and part to the reactions of the twin clutch gearbox. Whilst it doesn’t have the ultimate power of its more expensive siblings it doesn’t need it and the engine's a better unit for it.   There’s no on/off turbo lag or an aggressively sensitive throttle, just a well metered pedal. The lack of noise sapping turbos means it has the voice to match the performance and what a lovely noise it is – part Nascar part power boat and a delight to rev.

Whilst I would prefer a manual gearbox the S Tronic is well suited to the car.  I found it in pretty much the right gear at the right time and having the preselected gears it can change near seamlessly in 0.2 seconds and in unison with such a high revving engine means there’s always strong acceleration when required. Use the paddles to drop down the gears when exiting corners and you’re treated to braps on the downchanges more so than when in self shifting mode.

One area where Audi have been known to fall down is the chassis but I’m glad to report they have nailed it here.  The rear bias delivery means it’s sure footed but not clinical in performance so the rear end can be slid out on roundabouts and tight corners but is safe in application and can send up to 20% more power to each axle when required. While it’s not as rearwardly active as a C63 that’s only a good thing for the road and as most buyers won’t seriously take a car capable of swallowing a bookshelf on to a track when you can play the hooligan without fear for your licence.
2014 Audi RS4

The suspending elements are taken care of by steel springs and conventional but diagonally valved linked dampers and using the centre display can be selected as comfort, dynamic or auto. In addition the same menus can adjust the steering reaction and throttle response in conjunction with the damper's mood or set up independently in individual mode.

I have read reports that the dynamic steering makes the car feel unnatural, like it’s been steered by remote control but that’s codswallop.  It communicates sufficiently to be able to place the car nicely on the road and lightens up for low speed manoeuvring and gears down at higher speed when only small inputs are required. What road testers often forget is that normal people buy cars like this to enjoy sports car performance but with the ability to transport non sports car loads - and in comfort - and the steering works perfectly well with this package.

The chassis in dynamic mode does make the ride hard but means that the car can be nicely thrown around with little free play and control those 20” wheels very well. Speed bumps can be taken with ease at lower speeds and not at all crashy, perhaps due to the huge wheels, but mid corner bumps do put the car off line.
2014 Audi RS4 rear seats

Overall as a package it’s a great drive and worthy of the RS badge.  The chassis is involving with a little slip, the high revving V8 has a joyous fairly unsilenced voice and creates a fabulous multi-piston howl when pushed and in dynamic mode it feels edgy and alive on country lanes so you can have lots of fun when you want to.

Switch to comfort mode and it transforms into a pliantly suspended car with more attitude than a standard estate, that sports exhaust still making itself known but it morphs into a very usable pleasant car, the feelsome Alcantara and Leather chairs cosset and the well designed interior delectable to be within.

The basic on the road price is £54k, some £4k cheaper than the C63, and as is well equipped as standard with leather, Sat Nav and 19 inch wheels so you could drive away without spending a penny more and not worry about the resale value. I would recommend the sport package though as the sports exhaust is worthy of the extra premium.  As tested it came to nearly £61k but then it’s a lot of car and effectively 2 cars in one. Mpg is quoted as 26.4 on the combined cycle which will drop to early teens when driven as it was designed for but get on the motorway and it should be capable of low 30s.

Given the choice between the Audi or the Merc, both cars have their strong points and cover all bases well. The Merc has that dominating engine and the Audi the secure but playful all wheel drive rear biased traction, a wonderful interior and those box arches harking back to the original Quattro. For me the RS4 would just get the nod, not for being cheaper to buy and run but for the way the car makes you feel, its warm character ebbing through every element of the car.

It’s just right, and all the car you need.


Price - £54,040 (£60,940 as tested)
Engine – 4.2 litre, V8, petrol
Transmission – 7 Speed S-Tronic
0-62mph – 4.7 seconds
Top speed - 174 mph (governed)
Power - 444bhp at 8250rpm
Torque - 317lb ft between 4000 - 6000rpm
Economy - 26.4mpg combined
CO2 - 249 g/km
Kerb weight - 1795kg unladen
2014 Audi RS4 front seats

Review by Colin Hubbard