MR archive: Audi RS4 B7 review

Audi RS4

You could argue that this car contributed towards the sporting credibility Audi enjoys today. Sure, there’d been hot Audis before it, but they never managed to be as good to drive as the equivalent BMW. And then, after a five year gap, the B7 RS4 arrived and proved it could be a genuine M3 rival.

Today, you can pick up a B7 RS4 for as little as £11,000, although we’d recommend spending at least £15,000 for a tidy example with sensible mileage and full service history.

This review on the Audi RS4 B7 was first published on in 2006.

Guy Smith tested a Williams-Renault F1 car in the ‘90s, won Le Mans in 2003, arrived at Goodwood last night and first drove the circuit this morning. So I’m anything but worried, now he’s turned off the ESP on the Audi RS4 he’s pitching into a flat right-hander called Fordwater, “to have a bit of fun”.

To be honest, i thought it was already off. Racing drivers do things with cars that take mere mortal’s breath away, as he is now. The car, drifting at three-figure speeds under complete control is, it seems, left in similar awe.

But then, so was i of it. This is Audi’s latest hyper-saloon, a 420bhp V8 monster that bellows off the walls surrounding Goodwood like some sort of full-bore GT racer (that’ll be the twin-chamber exhaust). It also has workmen on the test route cheering, using day-glo jackets like matadors as they implore me to “(expletive) boot it”. Well, since they ask… it seems Audi’s new ‘high-speed engine principal’, which gives this 4.2-litre monster an 8,250rpm red line, hasn’t been lost on them. Spades aloft, they rapidly disappear as I quickly realise that, actually, I’m probably travelling a little too quickly for that looming corner ahead. Onto the delicate, modulatable but eyeball-popping 14-inch brakes. Hustle it into the bend with direct, easy steering. Marvel as quattro saves them from another digging job.

All this, like many initial experiences with the RS4, passed in a blur. 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds? 0-124mph in the time it takes a Meriva diesel to hit half that? It’s fast, and permanent quattro that’s ordinarily split 60/40 to the rear (but can divert up to 85 per cent rearwards when needed, for tail-tweaking junction action) ensures it’s almost always manageable. Less power to each wheel means each must deal with a ‘mere’ 105bhp, rather than, say, a BMW M3’s 172bhp. It’s the latest quattro system too, with a hugely clever Torsen centre differential; Guy Smith demonstrated how quickly it shifts power around for maximum traction under power perfectly. Concentrate hard and you can feel it, if you can keep up.

It took me a while to build up to this though. Audi has fitted an oil temperature meter to the RS4, so until it had reached 85 degrees or so, I was taking it steady. And still thinking it a quick car, with a distant but other-worldly-smooth engine note creamier than any V8 I could remember. The light, short-throw gearshift was easy, clutch and throttle gelled and the whole car felt all-of-one, in a way most Porsches do and in a way no fast Audi saloon has quite managed. But what really amazed was the supple, quiet ride that was remarkably free from harshness. Even cooking TDI Audi Avants can jitter and crash if suspension and wheels show focus; not this. The RS4 is the best-riding fast Audi ever. Even when it does encounter larger potholes, they are firmly damped rather than smashed over. Amazing.

And my slow, easy jaunts (still fast by most standards, note) gave time to appreciate Dynamic Ride Control too. Not another meaningless electronic acronym, but a wholly hydraulic facility that connects dampers to a central valve. This counters roll by flowing oil from one side to another – one side helps ‘firm’ the other – with an appreciable ‘planted’ feel. The traditional Audi squat and dive is also eliminated too, at last. With this, and fast steering that’s so precise and well-connected that mere wrist-flicks thread you though S-bends, motoring rapidly has rarely been easier. And if all this sounds dull, you’d be mistaken. So fluidly does the RS4 handle, with delicacy not before found in an RS Audi, real satisfaction can be drawn from the direct, measured response even small inputs draw.

Curiosity gets the better of you though, and the first time you let revs fly won’t be forgotten. Because the torque of the engine fools you into thinking it’s a slugger – but hit 5,500rpm and suddenly you’re given a kick towards the horizon at crackerjack velocity, with the V8 murmur taking on an impossibly metallic, sonorous wail until the rev limiter takes you by surprise deep into the 8,000rpm redline. Surprise because you hit it so quickly, surprise as you can’t actually lift your head off the lightweight RS bucket (with hard, race-spec side bolsters) to view the unique RS dials in the first place. Lateral G, you see. A few gearchanges (at DSG speed, it feels) and you’re illegal. But unlike some previous RS models, there’s satisfaction to be drawn from slowing down and doing it all again. The revvy V8 is just magic.

Audi RS4

You can sharpen it with the ’S’ button on the (small, chunky) steering wheel, which adjusts the fuel mapping for sharper throttle response (and exhaust note), eases the net of ESP and even squeezes the seat bolsters more tightly. Gimmicky, and the world’s most powerful medium-size saloon doesn’t really need it, but it does have a more pleasing effect than Vauxhall’s ‘Sport’ button. Still, you won’t use it every day. You also won’t be ogled at as much as you’d think either; even with its 19-inch wheels, flared arches, S bumpers, twin exhausts and chrome mirrors, the RS4 is discreet. Even the badges are tiny, easily confused with ‘S line’. You almost want more for your £50,000. Until you see it alongside a standard model; then the squat, wide-body stance stands out, looks impossibly muscular.

Prod the aluminium starter button. It starts with a rumble and you become convinced that there’s a lot to be said for discretion. Guy Smith feels the same. “It’s so friendly and understated – you wouldn’t believe it could be almost as quick as an S1 rally car round Goodwood” he muses. But, indeed it is, as Audi later proved. That the RS4 is up there with a Group B rally car, with comfort, refinement and four-door practicality too, says it all.

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Richard Aucock
I'm Managing Director at @editorial_mr. I run a bit, cycle a bit, love the automotive industry. I'm a World Car Awards juror and Deputy Chairman of the Guild of Motoring Writers.



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