Audi RS4

Flagship A4 scores on pace and desirability. But has it met its match?

  • Effortless torque, involving drive, build quality
  • Erm...

With customers queuing to get their hands on the incredible R8 supercar, Audi’s reputation for making fine drivers’ machines is clearly as strong as ever. But the stunning two-door isn’t the only option for buyers who want breathtaking performance – the RS4 sets plenty of pulses racing, too.

For starters, it looks great. While the basic shape of the standard A4 compact executive car is fairly mundane, the range-topper gets blistered wheelarches to highlight the fact that it sits 30mm lower and has a much wider track. Add in huge 19-inch alloys, as well as subtle detailing such as the chrome mirrors and a more aggressive spoiler lip, and the car looks squat and purposeful from every angle.

As the RS4 has a saloon bodyshape, it can’t quite match the M3 coupé for visual aggression, but the extra set of doors certainly adds a dose of practicality to the package. Then again, with the Audi boasting a shorter wheelbase than the BMW, it doesn’t provide any advantage in terms of legroom for rear passengers.

Up front, the RS4’s driving position is spot-on, and the superb flat-bottomed steering wheel has a wide range of adjustment. The Recaro sports seats are comfortable and supportive, too, while the six-speed manual gearlever is topped by neat perforated trim that is great to hold.

But it’s once you press the start button that the Audi really begins to feel special. As with the BMW, a great engine is at the heart of this car’s appeal. It fires into life with a delicious V8 rumble, and sounds good on the move as well – especially when you hit the Sport button. This sharpens throttle response in much the same way as the M3’s MDrive set-up.

But even without it, the RS4 delivers muscular low-down grunt; its 430Nm torque figure is 30Nm up on the BMW’s. Power outputs are identical, though, at 414bhp, and there was little to split the two in terms of pace.

The Audi’s V8 doesn’t have the mechanical hard edge of the BMW unit higher up in the rev range, although we think it sounds just as good. It loses nothing to the M3 for refinement, either. Crucially, its six-speed manual gearbox is much slicker than the BMW’s, and there’s less inertia from the drivetrain to be felt in the lever. The quattro transmission gives excellent traction, yet despite the extra bulk of the four-wheel-drive system, the RS4 is 5kg lighter than the M3.

What’s more, when compared with the rear-driven BMW, the Audi’s dynamics aren’t upset by the fact its front wheels have to drive and steer. In fact, until the R8 arrived, this model could lay claim to being the most accomplished driver’s car the firm had ever produced. Its nose feels a little heavier than the M3’s, but the purity of the steering hasn’t been affected.

Through corners, there’s a suppleness to the Audi’s suspension that translates into a fraction more body movement. It’s always incredibly involving to drive, but it doesn’t provide the same on-the-limit grip of the BMW, and on the track it’s more prone to understeer. As a result, it feels slightly less honed than the M3. But as a daily driver, the RS4 delivers great pace, and is every bit as quick from A to B on a twisty road. The differences between the Audi and BMW are minimal, and that extends to the price. So choosing the winner will be tough.

Details

Price: £51,105Model tested: Audi RS4Chart position: 1WHY: Meet the latest in a long line of fast 4WD Audi saloons – and the RS4 is the best to date.

Economy

The RS4’s claimed combined figure is 1.9mpg less frugal than the BMW’s, and we averaged only 17.4mpg. That means you’ll be stopping at the pumps roughly every 240 miles.

Residuals

Neither car here suffers from bad depreciation. The RS4 is predicted to retain 58.1 per cent of its value, which means it should be worth £29,642 in three years’ time.

Servicing

At £1,240 for the first three checks on the variable schedule, we reckon running costs should be similar to the M3’s. The Audi dealer network is smaller, though.

Tax

Higher-band owners will pay £7,143 a year to run the RS4 – that’s £56 more than for the BMW. And adding lots of options will increase the tax bill on both.

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