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Audi RS4

It’s the oldest car here, but the storming Audi remains a contender

  • The quattro system is very impressive; engine is extremely smooth.
  • Rear seats offer only 650mm of legroom; pulls higher revs than rivals on the motorway.

There's no love lost between the rival firms here, with all four cars desperate to win top honours. But the one scalp BMW wants is the Audi’s. We drove an RS4 to the launch of the M3 coupé (Issue 969), where it spoiled the blue propeller’s debut by proving the more rounded and enjoyable machine.

Is that still true? Time – plus the arrival of a new A4 – hasn’t reduced the Audi’s visual appeal. We love the pumped-up arches, muscular sills and black grille surround. And while its fresher rivals have crisper lines, whenever we stopped it attracted the most attention – although that’s mainly down to its Sprint Blue paintwork.

Inside, the RS4 is the furthest from a standard compact executive car. The dash layout is near identical to the A4’s, but beautifully shaped bucket seats constantly remind you this is something special. They are difficult to relax in, yet still manage to be amazingly comfortable on long trips.

It helps that the Audi has the best driving position in this test, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is great to hold. And while the cabin looks and feels the most dated, there’s no faulting the build or materials.

For what it’s worth, the RS4 also has the best-looking engine – although we’re more concerned with what it’s capable of. At one time, it made the Audi the most powerful car in the class. Mercedes now holds that title, but the RS4’s V8 still performs brilliantly.

Throttle response is savage, particularly if you sharpen it further by pressing the Sport button on the steering wheel. This also brings a louder, more riotous exhaust note. Venture into the top half of the rev range, and the saloon really comes alive. There’s a kick to the acceleration above 5,500rpm, right where the torque peaks, and if you keep the throttle pressed to the floor it’s capable of sprinting from 0-60mph and 30-70mph as quickly as the Lexus. It helps that the 1,650kg Audi is 50kg lighter than the IS F, despite being 4WD – in fact, it has the lowest kerbweight of all four.

The 4.2-litre doesn’t just sound good and go hard. Direct-injection technology ensured it was the most fuel efficient, too, returning 17.7mpg. It’s more flexible low down than the M3 or IS F, pulling well through the mid-range; it’s a great engine to use every day.

Indeed, that is true of the whole car, as the RS4’s trump card has always been its composed suspension. Rather than fitting overly stiff springs, Audi engineers allowed the car to have a bit of roll. This means turn-in isn’t as incisive as in the BMW, and as with the Lexus it’s slower to react. But we think this is a trade-off worth making.

The body movement means you can detect that the car is having to work, plus the damper settings are superbly judged, so the Audi feels controlled and composed. No rival soaks up a B-road better.

At the test track, the 4WD wouldn’t allow the RS4 to oversteer as readily as its rear-wheel-drive rivals, but on the road that’s largely irrelevant. The trouble is, when you do push hard, the Audi isn’t as balanced and adjustable as the engine sits forward of the front wheels, making it feel nose heavy.

That’s a fly in the ointment – although newer rivals will be glancing nervously over their shoulders nonetheless. The RS4 is still capable of springing a few surprises.

Details

Price: £50,105
Model tested: Audi RS4
Chart position: 3
WHY: It’s the only car here with 4WD, and the RS4 proves Audi can build a brilliant driver’s car.

Economy

The V8 engines in these cars are designed to be enjoyed, yet they can also be used frugally. Our best from the Audi was 22.6mpg, and despite its 4WD, the RS4 was the most efficient car here. A 17.7mpg average gave it a range of nearly 250 miles.

Residuals

IT’S the oldest car here, but the RS4 is set to have the best residuals, holding on to a superb 55.2 per cent of its price new. So it will be worth the most in three years, which shows how much Audi’s sporting reputation has improved.

Servicing

AUDI dealers finished a disappointing 16th in Driver Power 2007, and the network was strongly criticised for offering poor value for money. Three check-ups on an RS4 will cost owners around £1,240.

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