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Road test: Audi's RS 4 is a more focused driving machine

2019-05-12 09:00
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Image: Wheels24 / Sean Parker

I have a long, beautiful history with the Audi RS 4, Inglostadt's rival to the Mercedes-AMG C63 and the BMW M3.

In the mid-2000s when the B7 iteration of Audi's compact sports sedan adorned the pages of motoring magazines, I read them furiously. Scrutinising every word and photograph to find out whether it was better than the Mercedes-Benz C63 or BMW's M3. 

Then there were two awesome films produced by Top Gear; Jeremy Clarkson raced the RS 4 against two speed rock climbers, who he thought were also 'on speed' up the Verdon Gorge in France. 

The B7 RS 4 was then tested at Ascari racetrack in Rondo, Spain against the C63 and M3. All three presenters raved about the strong, naturally-aspirated high-revving V8 engine, all-wheel drive and its superb composure in the corners. 

The B7 version looked like a bully, a wide-armed kid on the school turf that took shit from no one. It had gorgeous rear arches and twin tailpipes, one on each side with the diameter of a drain pipe. 

I've never driven that particular iteration of RS 4. My turn came in 2013, my first official year as a motoring scribe after I had been completed my internship up in The Big Smoke

And it was the turn of the B8 RS 4. It too, ran a normally-aspirated V8 engine but left the manual transmission back in the 2000s, opting for an S-Tronic gearbox which worked well in the raciest mode but felt jerky in bumper to bumper traffic. 

The B8 was the first RS 4 to only be produced (7000 were made, with none going to the US) in station wagon form. 

Driving it was an incredible experience. It barked loudly on start up, waking any slumbering neighbours nearby and in Dynamic mode the RS 4 was ruthless in its approach. The incredible sound of the V8 engine was amplified with every gear change as the car rocketed away. 

To this day, it remains one of the most intoxicating drives I've ever experienced.  

The latest version

Downsizing, downsizing and more downsizing. A couple of months prior to the latest RS 4 being unveiled at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, it was confirmed that Audi had replaced the V8 engine with a forced induction V6 unit. 

I was in the crowd when former Audi Sport boss Stephan Winkelmann removed the covers off the latest performance wagon at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show. 

My heart sank a little while I snapped away with my phone because I thought the latest version looked a little too drab compared to the previous iterations. It was also missing the big V8 engine of course. 

So what do I think after driving it? 

Let's start with the good - it's a lot more sharper to drive and has more torque 600Nm (but the same power 331kW as the B8). 

It's also lighter than its predecessor and after being sad about the lack of V8 bark, I realised this V6 twin-turbo engine is ludicrously quick for a small performance car. It doesn't suffer from much turbo lag and pulls hard up the rev range. 

Tested on the reef by performance car tester Mark Jones, it managed to scampered to 100km/h from standstill in 4.37 seconds and onto a 'limited' top speed 259km/h. Impressive. 

As I mentioned earlier, the handling feels a lot sharper than the old cars, obviously helped by the lack of the heavy V8 engine. 

It also doesn't wallow about like a performance SUV and is able to cut through the air with less drag which makes it faster and more good looking, as far as I'm concerned. 

I drove the RS 5 Sportback, that uses the same engine, and admittedly I preferred the wagon. It rides incredibly well for a performance car with a sport suspension and low-profile tyres. 

It still possesses the core ingredients that make the RS 4 a seemingly 'considered' purchase. It has a 505-litre boot, space for four adults and a powerful engine.

But the best part? It's not an SUV. 

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