Review: 2008 Audi RS4

2008 Audi RS4 – Click above for high-res image gallery

My buddy Chris was beaming as his body pressed into the two-tone Recaro on the passenger side. "This thing is completely unbelievable," he said, his voice a blend of awe and disbelief. Around us, the scenery flicked by as the crisp Sunday morning air was sucked in through the open windows. The radio was on, but the volume was turned all the way down. At the moment, the only soundtrack in which we were interested was the guttural roar coming from the big oval pipes poking through the rear valance. "Chris," I replied, snicking the shifter into third, "This thing is ridiculous." The "thing" in question is the 2008 Audi RS4, and neither of us were exaggerating.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

The current B7 Audi A4 is a lame duck, due to be replaced shortly by a new car on a new platform that promises to bring manifold improvements to Audi's bread-and-butter nameplate. Drive a current RS4, however, and you'll find yourself wondering why the hell they've got to change anything.

Unlike the A4 and S4, which are decidedly non-threatening in appearance, the RS4 radiates a sense of menace. Its bodywork is distinctly muscular, with gills on the lower front fascia merging into bulging wheel arches. The space around the rear wheel openings is equally swollen, helping the car adopt an athletic, wider stance. The rear bumper has a blacked-out insert that's flanked by large oval exhaust outlets. Their openings are wide enough to swallow a Blackberry rotated lengthwise while in its leather case. Our car was finished in Avus Silver and further enhanced by the presence of the Titanium Package. This lets the RS4 get more in touch with its dark side, blacking out the grille and window frames, as well as applying an anthracite finish to the 19" wheels and the exhaust tips. It's not possible to overstate how much better the car looks as a result. This thing is cooler than Boba Fett.

The goodness continues inside, where the seats and trim are finished in a spectacular black-and-red motif, courtesy of the $3,800 Audi Exclusive package. I simply referred to the color combo as "Darth Maul" and envisioned some deep space tannery where Audi prepares Sith hides specifically for use in its sedan über alles. Piano black inserts (also part of the Titanium package), aluminum accents, and RS4-emblazoned floormats finish off the upscale interior. As for the cabin's layout and instrumentation, it's the same as what you'll find in any other A4 variant. The MMI controller is on the audio system, which incorporates an LCD screen and features nav, satellite radio, and the other accoutrements you expect to find in a primo machine like this.

Flick open the familiar Audi switchblade key, twist on the ignition, and a deep exhaust burble penetrates the cabin as the RS-trim 4.2-liter V8 comes alive. There's a reason the same engine also finds its way under the R8 sports car's transparent engine cover: it's awesome. Producing 420 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, the relationship between the direct-injected, naturally-aspirated eight-cylinder and the RS4 is the stuff of an eHarmony television commercial.

The road to a suspended driver's license is an easy one to follow. Before you set off, do yourself a favor and press the S button on top of the instrument panel. This turns on the sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response and makes the exhaust louder. You may now begin. Pop the shifter into first (the effort is light and precise) and hammer it. The car accelerates as if it's been shot off a Nimitz-class carrier's steam catapult. Audi pegs the zero-to-sixty time at 4.6 seconds, a figure that sounds entirely reasonable (and possibly conservative) according to our highly sophisticated AAiS (Autoblog Ass-in-Seat) data measurement technology.

More impressive than the RS4's wicked acceleration is the surprising lack of drama that accompanies it. While the ongoing series of miracles occurring in the engine bay conspire to turn your view of the scenery into an impressionist painting, the car's steering, suspension and quattro system are equally skilled at their jobs, keeping the car flat and planted while clearly communicating the road conditions to the driver. This all happens with little harshness, despite the obviously aggressive wheel/tire setup, a further testament to the inherent goodness of the underpinnings and dynamic package as a whole.

There are no surprises, because you are very in tune with the tarmac rushing by beneath you. This makes the RS4 unbelievably easy to drive fast, and more importantly, incredibly fun to goad as the road gets more complex. Road signs advertising turns ahead might as well have pictures of gift-wrapped presents on them. You want snaking curves and undulating hills, because tackling them in the RS4 is an act of joy that the car shares with you. It wants you to toss it; to egg it on.

The last time I had this much fun simply driving a car was the summer of 2007, when Porsche dropped a Boxster in my lap for a week. A lot of those same feelings came rushing back when I had the RS4; the senses of predictability, stability, and confidence. A good sports car does that, and you start forming emotional connections with it as a result. Then it dawns on you. That's what the RS4 is. A sports car. One capable of humiliating other sports cars. Calling it a super sedan does it no justice, because you're pigeonholing it. Pay no mind to the four doors and the familiar, old A4 bodywork. Appearances deceive. It's what's inside that counts. The RS4 is as good or better than high-performance cars twice its price. Maybe not as sexy, but every bit as appealing.

Seven days and a couple hundred miles later, the RS4 was taken back, doubtless off to entertain some other journo. Normally, this isn't a big deal. You cut the cord and look forward to the next thing. Sometimes, however, the parting is such sweet sorrow. Like its lesser siblings, it will one day be replaced by a new RS4, and that car will have some seriously big shoes to fill.

Our tester averaged 17 miles per gallon over the week and stickered at $78,335 as optioned. If I had the means, I'd go buy one this afternoon. If you have the means, I don't know what you're waiting for.

Click here to view the 2008 Audi RS4's tech specs at AOL Autos.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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