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The Audi B7 RS 4 proves you don’t need to be perfect

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To put myself through college, I worked two jobs, one of which was a mechanic at a local shop. Located on the corner of a highway, I used to sometimes sit by the gas pumps on lunch break and watch cars pass. This was around 2006, so it really was special to see a random Ford GT or any Ferrari back then. One day, a car roared by that I’d never heard before. It was an Audi B7 RS 4. I had no idea what it was back then.

Not the case nearly 20 years later.

Audi RS 4
2008 Audi B7 RS 4 Quick Take
Get one:

On the seventh day, God made the 4.2 FSI V-8. Kept its super model looks. Comfortable on road and track.

Don’t get one:

Not as fast as you remember. So-so shifter. Why do I sit so high inside? Only the badge lives in front of the engine.

Soul Score: 8

If you love German sports sedans, you owe the RS 4 a debt of gratitude. This kind of experience is no longer available.

The 2008 Audi B7 RS 4 Overview

Audi RS 4

Audi and BMW have a thing for each other. Why have a 3 Series, when you can have…an A4? It’s one better!

Competition in the mid-size luxury segment has always been fierce. Any one thing can give an advantage. So when the E46 M3 arrived and instantly anointed anyone who drove it as holy, Audi needed to respond. This couldn’t just be an S4. It needed more power (way more), more cylinders, and power to all four wheels because it’s still an Audi. Once complete, they added an R to the badge, for Renn (Race). Hey, this is serious.

The result was a special car (and a weird one). Audi never brought another to our shores. Pity, because this one has the literal heart of a supercar, something no M3 can claim.

Of course, BMW would answer (so would Mercedes), and this Audi sold only about 2,000 units here, compared to well over 40,000 for just the E46 M3 Coupe.

Do we worship the wrong German sedan?

Performance Score: 7. Au-di there yet?

Audi RS 4
Guess where the engine lives.

I mentioned that this is a weird car, and it is. The engine is so far forward under the hood, the only thing left for it to pass is the logo on the grille. Four-wheel drive added weight, making the RS 4 clock in at just about 4,000 pounds. The front brakes have eight pistons from a Lamborghini Gallardo.

Weird, ok? And glorious.

Engine

Audi RS 4
Yes, the bunch-o-bananas intake is a clue to how far forward Audi has placed this V-8.

Cars of this generation really were excellent, but what made them unforgettable were the engines, and this V-8 is one of the best ever, hands down.

Pumping out 420 horsepower at, ahem, 7,800 RPM, and 317 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 RPM, this engine would be illegal to produce today. Whatever. It’s just oh-my-god smooth everywhere in the power band. How odd to drive a car without turbo lag now – I’ve almost forgotten life before the snails.

The misconception here is that the RS 4 is not able to be driven like a normal Audi, as if you must don a racing helmet to go to Costco. That’s simply bullshit. Drive like a normal human, and the car could pass for any other A4. The engine isn’t loud, and there’s plenty of torque available from off the line.

Audi RS 4
The only thing this car needs is an aftermarket exhaust. Let it sing!

But all you have to do is plant your foot to wake it up and rev it out. It comes alive easily, and unlike the S65, feels powerful no matter where you are in the tach. It’s not as manic either.

A single button can adjust throttle response, but even that isn’t really needed. Remember, this engine comes from the R8, and it’s neat, not on the rocks. Nothing diluted

If anything, perhaps the RS 4 is a bit too quiet. Add an exhaust and this car becomes a “Sex is cool but…” meme you can drive around in.

Transmission

Audi RS 4
Super long throws make this a manual that is tolerated more than enjoyed.

Sadly, we’ve just passed the best part of the car, but don’t be too discouraged. Everything in the Audi B7 RS 4 is still very good.

Very good, but not excellent. The six-speed manual here has super long throws. Moving from first to second felt like it required me to move my arm into the back seat. Clutch take up is vague and sudden, gripping almost right off the floor. That’s actually proper, I’ve just simply gotten used to the G80’s higher than normal grab point.

I’m being picky – it’s still a joy to row this thing, and let’s not forget that that this car is old enough to vote. If you’d like an automatic, there isn’t one, and you are now banned from this site.

Steering and Chassis

Audi RS 4
It’s a great reminder of how things used to be.

Yes, it’s a weird spot to put an engine. This car carries nearly 60% of its (significant) weight over the front axle. But can we just take a moment to think about what that really means, because the only place you’ll truly notice this is at the limit on a track. The car already understeers because of the all-wheel drive system. There are admittedly better track cars out there, but are we really worried about the engine placement when you have a back seat and four doors?

The Audi B7 RS 4 seems to defy physics a bit because turn-in response is really quick, and the car well-balanced. It felt more stable than the 911 T. No clues as to what’s hanging over where. And all-wheel drive is a boon in corners, where you can simply mash the throttle and let the computer decide how much power goes where.

Audi RS 4
The RS 4 is capable of both comfort and performance.

There’s no electronic adjustments for the shocks, and it’s amazing what simple, proper suspension geometry will do. It’s never harsh or rough, never sloppy or lazy.

And when you grip the wheel and turn, it provides natural, progressive feedback that builds with speed. If you’re younger and have never driven a car with hydraulic steering, I urge you to do so.

Brakes

Audi RS 4
The brakes speak Italian.

I’m imagining a big, giant Volkswagen warehouse. Hans walks in and asks “Do ve have anyzing extra around?”, to which the response in this case was “Ja”.

You get eight-piston calipers from a Lamborghini since Audi owns them. The discs in and of themselves are not huge (14.4-inches in front, 12.8 in the rear), but I’m not complaining. The E9X’s biggest weak point were its brakes, with those single-pot calipers up front.

They work well here, with perhaps just a small initial delay when you tap the pedal. I do prefer more push back, and I’m not sure I’d trust this system for a full track day in 100-degree weather on a 4,000-pound sedan, but in keeping with the street theme, they work well.

The overall effect of this RS 4 isn’t one of speed so much as smoothness. Everything has a layer of cream on it. I don’t think it’s as exciting a drive as an M3, which is more effortless as you build momentum. But what is here is personality. This is a great performance car.

Utility Score: 6. B7ing it

Audi RS 4
A bit tight but still useful.

The battle for showroom supremacy ended long ago when the SUV won, although Audi makes such beautiful wagons (hello RS 6). But sedans are great in their own right, and what are you carrying around that requires the room of an SUV, or even a wagon? Let it go.

The back seat is a bit tight, but don’t hold it against the RS 4 – this was a big car back in the day, and there’s plenty of room for four adults. Well, make the ladies sit in the back, because leg room is a bit tight.

One troubling thing was seat height. I couldn’t lower the bottom cushion any more than it was, and my head was just about touching the headliner. Unacceptable on a box-roofed sedan. This alone might have prevented me from owning one.

Fuel Economy. 5. Stop pretending

Audi RS 4
You want to rev it so just do it.

The EPA says that the Audi B7 RS 4 will achieve 17 MPG combined. Sure enough, looking at the dash trip computer, a big number 17 was staring back at me in this example.

If you hop into my M3, the computer will currently tell you 18.7 MPG. Granted, it’s rear, this is all-wheel drive. And it produces more power. But they weigh about the same.

Sooo all that tech, all that crying and complaining about the Earth, and in 20 years we’ve managed to get 1.7 MPG more.

Give me the V-8s!

FEATURES AND COMFORT: 7. Middle aged

Audi RS 4
All Audi inside.

We can’t fault the RS 4 for being a ‘tweener. That’s what I call a car that’s too new to feel nostalgic, but too old to feel relevant. You might play original Nintendo now and think it’s neat, but PS2 has terrible graphics. Just wait a little bit, and this Audi will be cool again.

RS 8?

Audi RS 4
Why do I need to lift up the center armrest to pull up the e-brake?

Sure, the big boys like an S8 are very luxurious and comfortable, but have you noticed that if you wait a few years, those features reach the little guys? This car was beautiful inside when new, and it holds up well.

Sit inside the to-tall but otherwise comfortable front seat, and you’re greeted by the scent of butter-soft leather. I don’t know if they mummify the cows or what, but that smell of leather has lasted. It’s black in here, like Metallica Black Album black, but what’s this? Real carbon fiber inside? It would take years for BMW to catch up.

Audi RS 4
Aside from the navigation display, everything in here looks modern.
Audi RS 4
Smells like moo cow- even through your screen.
Audi RS 4
“This place is magnificent.”

Clear dials look up at you as if to ask “Pretty please let’s go for a drive?”, and the simple digital readouts are of better quality than many modern economy cars. The navigation is pretty much unusable at this point, and I don’t think you can add Apple CarPlay, but it’s a minor inconvenience. Wrong turn? Guess you’ll just have to drive it more. Damn.

Audi RS 4
Vintage

The shifter seems to be out of a Golf, and why do I need to move the arm rest up every single time I yank up the e-brake? Still, it’s an overall nice place to be.

Hitting the juice

Audi RS 4
The styling is clean but muscular.

How are they gonna know you spent the money? These types of cars are all the same. Audi’s solution is to add some badging, deploy some aggressive bodywork on the front end, and add some delicious hips to this thing.

It looks great, especially in Sprint Blue. A big nose seems to bother no one, proving once again that we get upset over foolish things. I love that the clear Euro side markers made it through the import process, and matte silver mirrors and trim add a subtle touch. Leave the beautiful wheels stock please.

Audi RS 4
Matte silver is a nice look – it would take BMW M years to catch up with contrasting colors.

It’s a bit jelly bean, but the design has aged well. Think Ah-nuld at 60, and you get the idea.

The Audi B7 RS 4 isn’t better than an E9x, but it doesn’t need to be.

Audi RS 4

Does the RS 4 even stand a chance against its Bimmer brother? No. But remember that car came out almost two years after this one. The formulas and driving experiences are remarkably close. If you love that M3, thank this Audi.

And the RS does some things better. These engines are so close in personality that you may prefer the 4.2 here. It’s certainly more flexible. It definitely sounds just as good. And best of all, despite being produced in such low numbers, you can find them relatively cheap on the used market. The RS 4 cost nearly $80,000 when new, which is $120,000 today. That’s right there with an F-TYPE, the 911 T, and many others.

But it was worth it then, and it’s turned into a classic now. Don’t be sad that cars like this aren’t made anymore. Celebrate them by driving them. No Audi e-Tron is going to rev to eight-thousand, two-hundred-and-fifty revolutions per minute.

24-year-old mechanic Mike would have loved this car, but only 39-year-old writer Mike could appreciate it.

Counterpoint addendum

Audi RS 4
Is this better than an Evo?

I always do my research on every car I drive, and what I found for this RS 4 from Car & Driver…well, I couldn’t just walk past it.

Sure, the RS 4 goes like a raped ape. The engine sounds stunning. The brakes and the grip are excellent, and it looks pretty darn wicked in the bargain. If you want a four-place car that can scare the living daylights out of your nearest and dearest, it’s a cool piece. Except, of course, that it costs almost $70,000. That’s 20 grand more than a BMW M3, one of my favorite cars, which is a more involving package with better steering and brake feel and a nicer shifter. If you really want all-wheel drive and four doors and have a need for serious speed, how about a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR, which does most things as well, many better, and is half the price of the RS 4? —Mark Gillies

Once you’ve processed that paragraph, let’s focus in on the last sentence. The Mitsubishi (you know I love them) Evo was a great car, and on paper, performed the same functions this Audi does. But to compare them would be comparing the Space Shuttle Enterprise to the Starship Enterprise.

Audi RS 4

The Evo was a tin box that introduced you to the phrase turbo lag long before you were supposed to hear it. To compare the two is insulting to both the Audi and the audience.

The RS 4 is also a different car from an E46, and while it was expensive, good cars usually are.

So remember, take everyone’s opinion (except mine), with a grain of salt.

Thanks to Ron for donating his beautiful RS 4!

Audi RS 4

2008 Audi B7 RS 4 Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE

Base: $68,820

POWERTRAIN

4.2 liter DOHC V-8
420 hp @ 7,800 rpm
317 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm
Six-speed manual

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Length: 180.7 in
Width: 71.5 in
Height: 55.7 in
Curb Weight: 3,980 lbs

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 17/14/21 MPG

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4 thoughts on “The Audi B7 RS 4 proves you don’t need to be perfect

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