Retro review: the B7 Audi RS4 Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
Shell V-Power: Fuelling your passions
Monday 29th May

This review was first published in Issue 142 of Top Gear magazine (2005)

Hit the RS4’s brushed alloy starter button and you’d better know what you’re letting yourself in for. Via a selection of conductors, chips and relays, you could be, as Maximus says in the opening sequence of Gladiator, about to “unleash hell”.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Wedged beneath the lightweight bonnet is a type of engine no other road car has boasted before. Unlike the twin-turbo V6 that propelled the first RS4, here’s a direct petrol injection V8 that’s not far removed from the one used in Audi’s four-times Le Mans winning R8. 

The surround for the ‘go’ switch glows an ominous red. Like the disclaimer form you’re asked to sign before plunging earthwards on your first attempt at a skydive, this is a warning to pause and consider just what’s about to happen. 

Take a look at the raw stats. Without the assistance of turbos or superchargers, the cooling and accurate fueling benefits of direct injection help this 4.2-litre V8 to produce a vaguely ridiculous 414bhp at 7,800rpm and 317lb ft at 5,500rpm. It combines the low-rev tyre-mangling twist of a small block Chevy V8, with 90 per cent of the torque available from just 2,250rpm right up to 7,600rpm, and yet also revs every bit as manically as a Honda VTEC unit, shrieking all the way to 8,250rpm. 

If that sounds like the sort of power delivery you should steady yourself in readiness for, the RS4 is built to assist. Dramatically winged sports seats hold the driver and front passenger rigidly in place. RS4 logos are embossed into the black leather on each of the headrests (just in case you’d forgotten what car you’re sitting in), next to which you’ll find holes to feed a race harness through. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

The small diameter, thick-rimmed steering wheel also feels like it’s just been stolen from an exceedingly plush touring car; it’s trimmed with perforated leather and has a flat, polished aluminium bottom section. Strips of carbon fibre are splattered across the dashboard and door cappings. 

The RS4’s external appearance is also a masterpiece of underplayed aggression. The tiniest of lip spoilers protrudes from the bootlid and the urge to bolt a quartet or even a sextet of exhaust outlets on has been resisted, despite the quantity of spent gases that need to be funnelled out. Cooling air is force-fed in the direction of the brakes through gill slits sliced into each corner of the front bumper. The front wings, like the bonnet, are crafted from aluminium in an effort to compensate for the weight of the V8 up front, while the wheelarches are heavily flared to shroud the 19-inch alloys due to be fitted to all RS4s destined for the UK. 

Dare to start that engine up and such aesthetics are instantly forgotten. The FSI V8 ticks over with a faintly menacing background rumble, building to a race-engineered yowl when your right foot goes down. Prepare for a severe and briefly disorientating surge forwards, with 0-62mph being claimed to pass in a mere 4.8 seconds and 0-124mph in just 16.6. Off the record, Audi says that the top speed nudges 185mph if the 155mph electronic speed limiter is switched out. 

So much torque is instantly available and the rev range stretches so far round that third gear could do for most situations. In theory, this is the lazy oaf’s supercar. Not that the six-speed manual gearbox or the clutch are in any sense taxing to use; given the hammering they need to be toughened up to deal with, both have an unexpectedly light and progressive action. 

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Should the RS4 be threatening to lull you into too great a sense of familiarity, there’s another button that now begs to be pressed. It’s marked ‘S’ for ‘Sport’, but should really have a ‘B’ for ‘Ballistic’. 

The first sensation it provokes is a severe clamping of the buttocks, as motors narrow the sides of the seat squabs to hold the driver even more firmly in place. If your backside is of Pavarotti proportions, prepare for agony. 

Try to maintain concentration; in the likes of a BMW M3, such a switch also makes for a mild sharpening of the responses of the drive-by-wire throttle. In the RS4’s case, brush gently against the accelerator pedal and you’ll find yourself hurtling comically onwards. There’s one extra trick the button performs. The exhaust note gets spectacularly louder, under full throttle now releasing a soundtrack to rival the napalm bombing sequence from Apocalypse Now

For this first drive in the production version of the new RS4, Audi chose the smoothly-surfaced confines of Goodyear’s Mireval proving ground in the south of France, in place of public roads. Appropriately, this is the tarmac equivalent to a padded cell. They also laid on examples of the more conventional V8-engined, 339bhp S4 to offer a comparison. Here’s a car with disappointingly slow steering, snatchy brakes and an inclination towards early understeer at every turn. 

The RS4 proves what can be done. The steering isn’t just quicker and more detailed, it’s lighter too; almost as delicate as an M3’s, even. A Dynamic Ride Control adaptive damping system prevents nose dive and leaves minimal body lurch. Plus, the point at which the stability control system cuts in has been wound right back, though there’s not much subtlety when it does intervene. It can also be switched completely out. 

Adding to the experience, the Torsen differential set at the centre of the quattro four-wheel drive system is engineered to give a default 40 per cent front to 60 per cent rear split of the torque delivery. The intention is to reduce what’s known as ‘power understeer’. In practice, the RS4 attacks corners as one piece, with very little understeer or oversteer. The extreme lateral forces make you glad for the seat-shaped straight jacket you’ll be wearing. 

The brakes offer repeated levels of hardcore deceleration, at least as vivid as the acceleration already felt. The cross-drilled front discs are larger than some cars’ wheels, matched to eight-piston calipers; also, the pads pulse imperceptibly on and off to keep a film of water from building beneath them in drenched conditions. 

Having been asked to invest £10,000 more than the manager of their local estate agent paid for his/her M3, compensation for the RS4 driver comes with the expectation that they should easily be able to leave him/her behind on most roads and in most conditions. Added reassurance arrives with the knowledge that there’s nothing else quite like this car. At least, not this side of the Mulsanne Straight. 

Verdict: The Audi Le Mans experience, only mildly distilled. Judgement on ride quality tbc on UK roads

4.2-litre V8
414bhp, 4WD 
0-62mph in 4.8secs, max speed 155mph

Words: Peter Grunert

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5