It’s easy to be nonchalant about 414bhp when you’ve a comfortable chair to sit in and the engine in question idles away politely under the watchful eye of two all-powerful electronic processors.
Any early 1970s F1 driver would have been content with that output, and Ickx, Fittipaldi and company would have extracted their toenails with pliers to combine it with 317lb ft of torque spread charitably across the rev range.
Yet the latest sports saloon from Audi now totes more than the magic 400bhp figure. Of course, unlike those frail, circuit-bound racers from years ago, the RS4 is weighed down by modern requirements of comfort, safety and emissions regulations, as well as a four-wheel-drive system that, as ever, forms an unshakeable part of any sporting Audi’s DNA. But there’s another weight squashing the fat Pirellis into the road – that of expectation: after all the hype, promises and spec-sheet posturing, is this the Audi to really put drivers first, and is it worth nearly 50 grand?
Shunning turbochargers for the first time in an RS, the RS4’s engine is based loosely on the V8 found in the S4. The 4162cc unit has new pistons, conrods, crankshaft and cylinder heads. With FSI fuel injection technology – developed on Audi’s all-conquering R8 Le Mans racers – delivering up to 550 shots of petrol per second directly into the combustion chamber, the V8 can run with a high compression ratio of 12.5:1 and rev until its staccato cutout at 8250rpm. Peak power is produced at 7800rpm and maximum torque arrives at a relatively high 5500rpm, although in reality 90 per cent of that figure comes over a broad spectrum between 2250rpm and 7600rpm.
This prime German motive force is fed through a six-speed gearbox and distributed through the aforementioned four-wheel-drive system, with drive split front and rear by a Torsen centre differential as usual. Usually, 40 per cent of power goes to the front and 60 to the rear, but under cornering loads up to 85 per cent is sent to the back axle, hopefully quelling some of the nose-heavy attitude of previous sporting Audis.
The RS4 sits 30mm lower than a standard A4, supported by bespoke aluminium sports suspension. Gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels and 255/35 tyres deploy the power and fill the extended arches with the help of a track that’s 37mm wider at the front and 47mm wider at the rear.
It’s the wide track of the RS4 in front that makes the biggest impact as I leave the car park at Pirelli’s test track in northern Italy and head onto the local roads in our test car. Viewed from other angles the RS4 is undeniably chunky and menacing with its skirts, spoilers and intakes – if a little contrived – but from the rear the sheer width sends the clearest message of intent.
Press the ‘sport’ button on the steering wheel and the previously subdued V8 growls menacingly with increased volume and the seat side bolsters contract, squeezing you tight. The throttle response is also supposed to sharpen, although in practice it’s hard to tell. The steering wheel is perfectly sized and the hand-hold cutouts are superb, but the flat-bottomed section in flimsy plastic feels cheap and nasty in your grip. Great in the designer’s sketch book, less so in reality.
Still, that’s enough pontificating: time to get accustomed to the alloy pedal on the right. The V8’s throttle response is immediate and clean from just about any revs, but without the savage kick that turbo Audis used to have. Weighing 1650kg can’t help, despite Audi having kept a careful eye on the kerbweight by using aluminium wings and bonnet, which also reduces mass at the front of the car, but you need to keep your foot down to get real force from the engine.