On broken-up or undulating turf, the performance is not quite as convincing, but a less extreme spring and damper setup should fix that easily. Radical is the word for the ESP calibration of the RS4. The chips cut in later, and yet they interfere with more vigor, which makes smooth driving at the limit somewhat more difficult. In the Audi, it really pays to deactivate ESP and discover the pleasures of the four-wheel slide. This applies in particular to low-grip terrain, where a brief lift is all you need to go sideways, rally-style. The gravel-and-dirt show works best in second or even third gear, which produces enough inertia to keep the car destabilized a long way past the apex.
Back on pavement, it takes plenty of space, all the torque the engine can muster, and big cojones to unsettle an RS4 enough to induce power oversteer. A bit of rain helps, if only to soften the sudden breakaway characteristics of the big Michelins. Assisted by the accurate steering, the chassis of the RS4 not only encourages mind-boggling cornering speeds, but it also maintains that crucial transparency that helps you avoid scaring yourself stupid. This car is a precision tool that deserves a precise driver and a road that doesn't have any nasty surprises.
If you do get it wrong, there are always the monster brakes to rely on. Borrowed from the Lamborghini Gallardo, the huge rotors (14.7 inches front, 12.8 inches rear) kill energy with the finiteness of a master switch, again and again, with great determination and only gradually showing faint traces of fade. In the wet, the discs are intermittently swept dry to improve response and stopping power.
Americans may be unfamiliar with the RS4, but when it finally arrives stateside next spring, they're unlikely to mistake it for a generic A4. The go-faster Audi boasts bloated and Botoxed bumpers front and rear, plenty of brightwork, additional air intakes, fat fourteen-spoke wheels, and two chromed tailpipes of pornographic diameter. Inside, we find overstyled bucket seats, classy bespoke instruments, the increasingly ubiquitous but totally pointless starter button, and a fancy steering wheel with chromed spokes and a racing-car-style flat bottom. Your left thumb is invited to push the S button, a controversial move that quickens the throttle response, ups the in-cabin noise level, and pneumatically narrows the side bolsters until it hurts. The cockpit is well laid out and well put together, but the presentation is on the ritzy side, and the driving position is too high up.
In more ways than one, the new RS4 is a move in the right direction. The brawny, normally aspirated engine is much more involving than the turbos; the brakes, grip, traction, and roadholding are simply sensational; and the recalibrated Quattro hardware removes several layers of indifference from the steering and the drivetrain. That's the good news. The bad news is the substandard ride, with its effect on the vehicle dynamics. And while the updated Quattro technology surely helps, the feedback from the chassis is still insufficiently three-dimensional. The new RS4 is a more rewarding drive than the cold and soulless RS6, but it's still a little too cool and polished to light the fire of hard-core rear-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Georg Kacher