Every big German car maker has a small in-house tuner group capable of producing limited-run, ultra-high performance models. At BMW, it’s the M-division, while at Mercedes-Benz, it’s AMG. At Audi, the rarest efforts come from a subsidiary known as quattro GmbH. Now, Quattro’s most recent super-tuned product is the RS6, and the RS6 is the pinnacle of Audi performance, but that’s also represented by S-series cars like the new S4. Both the RS6 and the S4 are serious cars from designers who are passionate about performance.
And who wouldn’t be passionate about two cars so well equipped for driving excitement as the 2003 Audi RS6 and 2004 Audi S4!
The larger and more powerful of the two is the RS6, a limited production powerhouse that will see only 1,000 of its kind made. This is the first product built by Audi’s in-house tuner division, quattro GmbH, to be sold in America.
Under the hood lurks a super-tuned 4.2-liter bi-turbo V8 that pumps out 450 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Its architecture includes 5-valve heads, variable cam timing and, naturally, a turbo and intercooler for each cylinder bank, all controlled by a 5-speed Tiptronic transmission with manual-shift paddles on the steering wheel.
This combination slams the RS6 to 60 in only 4.8 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 109 miles-per-hour. That makes the RS6 easily among the fastest four-door cars sold here. Power comes on in a smooth rush, with no peaks, valleys or lag. Wheel-spin is nonexistent thanks to the quattro all-wheel-drive system, and manual shifts are the sharpest ever for a Tiptronic.
The RS6 is equally impressive in the corners. Turn-in is very quick for a two-ton sedan, with only mild understeer and tons of grip. Audi’s new Dynamic Ride Control hydraulic active-suspension virtually eliminates body roll. As the fast ratio rack-and-pinion steering is precise, but it could use a bit more feel. It all goes to ground through 9-spoke aluminum wheels with squatty 255/40 ZR-rated tires.
Braking is strong and progressive, with 122 feet being the average stopping distance from 60. The floating cross-drilled discs and front Brembo 8-piston calipers are an impressive setup. But then so is its ability to eat up highway miles at autobahn speeds while pampering you with a super-plush ride. The price is impressive as well, $84,660 to drive an RS6 home, if you can get one.
More accessible Audi performance can be found with the standard-production S4 sedan, S4 Avant wagon, and just announced S4 Cabriolet. Based on the popular A4 compact, they are Audi entry-level hot rods to be reckoned with. But there’s nothing entry-level about their abilities. The S4’s aggressive look reflects an equally exhilarating personality.
Under the hood you’ll find the 4.2-liter V8 of the full-size A8L. In the S4, it produces 340 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual or 6-speed Tiptronic automatic, both coupled, as you would expect, to quattro all-wheel drive.
We favor the manual, and despite a slightly notchy action, can run a best 0 to 60 time of 5.7-seconds. The quarter mile flies by in 14.2 seconds at 99 miles-per-hour. The power hits hard right off idle, and rolls on to a 7,000 rpm redline. It’s a real thrill, delivering acceleration that actually pins you to the seat. All-wheel-drive and sticky 235/40 high performance tires on 18-inch rims pin the S4 tightly to the corners as well.
It’s even more nimble than the RS6, slicing into corners with amazing precision. The responsive steering is light at low speeds, but delivers near perfect feedback as the pace picks up. And yes, it stops well, too. We hit the pedal hard at 60, and averaged 127 feet. The experience is straight and solid, and the pedal is firm and progressive.
And despite its sharp-edged performance, the S4 is a superb highway cruiser. It’s a grand, grand-touring compact! Though not many compacts carry a $48,040 base price. But you do get what you pay for, and with the S4 you get performance that will amaze the average driver.
We’re certainly impressed, but not really amazed, since Audi has been producing stunning performance cars for years. The latest products are just the best yet of an already astounding lineage. The 2003 Audi RS6 and 2004 Audi S4 are built by designers and engineers who are passionate about performance. And they’re sure to please discerning fans who share that passion.
Engine: 4.2-Liter Bi-turbo V8
Torque: 415 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.2 Seconds @ 109 MPH
60-0 MPH: 122 Feet