Perusing the latest issue of Top Gear I came across Jeremy Clarkson's column in which he tries to identify the perfect car. What gave him the idea? He'd just taken a ride in an RS4 Avant. Sure, a few sentences later ye olde Jezza determines that the hyperkinetic Deutsch wagon is not perfect. But, check out his gripes: there's no knee room in the back seat and it costs too much. Ahem. Here in the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage (we're filthy rich!) price is simply not an issue. And if we had someone tall behind us, we'd simply toss him or her the keys to any one of our 49 other Fantasy rides. Case closed. In my mind the RS4 Avant is not only the perfect car, but also this week's JFG nominee.
As a penalty for living in America, I've never driven an RS4 Avant. That's because there aren't any. Luckily Audi was gracious enough to entrust me with a blazing blue RS4 sedan about a year back. I haven't stopped thinking about it since. There's a mental game I play when I'm bored. I shut my eyes and imagine driving. Pure, unadulterated driving. My hands on the wheel, my feet on the pedals, the feel of the stick as it clicks through the ratios. The sensation of speed, the roar of the motor, the rush of the brakes and of course the side-crushing inertia from throwing it all sideways. Other cars do very well in my petrolhead mental gymnastics. Chief among them, Mazda's new Miata, a Porsche 911 4S (997) and any number of bollocks-cracking Lotus Seven facsimiles. But the RS4 simply beats them all. To death.
We'll start with the controls, which are exemplary. Shaquille O'Neal could fit his foot on the dead pedal, which signals Audi's serious about the RS4 being a driver's car. The clutch is ideally balanced between ease of use and sporting resistance. The other two pedals are set up well for and heel-and-toeing — and what else matters? At low, around-town speeds you might detect a bit of slop in the gears and the clutch might seem a touch meaty. But get yourself on a fast road and I dare you to find more perfect implements. You can bang home gears with all your might, yet the stereotypical German precision never relents. Compare it to the shifter in an E46 M3 and the Bavarian version is like a TV remote standing upright in a bowl of chili, especially on the track. One valid gripe with the RS4 is the relative difficulty in left-foot braking. However, as the Avant is European, the flat-bottomed Lamborghini-sourced steering wheel fixes that.
The engine... What's the word? Oh yeah, hyperbolic, as well as vicious, insane, menacing, brutal, powerful, torquefied, mental, explosive, cargasmic (you have a thesaurus, use it). And the kicker is,
I really can't believe it's not butter! the RS4's mill is that good! 4.2-liters and eight cylinders gives you 420 of the most rabid horsepower you could imagine, frothing enough to propel the not-quite two-ton RS4 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. And like the E63 AMG Wagon, I wouldn't be surprised if a bit more weight over the Avant's rear wheels doesn't drop that time by a tick of a second. Full torque (317 ft lbs.) is instant and constant through the rev range, peaking at 7800 rpm. Of course the engine keeps cranking to a 8,250 redline at which point its pistons are moving 82 feet per second. A car going 60 mph is moving 88 feet per second. I once described the FSI V8 as sounding and feeling like, "A volcano making love to an avalanche." I'm standing by that.
The RS4's mill weighs just 317 aluminum pounds, which is crucial as Audi decided to strap the dang thing ahead of the front half-shafts. So sure, if you've never driven the current RS4 you could conceivably criticize it for being front heavy (57/43 front to rear). But you would be fantastically wrong and an embarrassment to your wife and loved ones. Look, Porsche is able hang the 911's motor behind the car, yet the iconic sports car still handles with the best of them. By the same counterintuition, German black magic is at play in the Audi. And again the Avant, while a bit heavier, will be balanced even better. Suffice to say I've rarely driven a finer handling car. I remember a passenger of mine screeching, "How does it do that?" as a ham-fisted dilettante like me was able to break a few Newtonian principles. The AWD grip is positively stupefying. Those cars that do hug the road better? All owe a debt to Colin Chapman and are absolutely gutless when getting mercilessly passed by the RS4.
Still not sold? There's very little doubt that if we were to nominate an E39 M5 it would be a shoe in. Few cars have garnered more praise, exceeded more expectations and kicked more sports car ass than the last generation uber-Bimmer. Rightfully so, as the old M5 was and remains mind blowing. But here's the rub: the RS4 is better. It's lighter, it's more powerful, it's faster, it handles better, it's arguably more stealth, the interior is nicer, it costs less, it's more sure footed in bad weather, it goes 'round the 'Ring quicker, it stops shorter, etc. In truth, the E39 M5's only advantage over the smaller RS4 is a larger back seat. And we choose not to care. Finally, and I will always forever return to this anecdotal evidence, good friend of Jalopnik Emil Rensing at one point owned both an Audi RS4 and a Lamborghini Gallardo. These two cars couldn't be more different, save for the abysmal fuel economy and the brakes (the RS4's brakes are lifted right off the Gallardo). I asked Emil which of the two he preferred. You guessed it, the RS4.
But why the wagon? Why not the four-door? Subjectively, the five-door looks way more trick than the sedan. Like most German rides, beauty wasn't a priority when Audi dreamt up the A4. However, the Avant's hatch cures the A4 design language of its biggest weakness a.k.a. its blobby, A6-inspired rear end. Also, of course, wagons are just inherently smarter propositions. In the premiere issue of 0-60 too-tall editor-in-chief Brian Scotto has the following to say about the Avant compared to the 4-door RS4:
The addition of the hatch, though...is brilliant. Traveling with the same amount of equipment as we had in the sedan last year, the wagon is just so much roomier. It's also sexier.
Preach on, brother. Let's not forget that the original twin-turbo RS4 was only available as a wagon. Nor should we downplay the grass-is-greener phenomenon. Of course we fantasize about what we can't have. Though I have a strong suspicion that with the RS4 Avant, the reality would be every bit as good as the fantasy. If not worlds better. Happy voting. Oh, and the most perfect car according to Clarkson? The Subaru Legacy Outback Wagon. He's clearly nuts.
[This is the last time until 2008 the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage will appear on a Tuesday. Because of Monday Night Football, we'll be switching to every Wednesday. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our Fantasy Garage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. Would you like to nominate a car for the Fantasy Garage? Write firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Fantasy."]
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, So Far:
RUF RT12 | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917