First Driving Impressions: RS4 Cabriolet

By James Wong

Despite having only driven the RS4 Cabriolet for a little less than 30 minutes, memories of the exquisite car still linger in my mind – three months later. Although it did not fully satiate my expectations of an RS, it did however excel at what it is made for.

Let’s put the cards on the table first. If you buy a cabriolet, you are making a lifestyle choice. Of the 3 variants of the RS4 available ñ the Sedan, Avant and Cabriolet ñ the Cabriolet is the one you will choose not because it is a fantastic sports car, but because it is the most evocative and stirring Audi open-top around (after the R8 V10 Spyder, at least). It is also arguably the least sporty RS4 you can buy because of its extra weight and compromised chassis rigidity (removing the roof makes the car prone to scuttle shake).

Sure, it has the same 420PS V8 as the one in the R8 but it drives anything but. The Cabrioletís suspension is tuned to be a bit softer to handle the extra weight gained from strengthening the chassis and it is very obvious when I drove it. Ride comfort was supreme and humps proved little of a challenge for the car as it ironed them out very well, relating very little harshness back to the driver. But this also means that accompanying every shift of the six-speed gearbox, the car tends to dive and squat rather noticeably. This did not really allow the driver to feel like he can drive the car hard as the car felt too floaty for any useful fast driving. In fact, it was a bit disconcerting to feel the car react this way and putting it in S-mode did not help either.

What was also irritating is the clutch ñ it is placed too high which required me to lift my entire leg to depress it properly. It made the heel-and-toe action a bit difficult to coordinate, especially considering too that the accelerator had a lazy response. While all of this made driving the car feel numb and anodyne, it did make driving the RS4 Cabriolet very easy. In fact, it is one of the easiest manuals I have ever driven. The clutch is very light and forgiving, while the gearshifts are also simple and no-fuss, although it is nothing to shout about. Much of the ease of driving this car must be attributed to the engine, whose breadth of abilities is impressive to say the least.

It will pull convincingly from anywhere between its idle and redline at 8,000rpm. In fact, if you had left the car in third gear you could move off at the green light and then pot around town in the same gear until you reach home. It pulls so strongly from seemingly everywhere that you can hit way past the speed limit in just third gear alone. The tractability of the V8 is immense and I haven’t even reached the best part. The absolute thing that tugs on my heartstrings is the sound. With the top down, there is little else on earth that can beat the first-class seats for the Audi RS V8 Concerto.

It certainly has to be sampled in S mode, where the exhaust valves are opened to allow the V8 to really sing. Actually, it doesn’t sing, it grunts ñ and with a different sort of grunt in each stage of the engine’s symphony until it reaches the redline. Underlying that gruffness is a soft whine that hints of a supercharger (there isnít one, I assure you). The bellowing sound of the car seems to bounce off the sidewalk as it is immediately recognisable and distinct. And when you do reach the red part of the tachometer, I assure you that it is not just you grinning ñ passersby will also look in awe. It is simply such a sophisticated sound that speaks of maturity, ability and sheer strength.

The beautiful thing about this engine is that it also allows you to cruise without any drama. That is exactly what most RS4 Cabriolet owners will do and thankfully, the V8 will be a more than willing companion. You will never feel the car is out of breath unlike some other engines which need to be revved to be enjoyed. This V8 is as good on the racetrack as it is on the road, and that is a claim that is truly difficult to top.

So, as a sports car the RS4 Cabriolet does not really make the mark. If you want that you would be better off with the 4-door saloon. If you’re also looking for more practicality to fit the kitchen sink and the dog then the Avant is the one to go for. However, for those who want to enjoy the finer things in life, like driving down a good road in the chilly morning with the wind in your hair and having one of the world’s best V8s under your bonnet, then the RS4 Cabriolet is the car. It is simply the most glamorous RS4 money can buy.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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