For Audi enthusiasts

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29 December 2010

Recently our friends over at Car & Driver published a story suggesting a new RS 4 wasn’t to be. Contacts of ours years ago confirmed an RS 4 sedan would have never been in the cards anyway as the 4-door buyer was predominantly also the RS 5 buyer. Still, our information about a RS 4 Avant was from a reliable source and, since I have no doubt C&D’s Jens Meiners is also well (and likely more recently) informed, this has gotten me thinking why the RS 4 may have been axed… at least for now.

Why? It can’t be for lack of sales. Audi is having a banner year, though it is true that the RS 5 hasn’t been all that well received by the press… at least in the all-important compare articles. I remember the first time a highly placed source at Audi AG told me about the RS 5 project with its high-rev V8 from the RS 4 bumped 30 hp with an extra intake. The move seemed lackluster and I, along with seemingly the rest of the motoring press, dreamed of something more radical.

Rumor stories around the press during this time prior to the RS 5’s launch still suggested it might get the V10 biturbo from the RS 6. “It can’t be done,” said my source. “It simply wouldn’t fit.”

Normally well-connected and very in-the-know CAR Magazine held to the belief that the car would be some turbocharged V8.

Then, a few months later, my source told me about the 4.0T. This new V8 biturbo would be an interesting prospect. With everything nestled inside the V as seen on similar engines from BMW, I was told the engine (at this time still prior to the RS 5) would not go into the RS 5 but instead debut in the A8. Turns out the only official confirmation thus far about 4.0T is as a base engine for the Bentley Continental GT, though solid intel from multiple sources suggests it’ll also see duty in the A8, S8, S6, S7, RS 7 and, if there is one, an RS 6.

Fast forward a couple of years. The RS 5 is launched. Though beautiful to look at and a very comfortable GT, the car still lags behind competitors such as the BMW M3 or Nissan GT-R in the eyes of the motoring press. Yes it’s good but the question is whether it is good enough to warrant such a pricing premium.

We had a chance to drive Audi of America’s RS 5 around for a few hours last summer near Audi headquarters in the Washington suburbs of Herndon, Virginia. Naturally we decided to do a few roll-on comparisons with our own 4 Season S4 and the results were pretty astonishing. The RS 5 looked, sounded and felt faster but it just couldn’t pull on the S4 in side-by-side roll-ons. That a 3.0T S5 coupe is expected to go on sale alongside the RS 5 won’t help matters.

When we received first word of the RS 5’s confirmation for North America we were astonished to hear it would not arrive here until the summer of 2012 as a 2013 model. The reason, we’re told, is that it doesn’t pay to federalize the car twice. The logic goes that rather than doing it for 2010 or 2011 and then ending the run in 2012, Audi chose to wait and space it after the launch of next year’s TT RS. This makes sense, but given the current car isn’t faring all that well in comparison testing, I can’t imagine the car’s showing will be any stronger in the summer of 2012.

Thinking this through, a theory began to form in my head round about last spring. Could Audi AG be planning a switch to the 4.0T. Might this be the reason Audi of America chose to wait so long? That would make a lot of sense but getting any confirmation of this has been impossible.

When my German contact mentioned the 4.0T initially I brought up the RS 5. “That car engine would be perfect for the car,” I stated to him. This was prior to the RS 5 even being shown and he simply responded that it would get the high-rev 4.2.

Now that the RS 5 is available in the European market, I revisited the subject with a high-placed contact in North America who would know. He flatly discounted the idea. “There’s no way we’d make such a big change mid-cycle as part of the p.i. (product improvement).”

He’d be right, if Audi were planning a facelift like we saw on the TT or the C6 A6.

Chatting about the A5, another German contact on the design side said the redesign (for the A5) will be pretty significant. “Think B6 to B7,” I was told.

“Nearly every panel (on the outside” will be redesigned.

Interesting. When the A4 moved from B6 to B7, it also had a major change in engine offerings with the exception of the S4.

I mentioned my 4.0T theory to another contact at Audi who claimed he wasn’t informed on the plan was for the B8 cars but quite likely was aware given his field of work. “It’s an interesting theory,” he stated and continued.

“Think about it. Mercedes-Benz developed that 6.3 for AMG and it’s been installing it in pretty much everything. It’s a solid strategy that saves quite a bit on development. If Audi did develop this 4.0T, it might make a lot of sense to put it in every performance car it could.”

And therein is the logic. My best guess is that the 4.0T is being developed in multiple tunes. I hear it may go into A8 as en engine option above 3.0T once the 4.2 is phased out and it is the expected engine planned for the S6, S7, RS 7 and S8. Lower states of tune will likely slot in above the 3.0T and a middle or highest states of tune would see duty in cars like the S and RS cars as well as the aforementioned Bentley. By the time the 2013 RS 5 comes to market, likely the only remaining 4.2 in the Audi fleet will be the R8 and perhaps that car may even switch over when a successor is revealed. The 4.0T will already be on the market by then, finally introduced in the A8 as my German contact first suggested several years ago. You see where I’m going here.

CAR Magazine may have been correct stating the RS 5 would be a turbocharged V8. They may have simply been too far ahead of the news curve.

I believe the RS 5 will migrate to the 4.0T. It is important to disclose that all the facts I know in regards to this have been included in this story. No one at Audi has suggested this will happen but logic suggests it might and there’s a big part of my heart that hopes it will. I don’t’ see a reason why the RS 5 would not retain the 7-speed S-tronic transmission and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive.

The performance potential of such a car is hard to deny. My guess is that the press would be more than smitten with this setup, while the aftermarket would be foaming at the mouth.

As for the RS 4 Avant, we aren’t counting that one out. The RS 4 went on hiatus once before during the B6 generation. Audi could have easily gone with the generation skip as it has before in order to build demand for its ultimate performance wagon and also to give the first-generation RS 5 a foot hold in the market. Car & Driver’s intel may be entirely correct, but that doesn’t exactly spell the RS 4’s ultimate demise. To the contrary, if my theory is correct then the RS 4 Avant will be much more the car the Audi enthusiast market is looking for. I’d be willing to bet we still won’t get it in the US though.

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