EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view

The first few copies of the all-new 2007 Audi RS4 sedan began trickling into U.S. dealers in June, and enthusiasts have been rubbing their hands ever since.

We finally got a chance to test the limited-edition sports car in August and were duly impressed by the RS4’s exceptional performance — and taken aback by its exorbitant sticker.

We tested an RS4 with no options and a bottom line of $68,820, including a $720 shipping charge and a $2,100 gas guzzler tax.

SHE: You barely got out of our subdivision in the RS4, with that screaming Imola yellow paint job, when the local sheriff’s deputy was on your tail with his lights flashing. Naturally, you hadn’t heeded my warning to slow down. And of course you didn’t realize how fast you were going. So add another $65 to the sticker price.

HE: I was doing 45 and keeping my distance from the Saab Turbo ahead of me.

SHE: She got a ticket, too. So what’s the point of owning a 420-horsepower sports car that’s a cop magnet, especially if you can’t even get it out of second gear in your own neighborhood? Furthermore, what’s the point of spending nearly $70,000 on a luxury car that doesn’t really look or feel like a luxury car?

HE: Let’s not mix messages here. The RS4 does indeed carry a stiff price, but you’re paying for performance, on several fronts, and not necessarily the ritzy amenities. But let’s talk a few numbers. With that lovely 4.2-liter V-8 under the hood and a smooth six-speed manual gearbox, this little four-door rockets from rest to 60 miles an hour in less than five seconds. Now that’s mighty quick. And it handles like a track car — razor-sharp steering, superb ride control and terrific brakes.

SHE: You want to talk numbers? How about fuel economy? The EPA figures are 14 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway. And if you want to discuss performance, let’s talk about ride quality, which is pretty harsh on the RS4. That suspension is rock-hard, which is great for the racetrack, but hardly appropriate for everyday driving. And I couldn’t really get past the overly masculine styling inside and out.

HE: The Audi’s cabin did seem a little on the dark side. But I liked those carbon-fiber inserts in the doors and the instrument panel. One thing that surprised me was that Audi charges extra for a navigation system, which seems like a crime on a car that costs this much. The nav system is bundled in a $4,700 “premium package” that includes a six-disc CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, heated rear seats and satellite radio.

SHE: The safety features are pretty impressive, as they are on most Audis. The RS4 comes with standard antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side air bags, front and rear side curtains, and adaptive headlamps. But if you want side air bags for the rear passengers, that will cost you $350 extra. Otherwise, the rear-seat amenities are pretty awesome. They include a central locking feature, individual reading lights and even a first-aid kit.

HE: As much as I love to drive this car, it’s difficult to recommend for family transportation, especially if you have kids with longer legs. There’s just not a lot of room in that back seat, and the middle passenger has to straddle a center hump, just like in the old days. The plus side of that, of course, is that the RS4 has standard all-wheel drive, which means this is a great all-weather vehicle and one of the few high-performance cars you can drive practically year-round.

SHE: I think the clue that this was not your typical family sedan was an item on the window sticker — a standard lap timer. Too bad it didn’t come with a standard radar detector.

Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.

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