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The front page will remain unheld with the news that another new Audi A4 variant is about to touch down. There are already 85 examples of the 3-series rival to choose between, split across saloon, Avant and cabrio bodystyles, with engines ranging from a gutless 1.6-litre four-pot to an extremely potent 4.2-litre V8. Now, with the arrival of the 2.0 FSI Turbo quattro DTM, that becomes 86. Should we be even vaguely excited?
Regardless of anything else, it's a contender for the 2006 prize for the most tangential claim of motorsport association, the other being the tongue-in-cheek Fiat Stilo Michael Schumacher Edition. But the A4 DTM is being presented with deadly Teutonic seriousness as a 'commemoration of the landslide championship victory for Audi in the 2004 German Touring Car Masters'. Which, if true, would surely have given us a properly pumped-up bodykit instead of the DTM's half-hearted effort. Changes are limited to revised bumpers, big alloys, a wide-bore exhaust and two chunks of carbonfibre - the one under the front bumper claiming to be a splitter, the one on the boot reckoning it's a spoiler.
It's behind the discreet bodykit that the DTM gets more interesting. It has been engineered by Quattro GmbH, Audi's newly formed performance sub-division, also responsible for forthcoming 'S' and 'RS' models. Quattro GmbH can order some fairly substantial spec changes, which is why the DTM's engine boasts an extra 20bhp over the regular 2.0T FSI, pushing the total to 217 bhp. Torque also rises slightly to 221 lb ft. Suspension is based on the already firmer-than-standard 'S-line' settings, turned up a little further for even stiffer corner control. Ride height is 20mm lower than the standard car's and cross-drilled discs lurk behind the unique style 18-inch alloys.
The stylish cabin - available only in black - has a sombre yet quietly cool ambience. There are snazzy 'DTM' metal sill-plates, superb Recaros, real carbon fillets and a pleasingly tactile Alcantara finish to the steering wheel and gear knob.
As always, this is a fine engine. Decently eager at low revs, punchy in the mid-range and staying enthusiastic all the way to the 7200rpm red line. It also sounds far nicer than the older-tech 20-valve 1.8T, producing some decent yowl under harder loads. The shift action of the six-speed 'box is light and lacks feel between the planes, although rapid, smooth changes come with practice.
On British roads at decent speeds the A4 delivers a convincing dynamic case for itself. Low-speed ride refinement is relatively poor on rougher roads but add velocity and it gets better, while even big compressions don't catch the low-looking front splitter. At the same time the dampers keep a tight rein on things - body control is excellent and roll resistance spirited, and there's none of the secondary harmonics that affect the standard A4.
The steering still isn't quite there. The helm offers reasonable weight and impressive accuracy, but there's little raw feel and, as the quattro drivetrain shunts power around in search of best traction, the steering wheel can be felt to tense in a slightly unnatural fashion. Cornering grip levels are high and normally surrounded by a protective layer of understeer. Brief track use at Rockingham proved that, against expectations, the DTM is happy to oversteer in a progressive, easily gathered and distinctly un-Audi fashion on a lifted throttle once the ESP had been caged.
The DTM is the best-driving non 'S' badged A4 we've encountered so far, but it's also whistle-inducingly expensive. At £29,980 it's five grand more than the 2.0 TFSI quattro S-Line that it's based on and £1500 over the less well equipped but considerably more powerful BMW 330i SE. Good as the DTM is, that pricetag is likely to ensure it remains of minority interest.
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 1984cc, 16v, turbo|
|Max power||217bhp @ 6100rpm|
|Max torque||221lb ft @ 2200-4000rpm|
|Top speed||152mph (claimed)|