Christmas came a little early for me this year in the form of a pretty substantial suspension and handling overhaul for Project Quattro, thanks to the guys at BILSTEIN and 034Motorsport.
This is an upgrade that’s been a long time coming; I’ve wanted to address my B7’s suspension ever since the first drive. I loved how it felt, but quickly noticed that all the tell-tale signs of a high-mileage and well-used car were very much there. You know what I’m talking about: sloppiness in the steering, numbness and delay in changes of direction, tired dampers, and most worrying of all – thumps and harshness from worn and broken bushes.
I’m an avid believer in keeping suspension in tip-top condition, and that doesn’t mean just the dampers but also the bushes and links. I like to make sure the geometry is correct too, and check tire pressures regularly.
So something really had to be done to sort out Project Quattro, and the first people I hit up were BILSTEIN who supplied a complete suspension package.
The aim was simple: retain some of the OEM feel and compliance, but with the added adjustability that an aftermarket coilover is able to offer.
BILSTEIN sent me their B16 height-adjustable kit for the RS4, which comes with a helper spring to keep the main coil right up against the top mount at the front.
At the heart of the kit are stainless steel shock absorbers with 10 preset rebound/compression settings. This was the obvious choice as it allows me to stay a couple of clicks away from the softest setting to have pretty much the same sort of feel the OEM setup offered, and when I find myself on the right sort of road I can easily firm up the handling.
For the rear, the height adjustment is built into the spring perch as you’ll see during the actual fitting.
With Audi charging hefty sums of money for replacement arms and bushes, aftermarket was always going to be the right way to go. And it was through a friend that I was put onto 034Motorsport, a VW and Audi specialist based in Fremont, California.
These guys have been around for 15 years and now have a pretty substantial catalog of tuning parts. I actually got chatting to the man behind it all, Javad, who gave me great advice and shipped out a complete set of upper and lower front arms.
034Motorsport partnered with an OE supplier to get these built to spec. The added benefit of firmer bushes brings the whole handling and feel of the car one notch up from OEM. And with less give, they should be less susceptible to wear and tear too.
Here’s the rear adjustable sway bar, considerably thicker than the stock item and designed to work in a balanced way with the front factory item. The goal here was to keep rear roll in check and the car flatter through the bends, allowing the BILSTEINs to do their job more effectively.
It’s actually also a must, as when fitting the new coliovers we’d also be disconnecting the RS4’s hydraulic Dynamic Ride Control, but we’ll get into that shortly. The two round rubber items in the center of the box are the front strut mounts, again a little firmer than the OEM equivalents.
Check out the billet mounts. The 34 just happened to be in the background; quite the coincidence, right?Fitting Day
For the fitting of all these lovely suspension goodies, BILSTEIN Japan helped out by introducing me to Maniacs, a VAG specialty shop and BILSTEIN dealer in Yokohama. These guys have an impressive setup and have been around for close to 20 years now, first as an importer and online reseller, and then opening up a physical outlet and workshop to cater to their ever-growing customer base.
They asked their top mechanic, Kumazawa-san, to set aside a whole day of his time to attend to Project Quattro. As soon as we met and the formalities were out of the way, it became obvious that this man knows Audis inside and out. In fact, he’s the only mechanic at Maniacs that works on RS models.
The first thing was to go through the boxes that I had brought, and lay everything out neatly on the floor. Chatting to Kumazawa-san, he told me he was formerly an Audi mechanic, and had even participated in the press launch of the B7 RS4 back in the day. That’s pretty crazy!
It was then over to the 034Motorsport goodies, where Kumazawa-san had a lot of admiration for the arms. At the same time he was a tad worried that while taking things apart, there might nasty surprises waiting to be discovered; rusty nuts and the like that have a tendency to snap off or fall apart.
Seeing it all laid out was cool, but this was going to be a pretty long day. Not for me of course, I was just there to take the odd picture and admire some stickers.
The car was driven in and positioned on one of the two lifts, but prior to any work happening the front and rear fenders were protected with clingy blue film to avoid scratches and potential other damage while moving around the car.
Ride height measurements were then taken, to be used later on in the day as a reference for setting the car up.
Kumazawa-san then took some measurements of the front dampers and made sure the springs and helper spring perches were set at equal heights.
Here you can see the mounts and coils that go along with the signature yellow BILSTEIN dampers.
The first thing for Kumazawa-san to do was disconnect the Dynamic Ride Control (DRC), which I touched on already. This is an interesting system which uses hydraulic fluid to link up the opposing front and rear suspension and helps to counteract body roll and pitch.
The system was made by the Japanese company Kayaba (KYB), and sports two rear-mounted reservoirs and a series of hard hydraulic lines linking up to the dampers.
This is what it looks on the damper side. There were two options here: bin the entire system; or just disconnect, seal, and leave it all in place.
Kumazawa-san and I decided on the second option; it’s far easier, and I’d rather keep the system in place anyway.The Front
Kumazawa-san had to remove a number of miscellaneous covers, shrouds and even the radiator reservoir tank to get to the top mounts. Once that was done, he removed the top arms from the spindle and pulled the entire assembly out in one swift move.
Once on the floor he could easily separate the original dampers from their top mounts. The impact gun was then used to loosen up the bolts that hold the top arms in place, but not before a measurement was taken so that the replacements could be set at the right height.
You can see how the bushes on the original arms had completely failed, making it impossible to hold the correct geometry and introducing all sorts of NVH to the cabin.
As the rubber bushes used in the 034Motorsport arms is slightly harder, this too would tighten up the way the car feels. I was worried, however, that that it might be too firm, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it couldn’t possibly be as bad as polyurethane, but who knows until you actually try it out for the first time.
The previous measurements were then used to get the two arms sitting at the right height.
It was then on to assembling it all back up again, not forgetting the firmer top mount rubber, yet another piece of the puzzle.
The lower arms followed.
Here’s a visual reminder of how wear and tear can kill bushes, and with them the feel and compliance of the handling. As with the top 034Motorsport arms, the lower ones also use higher durometer rubber to help tighten up the handling.
The final pieces of the 034 Motorsport kit – new lower tension rods – were also swapped in.
Once it was all (almost) bolted up, the suspension refresh was really taking shape.
The only real glitch in the install came with the sway bar end links, which did not match up to the mounting points. To remedy this, we ended up reusing the OEM ones.The Rear
With the front end back together, Kumazawa-san turned his attention to the back of the car, pulling out the OEM shocks and springs first.
This was a much faster and straight forward job due the relative simplicity of the rear, but also because there was no need to fiddle around with arms. In the B7 RS4 kit, BILSTEIN thankfully also include replacement top mounts with fresh bushes for the rear shocks. Looking at the state of the original ones, it would have been a terrible idea to reuse them, so I’m very glad those were part of the package.
The spring turned out to be a little difficult to install, but not as much as getting access to the threaded perch that allows you to adjust the rear ride height.
Kumazawa-san then moved on to the rear stabilizer. With the use of a transmission jack, a few blocks of wood, and obviously a lot of experience, he gently dropped the exhaust system enough to gain access to the sway bar without the need to remove other components.
And just like that, the stock bar was removed.
You can see the difference in thickness, and again another glory shot of those beautiful 034Motorsport billet mounts. It’s a pity they have to be hidden away under the car!
With everything pieced together the car was finally dropped and completed. Well, mechanically at least.
It was then over to the first round of settings, first the height adjustment front and back…
And then a quick alignment to get everything squared up. This was just a very basic initial setting, and I actually returned to Maniacs a week later for a proper setup once all the new parts had settled in.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to put Project Quattro through its paces, but after spending some time with the BILSTEINs and 034Motorsport goodies fitted I can’t believe the difference it has all made. The moment I turned the steering wheel exiting Maniacs I had an instant grin on my face; the car felt immediately tighter and refreshed.
As for the suspension, I have it set a few clicks away from soft and there’s that quality feel of compliance and altogether tighter response. It’s pin-sharp off center, roll has been diminished significantly, and I’ve finally found the added firmness that I always thought the OEM setup lacked. Heck, I even think the car brakes better now with significantly reduced pitch.
I’d like to give a big shout out to BILSTEIN for helping make this transformation possible, and 034Motorsport for proving that attention to detail in handling is paramount.
Dino Dalle Carbonare