By Kris Hansen
August 23, 2010
By: Kris Hansen
S4. To Audi enthusiasts, this model designation has deep meaning. The S4 is widely considered to be one of the finest sports sedans available, with it’s excellent blend of comfort and performance, safety and all weather sure footedness, luxury and sportyness. Sold in various forms and body styles since 1992, the original version was based on the 100 sedan of the day, which was the larger body style that ultimately was renamed A6 (at which point that S4 variant morphed into the S6). It was also at this point that began a 6 year gap where Audi did not produce an S4 model. Not until 2000, when Audi introduced to the American market an all new S4, based on the B5 A4 sedan, did we enjoy an S4.
With its twin turbo V6 engine and 6 speed manual gearbox, the B5 S4 was tremendously fast, and highly sought after by enthusiasts and tuners alike. With simple tuning it was possible to extract well over 300hp from the 2.7 liter mill. People scooped these cars up, tweaked them for power and handling, and loved them.
This latest version based on the brand new B8 chassis which is shared by the A5/S5 coupe and of course the A4 sedan and Avant. This platform is widely regarded as being one of the finest handling Audi have produced to date thanks in part to the rearward location of the engine and transmission compared to previous Audis. The cars balance is remarkably neutral, there is absolutely no understeer until pushed extremely hard.
We loved the B8 A4 when we drove it earlier this year, and the S4 phenomenal. Externally, the S4 has a few differences, namely a deeper spoiler on the trunklid, deeper side skirts, and front chin spoiler. Its a lot more aggressive looking than the A4, but its not overdone. With the stock sports suspension, the S4 sits low on its 19 inch S4 specific wheels. The overall package is perfectly balanced visually, and its distinctive enough to differentiate it from its lesser A4 brethren.
Obviously the S4 is more than just a great looking sports sedan. Inside, the cabin is fitted with S4 specific seats, which are high-back, and more deeply bolstered, and extremely comfortable and supportive. Lateral support is excellent given the higher capabilities of the S4s chassis. And theyre just beautiful to look at. Covered in either leather with Alcantara inserts, or in the case of our tester, Audis lovely Silk Napa Leather, they enhance the sporty nature of the car. We took a 6 hour road trip in our S4, and it was perfectly comfortable the whole time. In fact, after a whole day out in the sun, on our feet at Waterfest 16, the 6 hours back home was completely comfortable, refreshing in fact.
Part of the comfort is the seats obviously, but the ride is excellent for a sports sedan, never jarring, never harsh, but at the same time, always eager, always in sync with how the car is being driven. On the highway, its smooth and comfortable, not floaty, not bouncy. Throw the car at some twisties though, and the car responds with very little body roll, no wallow, no understeer. Its incredibly easy to handle at speed, thanks to the Servotronic variable steering. As with other Audi models, its perfectly weighted, never overly boosted, and yet still manages to transmit feedback from the tires directly to the drivers hands. With ESP turned off, the S4 rotates nicely at turn in, and holds its line through the turn perfectly. The quattro all wheel drive allows application of power long before the wheels are all pointed straight, and helps pull the car through the turn incredibly quickly. In fact, the S4, with its 40/60 front/rear power distribution feels rather like a rear wheel drive car much of the time, without the worry of nasty handling characteristics at the limit of adhesion.
A performance car wouldnt be complete without great brakes, and the S4 doesnt disappoint. Fitted with large and powerful vented discs front and rear, with ABS and other various safety features such as pressure assist in panic stops, the pedal feel is excellent, and the brakes are very strong. Even under heavy braking, we detected no fade, and very little squat from the suspension.
Our tester was equipped with the 6 speed manual transmission. The ratios are perfectly matched to the torque of the supercharged engine. First gear is short enough to dig the S4 out of the hole, without bogging. The clutch action lacks a certain amount of feel; it takes a few miles to get used to its take-up. The shifter had a much more positive feel than the A4 we drove earlier this year, and it was less notchy. Miles and use really seem help the shifter mechanism loosen up, as our S4 had about 2000 more miles than the A4 did. Once used to the feel and action of the clutch and shifter though, its a lot of fun to row through the gears in this car, though in all honestly, not entirely necessary given the incredible flexibility of the 3.0TFSI engine. You can easily keep the car in 6th gear, and just loaf along at just over idle, the engine does not protest at all.
Audis 3 liter supercharged and direct injected V6 is a thing of beauty. Its incredibly smooth, has tons of low end torque, and amazingly enough is very rev-happy. Unlike a turbocharged engine, there is no lag from depressing the throttle pedal to feeling a surge of power. Unlike a larger naturally aspirated engine, it doesnt require high revs to make maximum power. The supercharger itself is silent, even with the windows open. The exhaust note is decidedly V6 in nature, though it has a nice baritone with a very slight rasp at high revs. With a torque peak of 325 lb/ft beginning at 2900 rpm and ending at 5300 rpm, and maximum power of 333 hp from 5500-7000, this car is hysterically fun to drive. No, theres no huge rush of power, because theres so much power available in such a broad range of the rev band. But, keep your right foot planted, and the car positively hurls itself forward down the road. The power is so broad that you can skip from 1st to 6th and just drive. Yes, you read right. We did it a few times in casual driving. On the highway, there is almost no reason to ever shift out of 6th, thanks to the electric motor quality of the power delivery. Seriously, if you happen run it down to 40mph in 6th, it accelerates hard and smooth back up to 65 and more.
Audi say the S4 3.0TFSI will run from 0 to 62 in 4.9, which we know to be quite conservative. Top speed is limited to 155. Whats great about this new engine is, its quite frugal. We averaged 27 mpg on a long highway drive, which we considered to be excellent. EPA estimates are 18 and 27, which obviously are a far cry better than the former 4.2 liter engine, which we consider to be very thirsty.
The S4 has always been the kind of car that is perfect for driving to the track on the weekends, for an Audi Club performance driving event perhaps, and then Sunday, it could be used to bring your family to church. The rest of the week, you can drive to work in perfect luxurious comfort. Weve always loved the S4 for this reason. Its got the power and handling of a bona fide sports sedan, while remaining eminently useful for day to day use. But now, dare we say, its a little more grown up. Its bigger, roomier, quieter, and smoother than its ever been. Its got the electro-gadgets, like the incredibly cool MMI, AMI, rain sensing wipers, dark sensing lights, self dimming mirrors, awesome audio system (you can even watch DVD movies as long as your stationary), bluetooth, and on and on.
Its got everything that we want in a sports sedan. The only thing we’re left wanting, is one to find a more permanent home in the AudiWorld garage!