|August 4, 2008
Virtual Road Test: Next Generation S4
Late last year we went to press with the latest and greatest information surrounding the B8 S4. That article, according to inside sources, was accurate as of its publication date. But, Audi has never been known as a static company and lo' and behold there is more to the next generation S4 than we were initially led to believe.
Unsurprisingly nobody will say anything on the record about what led Audi to move away from the reported 3.0-liter TFSI bi-turbo for the S4. Unofficially we have strung together a few versions of the story. The truth is undoubtedly somehwere in the middle, but we'll let the reader be the ultimate judge.
One explanation was that there were competing powerplant development teams and the bi-turbo team was simply much further ahead in its development cycle. As executives pondered how to power the new S4 they were clearly committed to an all new engine (and one that would produce all-important increases in fuel efficiency) and the 3.0-liter TFSI bi-turbo fit that bill quite nicely. Late in the game an alternate group brought forth its completed powerplant which ironically would also be a 3.0-liter, only utilizing compressor supercharging as opposed to turbos (and also denoted a 3.0-liter TFSI). Audi could have realistically gone forward with either design, but the forced-induction won out. More on that later.
A different explanation, although one that produces complete denial from the folks at Audi, is that the brand simply did not want to see history repeat itself with the 2.7T tuning craze. While the previous generation bi-turbo proved to be extensively tunable, it also proved to be a very large warranty headache before it was all said and done. So called turbo demons seemed to lurk in more than a fair share of the 2.7T engines, and a proportionaly higher number of chip-tuned vehicles.
The last explanation we've heard, which seems to be grounded more in truth than in conjecture, is that Audi simply wanted a better torque curve than anything that the previous generation S4's (bi-turbo and naturally aspirated V8, respectively) could possibly muster. Audi's marketing materials on the new 3.0 TFSI claim "superb power from idle speeds up, spontaneous torque buildup". Note that this article is not about the B8 S4's powerplant - those details have not yet been released - but about the underlying base engine. Either way, the only meaningful change we expect between the 3.0 TFSI in that article and the S4's 3.0 TFSI is the horsepower figure. They speak of 290 hp, but we know that the published figure (on paper at least) will be 330 hp.
Back to why the supercharged 3.0 TFSI won out in the end, sources who spoke to AudiWorld on the condition of annonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly on the subject have told us that ultimately the reason for this powerplant may be something very simple and unexpected. Audi has never done a production compressor engine and in one person's words, "we just wanted to try new things to keep technically nimble". Clearly Audi's experience with turbos could have easily led to a next-generation bi-turbo but it's very much a been-there-done-that proposition. Pushing in a new direction gives engineers something completely different around which to learn and innovate.
With the evolution of a powerplant being measured in many years there are certainly long lasting rollout expecations around the new 3.0 TFSI. It is expected to do worthy duty in highly tuned stripes in the B8 S4, but we have been told that deployment in everything from the Q5 and Q7 to the A6 is likely. The performance to fuel efficiency ratio is said to be so good that there will indeed be demand throughout the Audi lineup for widespread use.
To this point we have simply wrapped up some loose ends around the new S4's powerplant without too many new details. Based on many insider contacts and off-the-record conversations, however, we have virtually driven the B8 S4. To be fair we have never set foot inside the vehicle, and yet we know people who have. Here's what they have to say.
First, for longer-term Audi owners who consider themselves in the know about the B5 S4 and all of its awesome tuning possibilities, we would ask you to imagine one of those bi-turbo S4's which has been seriously and thoughtfully built-out to RS4 specs. Here we're talking not only about the engine, but everything else too - the suspension, the brakes and the exhaust. Those modification produce one hell of a performance-capable vehicle, and one that's fun to drive too. Now imagine the B8 S4. Because all of its performance has been well-integrated, well-considered and well-delivered from the factory it is an all around better car than the built S4. Even the most diehard B5 S4 whores will second guess themselves because the B8 S4 delivers all the punch, all the performance and most importantly all the fun in a package which represents two full generations of improvement.
We have been told - by people who would know because they have B7 RS4's in their own personal garages - that the B8 S4 is more fun to drive than the RS4. It is not quite as fast, but all-in-all it is a better drive due to the upgraded brakes, suspension, vectoring quattro system and many other improvements. It is more balanced. It has a more desirable torque curve. It has the all-new interior as seen in the A5 / S5. Everything about the B8 S4 reflects lessons learned and innovation from the track, from previous generation S4's and indeed from Audi's long legacy as a producer of high-perfomance automobiles.
Can the whine of the supercharger be heard when pushing the new S4 hard? The answer is a resounding yes. We have been told that it is apt to become one of the next signatures of the Audi lineup just as the single-frame grille and LED-lighting have come to define the exterior look of the brand's automobiles. It is said to be a glorious, performance-induced whine which gives the driver an auditory signal as to the S4's intentions.
Visually Audi is still putting final touches on the exterior of the S4. The front will include a chrome "S" grille as seen on the next generation S8. LED lighting highlights are expected to play a prominent role as with all current "S" models, although we hear that LED tail lights will not be included. Instead the tail lights will look much like the S5 tail lights which appear to be LED, but are not. The B8 S4 of course adopts the larger, longer stance of its base A4 sibling (which also helps with interior comfort). As previously mentioned the interior adopts the same look as the S5, one of the finest automotive interiors ever conceived.
The S4, like all Audi "S" models, has just a little exhaust burble at idle. We have complained for years that Audi needs to pump-up-the-volume of its exhausts to produce a more aggressive, in-your-face tone, but Audi prefers the subtle route instead. In our virtual drives it became clear that some aftermarket exhaust replacement will be a welcome addition.
Despite some rumors to the contrary, do not expect to see Audi roll out its 7-speed DSG transmission in the B8 S4. While it remains solidly in the development queue, the 7-speed DSG is not ready for prime time at launch. Expect to see it launched a year later.
B8 S4 Debut
Last year we speculated that the B8 S4 would debut perhaps at April's New York Auto Show. That timing was clearly too aggressive and we have now been told with some degree of certainty that the actual debut will take place in Paris in September. For a brand that knows and respects its history, there is a lot going for a Paris debut. The B7 S4 was shown for the first time in Paris in 2004 and the B6 S4 debuted there in 2002. Audi is expected to put the S4 on sale in Europe this coming fall, so the timing simply makes sense from a practical perspective.
In terms of when to expect the B8 S4 stateside we have also confirmed that September 2009 is the date for North America. That makes it a 2010 model year vehicle here. Dealers will start taking deposits not long after the car goes on sale in Europe.