February 3, 2002

S4 Avant: A Thinking Man's SUV?
Article and Photos By: Paul Grimes

As halo models go, Audi has always taken a conservative approach when it comes to the outward appearances of their S cars. Most people passing one whether in a crowded parking lot or on the road will almost always mistake it for the lesser model upon which it is based. The average Audi enthusiast has an entirely different approach to the much-heralded S-models knowing that the real joy of owning one is not by how it distinguishes itself on the outside, but rather how it is built to perform and provide a greater sense of driver feedback on the inside. To many people this performance feeling is the essence of what makes Audi's premier cars special.

It has been nearly three model years since Audi introduced the S4 model to the North American buying public as a sport model of the popular A4. In those three years that it has been available, very few changes have been made to this successful halo car - and for good reason. Its' success can been measured in the almost cult-like following that has developed around it. The S4 was designed to take an already great driver's car a few more steps further by offering greater acceleration, better braking, better suspension dynamics as well as a more upscale environment to be submerged in while enjoying these sensations. For the 90th percentile driver or the most extreme and demanding of pilots, the S4 offers a tremendous bang for the buck. Oh, and did anyone mention just how tuner-friendly these cars are?

But what about the person who wants all those great dynamics and also requires a bit more space utilization in their day-to-day world? Enter the S4 Avant, which became available in May of 2001 as a supplement to the S4 sedan. All of the good hardware that came standard on the S4 - the smooth 2.7 liter 250-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 with its thick, linear power band, six speed manual transmission (or optional Tiptronic 5-speed automatic for those not inclined to shift it themselves) as well as the 17" Avus wheels with ZR speed rated tires - are carried over to the wagon body.

The exterior clues are few and, in the Audi tradition, subtle to the point of being transparent. The external changes that make it different from its slightly lesser sibling are a front air opening below the grille that is designed to provide improved intercooler efficiency, along with some very subtle badges. These differences barely clue in the outside world that this is one wagon to be reckoned with. The only other exterior indications are the aluminum mirror covers and the aluminum roof rails that set this car apart as the up-class model.

Our Laser Red test car came equipped with both of these aforementioned exterior modifications and they contrasted well to the brightly colored sheen of the paint.

The external dimensions of the S4 are nearly identical not only from the A4 Avant to the S4 Avant, but also from the perspective of sedan to wagon. The overall length of the Avant is 176.7 inches from stem to stern, which is 2/10ths of an inch longer than the comparable sedan. The wheelbase is unchanged from the sedan at 102.6" and the track of 58.9" is unchanged from model to model. The curb weight of the A4 Avant is 3,384 pounds compared to the S4 Avant 6 speed's weight of 3,704 pounds, a substantial difference when it comes to creating a favorable power to weight ratio.

Seeing as how we haven't had a chance to have an extended period of time behind the wheel of an S4 Avant, we opted to spend a week with one last fall just to remind ourselves if a) the memories of the first S4's we tested in 1998 still felt like they were competitive and b) if the S4 Avant could truly fit the bill as an alternative to a small SUV or hybrid station wagon.

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