Silvio Calabi: Audi S4 offers muscular civility
The Audi S4 is to the Audi A4 as the .300 Winchester Magnum is to the .30-06. That is to say, while the latter is excellent for all-around use, the former is about 50 percent more excellent again — and without punishing the operator with silly muscle-car antics, or too much recoil.
We never see gun racks in Audis, even the SUVs, so let’s deep-six the gunfire metaphor for now. From just after the Big Bang (oops) to when the A3 appeared a few months ago, the A4 has been Audi’s starter sedan, a trim four-door that helped set the performance and comfort bars for mid-price German cars.
Today’s A4 has 220 horsepower and 258 torques, will go about 24 to 32 miles on a gallon of premium and, with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission, it sells in the upper 30s. Quattro all-wheel drive is available, along with a choice of two other transmissions (6-speed manual, 8-speed Tiptronic), two higher trim levels (Premium, Prestige) and various options that can push the sticker to 50 grand. The A4 is a sweetheart and, especially at the lower prices, a good value.
The S4 is the same, only more so. Instead of four cylinders, it has six, and engine displacement increases from two to three liters. Power jumps to 333HP and 325 lb-ft of torque, but it feels like much more. Choice of transmissions narrows to two (6-speed manual, 7-speed S tronic) and of drivetrains to one: quattro permanent AWD. Fuel mileage drops to 18 to 28 MPG, city/highway.
An S4 starts at $50,000; add a few upgrades and the price climbs to the $58,295 of our sample. Overall, however, the value remains, as the A4 – S4 evolution moves the car from “quite nice” to “outright bloody wonderful.”
There’s more to this transformation than mere numbers. Despite the S4’s V6T badge, for example, the bigger Six isn’t turbocharged, it’s supercharged. Both devices tamp more fuel-air mix into the combustion chambers, but a supercharger is driven by the engine directly while a turbocharger has to wait for escaping exhaust gasses to spin it up. The difference probably helps explain the S4’s immediate lunge for the exits as soon as the throttle pedal is moved. Thereafter, the power just keeps coming, shoving the car ahead harder and harder to the swelling blare of the four trumpets at the back.
The acceleration and the boosted Dynamic Sound are insistent, yet somehow refined. The neighbors won’t be leaving unpleasant surprises in your mailbox.
The no-hyphen S tronic dual-clutch transmission adds to the S4’s civilized testosterone. It can be worked rapidly with the lever or steering-wheel paddles, and on its own it changes gears with none of the low-speed hiccupping of more-primitive DSG gearboxes. Practically perfect, it is.
The S4 changes direction well too, thanks to driver-adjustable steering, a sport suspension and the optional sport differential that applies extra power to the outside rear wheel in corners. Barring gravel or slick pavement, this car will stick, not slide, and if things go bad, the brakes will leave you hanging in your shoulder belt without a moment’s hesitation. For a high-performance car, though, the S4 is unusually deft and docile, and it manages to be broadly appealing as well. No passenger will ever complain about the S4’s ride, no weary salaryman will ever feel beat up on the commute home, and no dash through the mountains will seem too daunting.
With cars like the S4, another victory at Le Mans (13 wins in 15 years, with gas, hybrid and diesel racers) and coming up on four years of continuous month-over-month sales records, it’s hard to find a carmaker that’s more on top of its game right now than Audi. So there’s just one thing left to do, and that’s turn toward Ingolstadt and launch a telepathic mind-meld. Ready? All together now: Send the RS4 to America . . . Send the RS4 to America . . . We want the twin-turbo Six with 450 horsepower . . . and then we’ll have a .338 Lapua Magnum to go with the aught-six and the .300WinMag. Choice, it’s the American way.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at email@example.com.