San Francisco: Audi's
A4 has been a worthy competitor in the compact to midsize upscale sedan
market for a decade. With clean, elegant proportions inside and out,
fine materials, excellent assembly, and rewarding vehicle dynamics, the
car has been a big success for Audi.
But what if you want to
add some salsa to the mix? That's what the S4 does. While the A4 does
just fine with its 2.0-liter turbocharged four and 3.2-liter V6, the S4
gets a whopping 340 horsepower V8 under the hood, and the bulked-up and
lowered suspension to make it work. An S4 with the sweet shifting manual
six-speed can race from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 5.3 seconds. Not bad for a
car that will also carry five people comfortably, and safely. Of course,
with EPA fuel ratings of 15 City, 21 Highway, there's $1,700 worth of
Gas Guzzler Tax to pay, but it's worth it. I accumulated 19.7 mpg during
my test week.
For decades, Audi's
design philosophy has been one of subtlety. Although the latest models
have moved to an enormous vertical grille up front, overall the
packaging is still restrained, with carefully tailored surfaces without
a lot of extra decoration. Although it is significantly more powerful
(and expensive), the S4 looks just like an A4, until you notice the more
aggressively styled grille texture, lower body extensions, Avus 18 inch
custom wheels, and V8 fender badge.
You can certainly feel
the difference when you press the accelerator. Unlike a Ford Mustang or
classic muscle car, this V8 doesn't holler about its potency, it just
takes off with a muted rumble. Especially with a manual transmission,
this car begs for the open road, where you can poke the right hand pedal
now and then to feel the energy surge. Audi beefed up the structural
elements beneath the S4 to give you level starts and stops and
controlled cornering ability, knowing you're going to use the car's
prowess at least some of the time.
The body shell looks
strong, and it is. The S4, along with the A4, is the first car in its
segment to earn the Double Best Pick rating from the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety (IIHS). Very few cars earn this superior rating at
all. A rigid body structure with carefully designed crumple zones makes
the S4 one of the safest cars you can buy at any price. Audi equips each
S4 with a collection of front and side airbags that work in milliseconds
to protect occupants during impacts.
Audi has done its
homework with the braking system. Its Electronic Stabilization Program
distributes brake pressure where it's needed and makes sure it is always
as much as is required to stop effectively. The traction control aspect
of the program uses an electronic differential lock to keep the car on
course during emergency braking situations. There is even a feature to
wipe the four-wheel discs to keep them dry on wet roads. This means more
effective stopping under the conditions where it's especially needed.
The S4's interior looks
much like the A4's, which means quietly elegant, with smoothly
integrated panels and a strong feeling of security and comfort. The A4
and S4 won the 2005 Auto Interior of the Year award from Ward's
Auto World, an
influential automotive trade journal. My car's black Silk Nappa leather
seats were a luxurious delight with their six level heating, and the
car's brushed aluminum trim gave a high tech feel.
Driving an S4 is a
blissful experience if you enjoy a firm chair and want to feel the road.
This is not a car for disengaged cruising, especially with the manual
transmission. Bumper to bumper commuting is probably not its happiest
place, although I had no complaints. To me, the S4 delivers sports car
performance in a practical package with a little less "Hey, look at me!"
than a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, and certainly outdoes a Lexus or Infiniti
for road feel.
An S4 does not come
cheap. The A4 starts below $30,000, but an S4's base price is $46,400.
My Light Silver Metallic tester (add $475 for the paint) included the
Premium Package, Audi Navigation Plus, Premium Audio Package with Sirius
satellite radio, and a cold weather package. When all was said and done,
the sticker said $56,045; this puts the S4 in serious competition with
some pretty impressive rivals, some of them larger. You do get the Audi
Advantage, with four years of free maintenance and roadside assistance,
as a small consolation.
The S4 is a choice, not a necessity, but you will not
regret it from behind the wheel. By
Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
S4 is a choice you enjoy from behind the wheel
2006 Audi S4
2006 Audi S4
Audi Internet Media
2006 - 25
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2006 Audi A4
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2006 Audi A4