Can a sports saloon offer peak performance, great fuel economy and value for money? The S4 gives a resounding yes.
2010 Audi S4
Talk about indecisive. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Audi's S4 was powered by a puny little 2.7L V6 juiced up to 265hp with the addition of two very steroidal turbochargers. In 2003, in an effort to compete with the Joneses (in this case, BMW) it was determined that two extra pistons had a whole lot more cache than two turbochargers and thus, until very recently, the S4 was powered by a high-revving, but not quite as torquey, 4.2L V8.
But small displacement V8s need to rev to make power and, as glorious as all that exhaust thrumming may be, high engine speed equals high friction - an anathema to fuel efficiency - and in these environmentally conscious days, even a pocket rocket has to be as green as possible. The answer was a return to a blown engine (forced-induction engines can be smaller and don't need to rev as high to make power, both boons to fuel economy). But, this time, instead of twin turbochargers, the company has plunked a single Eaton Roots-type supercharger inside the engine bay to force-feed the now 3.0L V6 go juice to the tune of 11.6psi.
At first blush, it's a backwards step; the 3.0T boasting "only" 333hp while the outgoing 4.2L had 340. Of course, Audi is not in the business of making successively worse - or slower - cars, so there's more to the new S4 than a slight loss in horsepower. In fact, thanks to the benefits of supercharging, there's 31 more Newton metres of torque - 441 versus 410 - from the V6 than the V8. Perhaps more importantly, that torque peak occurs 600 rpm lower with the blown V6.
If you're thinking that makes the new S4 gutsier at low speeds, you'd be right. Immediately noticeable is that the 2010 jumps off the line where the previous V8-version needed to gather revs before it gathered momentum. Audi says it scoots to 100 kilometres per hour in just 5.1 seconds, a breath quicker than the outgoing V8. It's definitely more responsive. Having tested the base version of the supercharged engine in the new A6, I did, however, worry that the V6's rather nasal exhaust tone would be a real step down from the exciting whirrings of Audi's high-revving V8. Total sports car enjoyment, after all, has never been a case of merely going fast; you have to sound the part as well. Luckily, somewhere in the transition from the dowdy A6 luxury sedan to the S4 über sports sedan, the blown V6 gained some much-needed cojones. Still not quite as soniferous as the V8, the blown V6 nonetheless has a distinct character all its own, including the little "chuff" between shifts I first noted in the BMW's turbocharged Z4 that sounds like a blown Formula One car of old. With the seven-speed, double-clutch transmission, the S4 only has to cut ignition for a few milliseconds between shifts which means a little fresh intake charge escapes into the exhaust manifold. When the spark come on again (after the shift is completed) that fresh mixture gets lit up, creating that mean-sounding huffing and puffing between gear changes.
The entire experience is made all the better by the superior performance of said double-clutch trannie. Still the leader in the technology, the S-Tronic is essentially a manual gearbox enhanced with two clutches and some fancy electric servos. The advantage is that each successive gear is already engaged, only waiting for its clutch to be closed. It makes for far quicker and smoother shifts than any comparable manumatic, traits in keeping with the S4's dual role as both luxurious and sporty.
Audi also seems to have beefed up the S4's handling. Though the comparison is often made between the S4 and BMW's M3, that challenge is actually taken up by the still-V8-powered RS4. The S4 actually resides in the netherland between BMW's 335i and the M3; think of it as a 335 with a "chip" and sports suspension. Exacting designations notwithstanding, there's a little less body roll to this generation of the S4 than previous versions. There's also less understeer, a result, at least in part, of less weight over the front axle. The S4's comportment is also adjustable with Audi's Drive Select, allowing selective damping rates, variable assist steering and/or both. There's even a torque-vectoring rear differential on offer. Still, if one needs the ultimate in Audi sports sedan handling, one should opt for the RS4, but at least the new S4 doesn't feel as 'soft' as the outgoing model.
The S4's interior is much the same as all recent Audis; excellent materials and even better execution. Some will find an excess of buttonry and fair play to them; there really is a plethora of switches and knobs. Nonetheless, it all works for me and, since I am fairly gadget-phobic, perhaps it's not so bad after all. My tester's interior was all dressed up with what Audi calls Carbon Atlas trim; big name for some trim upgrades but at least it was cheap. Ditto, the Bang & Olufsen upgrade was very worthwhile at CD$1,100 (Dh3,752). But CD$3,200 (Dh10,915) for the navigation system seems absolutely outrageous, especially these days where a nav system can be had for cheap on almost any car. Perhaps now that Volkswagen (which owns Audi) has swallowed Porsche, it is adopting some of that company's pricing strategies.
Nonetheless, the S4 is far closer to the 335i's list price than M3's. It's a more serious sports car than previous generations that just so happens to also get better fuel economy. Audi Middle East don't have confirmation on when the S4 will hit the Emirates shores, mainly because the car still needs hot-weather development. No price has been determined as of yet. email@example.com