2004 Car Review: 2004 Audi S4 Sedan


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

If you believe a couple of Japanese automakers, rally replica sports sedans are the latest and greatest development in high-performance cars. If you were to ask Audi about that, the answer would probably be something like ``What took them so long to figure that out?'

Audi sold its first rally-replica, the original Quattro, over twenty years ago. It was the basis for a series of successful rally and racing cars. The 2004 S4 is its spiritual descendent, and adds luxury comfort to serious all-wheel drive performance. There was an S4 produced from 2000. With a 240-horsepower twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 and quattro all-wheel drive traction, it was an excellent premium sports sedan for the real world. But there have been two developments since that time.

First, a new generation of the A4 upon which the S4 is based debuted for 2002. And there has been a horsepower race in the premium sports class. A mere 240 horsepower would no longer do. A classic recipe for performance is: take a large engine, put it in a small car. So, in place of the previous twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6, Audi has dropped a 340-horsepower version of its 4.2-liter V8.

The latest version of the quattro system ensures that all of that power gets to the ground. It's an upscale German interpretation of the basic muscle car formula, but with sophistication and handling never found in any muscle car. With its upper-crust understatement, it's not a particularly attention-drawing vehicle, which is a good thing considering its formidable capabilities. As I found during a recent week with an S4 sedan, it is one of the best combinations of high performance and luxury comfort ever made. It brings to mind an old saying, ``an iron fist in a velvet glove.'' It's what a rally-replica should be when it grows up.

APPEARANCE: As with the previous S4, the new model is an exercise in understatement. Like the A4 upon which it is based, its gently-rounded shape is given definition by strategically-placed crisp lines. Differences between the S4 and the A4? The S4's grille, inspired by the Auto Union grand prix cars of the 1930s, has a bolder egg-crate pattern. The S4 also features aluminum-trimmed rearview mirrors and side sill extensions that, if not exactly subtle, are less blatant than the huge rear wings of the Japanese rally replicas. S4 lower fascias are body-colored while those of the A4 are black. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels with ultra-low profile performance tires, a small decklid spoiler, and discreet Audi Sport badges complete the S4's look of elegant performance. But an interesting antenna at the rear of the passenger cabin may be the S4's most notable feature. With its aerodynamic shape and high fin, it looks like an Art Deco sculpture of one of the 1930s Auto Union speed record cars.

COMFORT: The S4 is a cut or three above your basic race-replica inside. Dark interiors can seem cave-like and cramped, but not this one. Plush with Nappa leather, fine fabrics, and wood trim, it's more like an exclusive upper-class clubroom than a racer's office. But the seats are Recaros(tm), with side bolstering that strikes a good compromise between lateral support and accessibility. The instruments are easily visible, and the hand and foot controls are positioned for sport driving. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and tilt, and steering and pedal efforts are correct for high-performance, high-speed driving. Standard dual-zone climate control, an available Bose(tm) AM/FM/cassette/6-CD changer audio system, and Audi's six-level seat heaters add comfort and convenience. As in the A4, the rear seat is much larger than in the previous model, and comfortable enough for two medium-sized adults, with less room in the center position. The trunk is large, and external hydraulic struts spare luggage from damage. There are small storage spaces around the cabin, but the cupholders seem to be afterthoughts - as they should be. The S4 is a car for serious, attentive driving, not a mobile restaurant.

SAFETY: The Audi S4 has dual front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags, and ``Sideguard’’ side curtain airbags as well as a rigid chassis with front and rear crumple zones. Massive four-wheel vented disc brakes are aided by antilock, electronic brake force distribution, and the ``ESP'' stability-control system.

ROADABILITY: Rigid chassis plus well-tuned suspension featuring aluminum components to reduce unsprung weight and increase responsiveness plus all-wheel drive traction equals an unparalleled sports-luxury driving machine. The S4's cornering limits are far above anything sane or legal on the street, yet it is comfortable enough for days of travel on almost any kind of road. (With 4.2 inches of clearance, don't think about unpaved surfaces beyond well-maintained fire roads.) The ride is firm, but well-damped, and interior noise levels are in the luxury class, not the race-replica class.

PERFORMANCE: Some modifications were necessary to fit the five valve-per cylinder twin cam 4.2-liter Audi V8 into the S4's engine compartment, but the results were worthwhile. With 340 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 302 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, it's capable of rocket-like acceleration when necessary. But it's not high-strung at all, and is just as happy loitering around town. With smooth, linear power delivery and good low- and mid-range torque, there is no need to redline it. But there is no reason other than driver's license preservation not to, either. The standard six-speed gearbox with which my test car was equipped allows for quick acceleration and relaxed highway cruising. A six-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(tm) manual-shift mode is available, and should have only a minimal impact on performance.

CONCLUSIONS: Need a definition of Audi's term ``silken rocket''? Look no further than the S4.

SPECIFICATIONS

2004 Audi S4 Sedan

Base Price $ 45,650

Price As Tested $ 50,790

Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 40-valve V8

Engine Size 4.2 liters / 254 cu. in.
Horsepower 340 @ 7000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 302 @ 3500 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 179.0 in.

Curb Weight 3825 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 11.3

Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline required

Tires P235/40 ZR18 Continental Conti Contact 2 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent 4-link /

independent trapezoidal link Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 21 / 18

0 to 60 mph 5.3 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Premium Package - includes:

glass sunroof, Homelink(tm) remote transmitter, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, memory for driver-side seat and mirrors, light sensor package $1,650 Bose (tm) premium sound system $650 Heated front seats $450 Gas guzzler tax $1,700 Destination charge $690

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