2005 Audi S4 Avant Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Audi S4 Avant

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

``Vorsprung durch Technik'' - ``progress through technology'' in English - has been an Audi guideline for many years, arguably since the days of the mid-engined Auto Union Grand Prix cars in the late 1930s. Today, Audi technological progress is best seen in its road cars. One of the newest of those is the latest iteration of the Bavarian company's core model, the A4.

A decade ago, a previous-generation A4 led Audi's comeback with record sales. It was freshened a bit in the 2002 model year, and aged well. But competition never rests, and so Audi has increased the ante with the next generation of A4, and its high-performance S4 offshoot.

Little has been left unchanged. If the looks, with the notable exception of Audi's new-look single-frame grille, don't appear all that different, look more closely - all body panels of both the sedan and wagon - ``Avant'' in Audispeak - are slightly different. The chassis and suspension underneath have been significantly upgraded. Nor has the already-excellent interior escaped revision. Most importantly, under the hood both A4 engines are new. While there is a choice of four-cylinder turbocharged and naturally-aspirated V6 power as before, the four is a new 2.0-liter engine with 200 horsepower and the V6 is the new 255-hp, 3.2-liter unit recently introduced in the A6. Both new A4 engines use Audi's ``FSI'' direct gasoline injection, in which gasoline is injected in precise amounts and timing directly into the engine's combustion chambers, as in diesel engines. Most gasoline engines inject fuel into the intake manifold. Direct injection delivers more power, greater fuel economy, and lower emissions levels. Only the S4 engine is unchanged, a 4.2-liter V8 with 340 horsepower.

Drivetrain? The A4 and S4 are Audis, and Audi has been a pioneer in both front-and all-wheel drive technology. So, for the A4 the choice is with either a six-speed manual or continuously-variable ``multitronic'' transmissions for front-wheel drive 2.0T sedans, or the six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(r) manual-shift mode for the quattro (all-wheel drive) sedans and Avants. All Avants are quattro. V6-powered A4s and S4s are all quattro, with either of the two six-speed transmissions.

I attended the press introduction of the new A4 a couple of months ago, and had the opportunity to drive most models except for the S4. More recently, I spent a week with an S4 Avant. All are impressive automobiles, in different ways. The 2.0T has more horsepower and torque than the 2.8-liter V6 originally used in the A4 a decade ago, and an exceptionally strong torque curve, with 207 lb-ft from 1800 through 5000 rpm - nearly the entire power range of the engine. It works seamlessly with any transmission, but especially well with the multitronic CVT. The V6 has the power of some V8s, with fine performance, commendable economy of operation considering its power, and the degree of refinement expected in a luxury-sports car. The S4 is the latest embodiment of that uniquely Audi concept, the ``silken rocket.'' Even with its standard sport-tuned suspension, the S4 is softer and more comfortable than some of its competitors, making it a fine car for a long road trip. It has very serious power, and the handling and quattro grip to use it in a multitude of conditions. And if 340 S4 horses aren't enough, wait a year or so for the American introduction of the RS4, der uberversion mit 420 naturally-aspirated ponies and a truly serious attitude, already available in Europe. But, really, any model provides an excellent choice in its respective class, and is at the head of that class.

APPEARANCE: Although the basic shape is immediately identifiable, there are a host of changes to detail in the new A4's exterior. Most obvious, of course, is the ``single-frame'' grille, which replaces the old double grille, split by the front bumper. It's a tribute to Audi's heritage, coming from the 1930s GP cars by way of the Nuvolari concept car - Tazio Nuvolari was an Italian driver who raced for Audi in the `30s. The grille and restyled, slightly sleeker front bodywork extend the front an inch or so, and the rear is likewise extended. Moderate fender flares and a strong character line that rises toward the rear give a look that is muscular without being muscle-bound. A continuation of that line across the rear of the car, and complexly-shaped horizontal taillights, help give the new A4 a substantial look. The S4 gets a bolder eggcrate grille pattern, discreet ``S'' badging, front fascia and rocker-panel extensions, and quad exhausts. Excellent attention to underbody airflow helps fuel economy, high-speed stability, and stability in crosswinds.

COMFORT: Audi is renowned for its interior design, which is best described as elegance without opulence. Simple shapes and high-quality materials, allied with first-class fit and finish, are Audi hallmarks. The S4's interior design is mostly the same as the A4's, but the seats are power-adjustable, wonderfully-supportive Recaros. Brushed aluminum trim on the dash and doors can be replaced by carbon fiber, as in my test car, for the ultimate in a contemporary sports look. The leather-rimmed steering wheel displays the ``single frame'' grille motif, and is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach. The main instruments are stylishly displayed inside of aluminum bezels, with audio, climate, and secondary controls on the center stack. The A4/S4 version of Audi's MMI multi-mode interface, placed in the stack, is as simple and intuitive to use as that in the A6 or A8, and controls the audio and navigation systems, with dual-zone climate controls separate. The interface for the optional XM satellite radio is the best I have so far encountered, unsurprisingly. There is increased rear-seat room, although it's still cozy. Sedan trunk space is good, but the Avant wagon body style makes the most versatile variant. A hidden compartment to one side of the cargo area and a power point are plusses.

SAFETY: The A4's chassis structure is designed for controlled deformation in the event of a crash. The passenger compartment is surrounded by a strong central safety cell. Dual-stage front, front side, and Sideguard head curtain airbags further protect occupants. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the ESP stability system, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, and an electronic differential lock are among the A4's standard safety equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Lightweight aluminum and magnesium as well as steel for structural components, and high-strength lightweight steel for much of the sheetmetal make up the A4 and S4's unibody structure. The result is a strong structure that is relatively light and very rigid. To decrease unsprung weight, the control arms in the fully-independent four-link front and trapezoidal link rear suspension are made of aluminum alloy. Most of the suspension hardware comes from either the new A6 or the previous-generation S4, even for the ``base model'' A4 2.0T, and even front-wheel drive models now have independent rear suspension. The S4's sport tuning features stiffer springs and matched shocks, larger stabilizer bars, and a lower ride height. Despite these changes, it is only moderately stiff, and still quite comfortable, with most thumpiness due to the ultra-low profile 235/40 ZR18 tires. With quattro, traction is not a problem, and neither is torque steer. Steering response is very good. Because of good aerodynamics and a low center of gravity, the Avant is rock-stable in strong crosswinds, unlike similarly-sized but higher small SUVs.

PERFORMANCE: Any of the three available A4/S4 powertrains is a fine choice. The power of the 2.0T was most surprising, feeling not much less than the V6 because of its friendly, wide torque curve. But with 340 horsepower at 6800 rpm (with the automatic, 7000 with the manual) and 302 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, the 4.2-liter V8 in the S4 is in another class entirely. In thrust we trust... driven moderately, the S4 is a quiet, refined luxury car. Get into the throttle, and there is a fine V8 bellow as you get pressed back into that Recaro. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual-shift mode a no-cost option. My test car was so-equipped, and it suited the car's character well. Paddles behind the steering wheel can be used for lightning-quick shifts, just like in one of the LeMans-winning R8 endurance racers, but with the engine's wide spread of torque, shifting is mostly optional. There is also an ``S'' automatic mode, with higher shift points and more assertive shifting.

CONCLUSIONS: The new 2005 Audi S4 combines luxury comfort and performance in a uniquely Audi manner.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Audi S4 Avant

Base Price			$ 48,300
Price As Tested			$ 56,470
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy V8
Engine Size			4.2 liters / 254 cu. in.
Horsepower			340 @ 6800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			302 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(r) manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		104.3 in. / 180.6 in.
Curb Weight			4034 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		11.9
Fuel Capacity			17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				235/40 ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
				 antilock standard, EBD, ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent 4-link /
				  independent trapezoidal link
Drivetrain			front engine, full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		15 / 23 / 17
0 to 60 mph				5.7  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Dolphin gray metallic paint				$  450
Premium package - includes:
  power glass sunroof, Homelink(r) remote transmitter,
  auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors,
  memory for outside mirrors and driver's seat,
  light sensor, rain sensor, adaptive front lighting	$ 2,000
Audi Navigation Plus					$ 1,950
Audio Package - includes:
  Bose(r) premium sound system, XM(r) 
  satellite radio					$ 1,000
18-inch cast alloy wheels				$   450
Carbon fiber beltline trim				$   300
Gas guzzler tax						$ 1,300
Destination charge					$   720

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