SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
There's no doubt that prestigious, high-performance sports sedans are fast, enjoyable cars. But the fun can quickly fade when conditions turn foul. There's nothing quite like a surfeit of power and a tautly-sprung suspension based on wide, sticky tires to bring a new meaning to the word "excitement" in the wet, even with modern traction and stability-control systems. Cars that are nothing but fun on a perfect summer day can be frustrating at best or a considerable handful when weather or road conditions turn ugly.
Of course, there are exceptions. Consider the Audi S4, a serious sports sedan for the real world. It's the ultimate development of Audi's compact A4. A quick perusal of the specifications may make it seem less capable than some of its competitors. Less power, a softer suspension...don't be fooled. In the real world of variable weather and sometimes marginal road surfaces, the S4 exhibits the same balance as other Audi Quattros, only more so. It is a worthy successor to the awesome, race- oriented Sport Quattros of the 1980s and early 1990s.
My week with the S4 was blessed with highly variable weather conditions - perfect Quattro weather. The car was comfortable and composed in all, an I often found myself entering corners too slowly. The S4 has very high adhesion limits, a plus for performance driving and for safety. It combines comfort and control as Audi Quattros do best to be the embodiment of Audi's "silken rocket" philosophy.
APPEARANCE: The S4 is a fitting car for the mature enthusiast. "Subtlety" is the operative principle in its styling. With no boy- racer graphics on the sides, no lurid wing at the rear, and only moderately lowered suspension, the S4 looks pretty much like any other A4 - a pleasantly-rounded compact-sized sedan with just enough angular character lines to keep blandness at bay. A close examination will reveal a slightly more aggressive front bumper fascia, but without any clearance-impaired air dam. At the rear, a "venturi effect" spoiler at the bottom and twin exhausts distinguish the S4 from other A4 models. Seventeen-inch "Avus" alloy wheels and low-profile performance tires are standard. Subtle "Audi Sport" badges can be found in the chrome-trimmed grille and on the tail. The Audi S4 is very much a stealth performance car.
COMFORT: Audi has had the most innovative interior styling in the auto industry in recent years, and the S4 continues the trend. My test car had the optional (at no extra charge) Sport interior, featuring onyx black Nappa leather and pearl gray Alcantra pseudo- suede seating areas, with brushed aluminum trim in place of the standard maple. Dark-colored interiors can make a car seem like a small cave. Not the S4's. It's more like a small, elegantly-appointed and very comfortable high-tech office. And it's designed for the task at hand - driving. Excellent power-adjustable front seats, a comfortably-thick-rimmed steering wheel that is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach, and a well-placed shift lever allow any driver to find the perfect driving position. The well-designed instrument panel features low-fatigue red backlighting at night. Power window lifts are found both on the center console and doors; all are one-touch down, with both front windows one-touch up as well. Visibility is good, and automatic climate control, an eight- speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, and optional six-position seat heaters ensure comfort. The rear seat is best suited for two medium-sized people. There are plenty of useful interior storage spaces, and a huge trunk with both tiedowns and a cargo net - and a full-sized spare tire. With the Audi S4, comfort and convenience are not sacrificed for performance.
SAFETY: The 2000 Audi S4 has dual front second-generation airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags, and "Sideguard" side curtain airbags as well as a rigid chassis with front and rear crumple zones.
ROADABILITY: Compared to the normal A4, the S4's suspension is tuned firmer, and the car sits lower. Yet it is still quite comfortable, and not particularly impaired in clearance for steep driveways and other real-world lower-bodywork hazards. Body roll is considerably reduced from that of the standard A4 in hard cornering, and, thanks to the fourth-generation Quattro all-wheel drive system, the S4 is extremely capable in the corners. All-wheel drive allows maximum traction for acceleration and cornering, with friendly handling characteristics.
PERFORMANCE: The S4 uses a 2.7-liter variant of Audi's dual overhead cam, 30-valve, aluminum alloy V6 engine. It uses two small turbochargers, one per cylinder bank, to develop 250 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque between 1850 and 3600 rpm. This means instantly available power at any engine or road speed, especially in the middle of its rpm range. Turbo lag is nonexistent if the engine speed is kept above 2000 rpm (as it usually is) and power builds in a linear and controllable manner. My test car had the six-speed manual gearbox; a five-speed "Tiptronic"r automatic is also offered. If the S4 isn't the most powerful machine in its class, it gets its power to the ground better than its competition thanks to Quattro.
CONCLUSIONS: The Audi S4 combines civility and balanced performance in a unique manner.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Audi S4 Base Price $ 37,900 Price As Tested $ 42,995 Engine Type dual overhead cam,30-valve twin-turbocharged V6 Engine Size 2.7 liters / 163 cu. in. Horsepower 240 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 258 @ 1850 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 102.6 in. / 176.5 in. Curb Weight 3593 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.4 Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 91 octane Tires P225/45 ZR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE040 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc Suspension, front/rear independent 4-link / independent double wishbone Drivetrain front-engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 /24 / 20 0 to 60 mph 5.9 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Convenience Package - includes: Power tilt & slide glass sunroof, auto-dimming inside and outside rear-view mirrors, Homelinkr remote transmitter $ 1,200 Cold Weather Package - includes: Heated front seats, ski sack $ 575 BOSEr premium sound system $ 650 6-disc CD changer $ 550 Audi navigation system $ 1,100 Integrated hands-free mobile phone $ 495 Destination charge $ 525
Audi A6 2.7t
If the S4 is a bit small for your needs, fear not. For 2000, Audi also uses the new 2.7-liter, 250-hp turbomotor in the A6. The result is the A6 2.7t, just what the A6 always needed. It's a heavier car than the S4, by 166 lbs. with the five-speed manual gearbox or 243 lbs with the Tiptronicr automatic, so performance is not quite so breathtaking, but it is significantly quicker and faster than the normally-aspirated A6 2.8. In fact, during time with a Tiptronic- equipped example, I found that it was quicker and faster than I thought because of its ultra-low interior noise levels. The A6 2.7t is more of a luxury car than the S4, but has firmer shocks than the standard A6 2.8. As with the S4, comfort is not compromised, and handling is improved. All examples of the A6 2.7t are Quattro sedans.
If the A6 2.7t's 250 horsepower isn't enough, there's always the A6 4.2. Audi figured out how to place its 4.2-liter, 300- horsepower V8 in the A6 Quattro chassis with slight modifications. I had the opportunity for a short drive in one at Audi's model year 2000 press launch last Fall. Yow! Talk about "iron fist in a velvet glove." Well, aluminum, in this case, and it packs plenty of punch in a very civilized manner. A silken rocket, indeed.