Nearly a year after its debut in Europe, the new Audi S4 has finally come to North America, and more so than ever, this new S4 should be cause for trepidation at BMW. That's because this generation of the S4 is more changed than ever before: Its reconfigured powertrain moves the engine rearward for better chassis balance. The all-wheel-drive system now sends a majority of the thrust to the rear wheels and also can actively apportion torque across the rear axle. The new, supercharged V-6 is lighter and more economical than the previous V-8. Oh, and it's had an almost three-grand price cut (plus shed its gas-guzzler tax).
That pricing move, in particular, has allowed Audi to realign the members of the A4/S4 lineup as they face off against the genre-defining BMW 3-series. The rather milquetoast A4 V-6 is gone, so while the A4 2.0T pairs off against the 328i, the S4 now matches up against the turbocharged 335i. The old eight-cylinder S4 and RS4 previously bracketed the BMW M3, but for now Audi is leaving that player uncovered - presumably until the arrival of a new RS4 sedan and/or an RS5 coupe.
We have to admit that the minute we fired up the new S4's ignition, we missed the throaty rumble of the old 4.2-liter V-8. The largely muted V-6 has none of the eight's aural presence. But the V-8 always did feel like overkill here, and we're certainly happy with the 37-pound weight loss and the dramatic increase in fuel economy, which goes from 13 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway to 18/27 (18/28 with S tronic), which also betters the rear-wheel-drive BMW by 1 mpg.
The best part is that the efficiency gains don't extract a penalty in performance. Whereas the 4.2-liter made 340 hp and 302 lb-ft of torque, the 3.0-liter's power output is virtually identical, at 333 hp, and its torque output of 325 lb-ft is actually greater and is available across a wide rev range (2900 to 5300 rpm).
The supercharged V-6's output eclipses that of the 335i's turbo six - with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft - but the BMW's lighter weight negates that advantage. Both cars are bristling with everyday, usable power, and our testing had the Audi and the BMW neck-and-neck from 0 to 60 mph (5.2 and 5.1 seconds, respectively) and even on to 100 mph (at 12.6 and 12.7 seconds).