REVIEWS: 2010 Audi S4

November 5, 2009
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The 2010 Audi S4 is a great car. With 333 supercharged horses and an elegant and well put together interior, what's not to like?
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Audi's six-speed manual transmission is silky smooth, with a nice short throw. Engine power is plentiful thanks to the supercharger. But unlike most, there is no hint of that blower - no whine, no boost gauge to look at. In fact, it sounds like a normally aspirated V-6 but feels like a V-8.
Inside is absolutely gorgeous. The interior is classy and clean, yet trendy and sporty. Our black on black color scheme with aluminum accents was very nice. I'm not a fan of the electronic emergency brake; I still like the old-fashioned grab handle. But with Audi's MMI system, there isn't enough room for an e-brake lever. The seat bolsters wrap around your torso and hold you in, but they're still comfortable enough for ache-free everyday driving.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
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I, for one, am enthralled that the "T" within the "V6T" emblems on the S4's fenders no longer indicates the presence of a turbocharger. This supercharger offers boost from square one, and as Mike Ofiara noted, there's little whine to hint at its existence. I thought this engine pulled hard in de-tuned form in an A6, but here - where it uses all 333 hp and is mated with a chassis that can fully harness all of those ponies - it absolutely shines. I know that when you compare specifications, the S4 lines up with BMW's 335i, but I'd rather have this car than an M3. Yes, the uber-3 is more razor-sharp, but the S4 feels more comfortable to use on a daily basis - that "comfort" mode is rather plush, and Audi's really nailing interiors these days - yet can still be just as much fun on either a straightaway or a sweeping road course.
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One note of warning to those who wish to blitz down the autobahn: if you can, avoid opting for the park sense system. The feature may be great when trying to inch close to cars in parallel parking spots, but it constantly sends out a false K-band signal on my radar detector, a must-have accessory in a car that builds speeds as quickly and smoothly as this.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
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I have absolutely fallen for this car. The Audi S4 is a joy to drive hard, easy to live with, and hardly flashy (as long as you skip the yellow paint). However, if I were buying this Audi, I would only consider the car with the Drive Select package. The included torque-vectoring rear differential is phenomenal when you roll onto the throttle in a fast turn. The extra push from the outside wheel makes bends feel effortless and the handling incredibly neutral, as the car follows your line perfectly. The other adaptive measures included with Drive Select are also quite impressive. Most notably, the steering effort in Dynamic mode is much more engaging than the standard setting. Up to about 6 mph, the wheel is still feathery light (which seems a bit unnecessary), but it all feels good once you're out of the parking garage. Having driven S4s with and without Drive Select, I'd say it's a shame Audi didn't firm some of the controls in their standard offering.
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It's a bit silly that the supercharger leads to a "T" badge on this car, but what matters is that the engine is powerful, flexible, and smooth. I was also pleased to discover that the accelerator is well calibrated. Calling up serious power requires a serious push of the pedal. Far too many modern cars try to jump off the line with the slightest nudge of the pedal.
Putting the powertrain, the chassis, and the steering to work at the same time is fantastic. The transmission invites downshifts and the engine welcomes revs. The Quattro all-wheel drive creates huge amounts of grip and helps keep handling neutral. Steering is weighty and predictable. All in all, the S4 is a bit like a grown man's Mitsubishi Evo.
The interior is sporty and sleek, with supportive seats that seem suited for both hard driving and long cruises. Audi's MMI is fairly complex, but I haven't had any trouble finding features or learning how to use the controls. But tying the HVAC controls to the nav screen does seem a bit cumbersome. The driving experience could also be improved with a few small tweaks. Occasionally there's a weird sticky, steppy feeling as you let the clutch pedal out. The six-speed stick also takes a relatively high effort to stick it into a gear, but the throws are short.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
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You definitely can't easily detect the sound of the S4's supercharger, but the car does still have a nice powerful engine note. It's nothing like that of the 4.2-liter V-8 in the previous S4, but the reduced price and increased fuel economy are enough to make up for it (I know, I know: that's Audi's selling point for the car, but it really is true). The new supercharged 3.0-liter has lots of grunt and power, but the car is still easy to drive and not too high-strung.
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I was even more impressed by the S4's comfortable ride. Previous S-edition Audis, including the last S4 and the S6 and S8, have suffered from some pretty harsh ride characteristics, but the new S4 handles rough roads almost as well as any current Jaguar product, which is to say, very well.
Yellow wouldn't be my choice of color, but the S4's styling tweaks (wheels, mirrors, fascia) really bring out the best of the new Audi A4's look. The interior of the S4 is fabulous, which is typical of recent Audis. The back seats are pretty spacious, too, although four six-footers would probably feel somewhat cramped before too long. Elsewhere in the cabin, I found the blind-spot detection system to be one of the best I've experienced thus far. It makes me feel a bit lazy, but it can be quite helpful. What does it do? A yellow light in either sideview mirror turns on when there's a vehicle in the blind spot on that side of the S4; if you signal a lane change when a car is in that danger zone, the yellow light gets brighter and flashes, warning you. The system did seem a bit too sensitive, sometimes detecting cars a lane-and-a-half or more away, but it's better to be safe than sideswiped.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
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I really think I'd choose this over a BMW 335i. It looks better inside and out, and is, in my opinion, every bit as fantastic to drive. Eric Tingwall hits it on the nose when he describes the S4 as a grown-up's Evo. Like Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive rally machine, the S4 enhances the skills of the average driver without feeling overly computerized. The biggest surprise for me was the way the steering firmed up in high-speed driving. Kudos to Audi for getting that right. Of course, to experience the S4's best steering and handling, one must first fiddle with the car's Drive Select interface. Though it's pretty easy to configure, I can't help but wonder what the need is for this extra complication. Even in "Dynamic" mode, the suspension remained acceptably compliant, so why bother with any of the other settings?
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David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
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The S4 is a singularly attractive sport sedan - although the bright yellow outfit of this particular example doesn't show it off to its best advantage - and the interior is just as nice, in typical Audi fashion. But the S4 isn't as much about appearance as it is about performance, and in that category the S4 delivers. The supercharged V-6 delivers momentum with no hint that it is artificially aspirated. With Audi's Drive Select you can configure the S4's steering effort and suspension damping to your liking. And on twisty roads or on a track day, the S4 makes even an average driver feel more accomplished than he or she probably is. I still have a slight preference for the BMW 335i, mostly because of the manual shifter - the Audi's throws are satisfyingly short but simply not as smooth as the BMW's - but the S4 is tantalizingly close to knocking the 3-series of the top of the sport-sedan heap.
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Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
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2010 Audi S4
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Base price (with destination): $46,725
Price as tested: $59,150
Standard Equipment:
Quattro all-wheel-drive
Servotronic speed sensitive steering
Sunroof
Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights
3-zone automatic climate control
Power driver and passenger seats
Heated front seats
Bluetooth connectivity
iPod integration
Homelink remote garage door opener
Front side airbags
Side curtain airbags
Options on this vehicle:
Imola yellow paint - $475
Prestige model - $6100
-19 in. aluminum alloy wheels w/high performance tires
-Bang & Olufsen sound system
-Keyless start/stop
-Navigation with 3g mmi
-Voice control
-Auto dimming mirrors with compass
-Drivers seat memory Audi drive select - $3950
-Adaptive suspension damping, dynamic steering
-Sports rear differential
Genuine silk nappa leather seats - $1000
Driver assist package - $900
-Side assist, rearview camera, and rear parking sensors
Key options not on vehicle:
Adaptive cruise control - $2100
Rear side airbags - $350
Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
18 / 27 / 21 mpg
Engine:
Size: 3.0L supercharged DOHC DI V-6
Horsepower: 333 hp @ 5500-7000 rpm
Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2900-5300 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3847 lb
Wheels/tires:
19 in. aluminum wheels
255/35 summer performance tires
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