No V-8? Isn't that blasphemy?
A comparison of the basic engine data of the old and the new S4 does not bode well for the 2009 model: only six cylinders instead of eight, 3.0 liters of displacement instead of 4.2, 333 instead of 344 hp. Are we getting shortchanged here? We are not. The maximum torque, that crucial parameter for grunt and driveability, increases from 302 to 325 lb-ft. Better still, it is now available between 2900 and 5300 rpm rather than peaking at 3500 rpm. Audi claims that, although the curb weight has only gone down by about twenty pounds, to 3638 pounds, the new 333-hp S4 outsprints the car it replaces from 0 to 62 mph by half a second, with a 5.1-second run against 5.6 seconds. That's the good news, part one. The bad news concerns the fact that when fitted with the desirable seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic transmission, the four-door Audi needs an extra 0.2 second for the acceleration job, because the transmission makes an extra upshift. Now, let's look at the good news, part two. Despite the better performance, the average combined fuel consumption has dropped significantly, from 17 mpg to 24 mpg.
Like all S and RS model Audis, the new S4 is deceptively fast. Its engine note won't crack open birds eggs in the nest high above the tarmac when it hits the 7000-rpm redline, its chassis won't out-meow the applauding cats that line the road as the car carves through a corner at full song, and its body language at the limit of adhesion won't scare away the grazing cows. In this A4 on steroids, speed is barely audible, barely visible, barely decipherable.
While most engines saddled with a mechanical supercharger develop their sweet spot between 3500 and 5000 rpm, the 3.0 TFSI unit has fireworks all the way to its 7000-rpm cut-out speed. It thus combines the low-end torque boost of an artificially aspirated engine with the explosive, top-end energy of a high-revving, normally aspirated engine. The new V-6's Roots supercharger produces oomph by the bagful at the word Go! That's why the S4 takes off as if launched by a catapult, that's why it responds to throttle inputs like a solenoid to an electric impulse, that's why it has enough in-gear power to beam this five-seater from 50 to 75 mph in only 4.4 seconds in fourth gear.
Finally, the seven-speed S-tronic arrives in America
The seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic, which makes its American debut here, definitely is the gearbox to go for. It offers two automatic modes (drive and sport), and it invites you to change ratios with paddles mounted to the steering wheel. The S-tronic is not only more relaxed and more efficient, it also is even more inituitive than the slick shifter and the fuss-free clutch.
The main advantage of the twin-clutch arrangement is of course the totally seamless torque delivery, which keeps up the momentum even during gear changes. In auto mode, the system can be outfoxed by certain borderline situations like aborted overtaking maneuvers or a sudden shift of driving style between open road and city, but the chips learn fast and the fluent functionalities of these wizard cogworks never cease to amaze.