2000 Audi S4

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2000 Audi S4

By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5
Pros:
  • A4's good looks with a more sporty stance
  • More power than earlier A4s
  • Nicely loaded and still under $40,000
Cons:
  • Six-speed transmission takes some getting used to
  • Fuel economy that's more akin to a V8's
  • Firm, sit-up-straight rear seats

Think Audi sedans are aloof autobahn runners? The new 2000 S4 shows another side of Audi—a more BMW-like side. This performance-oriented four door comes with an exceptionally wide torque range, capable suspension, big brakes and tires, even a 6-speed manual.

Audi character
No one would really call today's Audi sedans “sedate,” but there is something sensible about them, isn't there? From the handsome, executive office-like environment of the A8 to the intelligently styled A4, the quintessential Audi sedan seems, well, efficient, smart, prudent.

Now comes a new Audi that retains Audi's capable character while showing a sportier, performance orientation.

Same mold, but . . .
The new 2000 S4 uses the same chassis, body and interior that's part of the A4 sedans. But the S4 is much more powerful than the previous top-of-the-line A4. It also handles more tightly, sits slightly lower to the ground and rides on big, 17-inch performance tires.

"The S4 mission is to raise the aspirations and desires for the Audi brand," said Walter Haneck, marketing director. "It's going to become key as a foundation element in our performance initiative . . . It will add sharpness to the full A4 range."

Two turbos for the engine
The A4 sedan and station wagon line has had two engines up to now: A 1.8-liter 150-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a 2.8-liter 190-horsepower V6.

The S4 surpasses both with a sophisticated, 2.7-liter 250-horsepower double overhead cam bi-turbo V6 that's designed for plentiful torque and quick throttle response.

Audi chose to install two small turbos—one for each bank of cylinders—rather than one big turbocharger in the S4 so there would be less turbo lag. Because the smaller turbos can wind up quickly and get about their business, the engine responds more readily to a driver's demands.

There's also an intercooler on each cylinder bank to cool the intake air and improve combustion efficiency. And, Audi shaped the inlet ports to create a tumbling motion inside, which also increases efficiency.

Strong performance
The S4—fitted with the standard 6-speed manual transmission—can rush to 60 miles an hour from a standstill in 5.9 seconds. That's just two-tenths of a second away from the 5.7 seconds of a BMW M3 and equals the performance of the 2000 Mercedes-Benz C43 with a 302-horsepower V8 engine.

Peak torque in the S4 is 258 lb-ft and comes on at 1850 revolutions per minute, which is very low in the rpm range, meaning there's good low-speed “oomph” here. This peak also holds through a rev range that tops out at 3600 rpm, according to Audi.

Feel the rush
The test S4 seemed to rush just about everywhere. I could get up to 70 mph on long highway entrance ramps, well before I had to merge with other cars. I passed other drivers on the freeway before they seemed to know I was nearby. I darted around double-parked cars in the city easily. And I sat frustrated behind slower drivers who squandered my opportunities for more fun.

Don't think this power is scary and uncontrolled. Those big, 4-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock system were at the ready, always, to slow the S4 down. They—and the P225/45 17-inch performance tires that gripped the road strongly—worked impressively.

Yes, six speeds
Much of the time, I wondered what to do with all the gears in this car. I rarely felt a need to use sixth and spent most of the time in third or fourth. And it took a bit of practice to get used to the gear shifter. It's compact in the S4, and I hunted a bit at first to find third. A 5-speed automatic is available, too, as a no-cost option.

Still, fuel economy in the S4 isn't the best. The 17 mpg city rating for the manual transmission model is worse than the 18 mpg rating for the V8-powered Mercedes C43 with automatic transmission.

Firm, yet pleasing suspension
Still, the S4's ride—despite the firmer suspension, performance tires and lower stance—is surprisingly supple. Perhaps this is where I noticed the biggest difference with BMW.

There's a tightness to the S4 as you ride and steer, but there's a good amount of compliance, too. I didn't feel rough roads intimately, though I felt vibrations in all my travels, even on smooth-looking streets.

The S4 is kind enough in its ride to make 3-hour trips quite comfortable, not grueling. Yet, if you find yourself taking that mountain curve a bit faster than you anticipated, this car rises to the occasion to maintain its dignity—and yours—quite capably.

No flaunting
Outside, the S4 doesn't scream that it's some performance machine. In fact, except for its low-to-the-ground appearance and large front air dams, it looks like a "normal" A4.

There is badging, however, that notes this Audi has a bi-turbo V6 and the headlights are standard xenon, which provide greater illumination than conventional headlamps. Note that xenon headlamps are extra on the C43 and 1999 BMW M3.

Inside the S4, the seats and sport steering wheel are about the only things that tell you this is a sportier A4. The standard leather on the sport front seats can include contrasting suede, if you want.

Rear seats remain quite firm. Watch as you climb in back there. You may find yourself feeling as if you have to sit up straight and pay attention!

Lots of standard features
The S4 comes pretty well loaded. It's the only A4, for example, that includes Audi's new, inflatable head protection curtains called Sideguard. Similar to side curtains on Volvo and some Mercedes cars, Sideguard deploys out of the side ceiling of the car during a side crash, helping to prevent head injuries.

Unlike its primary competition such as the M3 and C43—which have traction control systems—the S4 is the only one that comes standard with an all-wheel-drive system.

Audi's Quattro, which uses a torque-sensing (Torsen) center differential to vary power between the front and rear axles, depending on slippage, is now in its fourth generation. The newest Quattro development is the addition of a system that overlays the Torsen mechanicals and redistributes torque from one wheel to the other on each axle.

Other standard features on the S4 include side airbags that work to protect chest injuries in a side crash, 10-way power front seats, footwell lighting, fog lights, and automatic air conditioner with sun intensity measurement and pollen filter.

For the first time, Audi offers an optional navigation system in 2000. Unlike the C43, however, the S4—indeed, no Audi models—offer an onboard emergency notification system.

Sales and buyers
Audi officials said they look to sell about 4,800 S4s in the model year. Ninety percent of the buyers are expected to be men, with a median age of 40, the company said. Sixty percent will be married and median household income will be $120,000 a year.

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BB04 - 4/20/2014 6:40:36 AM