2014 Audi S4

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2010 Audi S4 — Review

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.0

Bottom Line:

With a new supercharged V6 and a handful of technological trickery, the 2009 S4 brings the fun factor back into the S equation. But starting at around $50,000, it competes dangerously close to cars like the BMW M3 and Lexus IS-F.
Pros:
  • Incredible throttle response
  • Sophisticated sport differential
  • Great shifter or 7-speed dual-clutch trans
Cons:
  • $50K+ price tag
  • Looks just like an A4
  • No Avant offered in U.S.

View Pictures:  2010 Audi S4

Up until now, Audi's "S"model lineup hasn't been exactly thrilling. Sure, "S" clad autos are solid vehicles, but they've been more luxury than sport, which is really what the "S" is supposed to stand for. Enter the 2010 Audi S4. It's actually sporty, a real hoot to drive. Though less powerful than its predecessor, this slick-looking 4-door is faster and produces a relentless wave of torque that completely contradicts the manufacturer's ratings. Plus, it costs less and is 20 percent more fuel efficient. How's that for a sport sedan?

Model Lineup
If you're one of the Americans that Audi figures is hoping to buy the new S4 in Avant trim (that's a wagon), you can uncross your fingers now. It ain't gonna happen. The 2010 S4 is available in the States only with a trunk, four doors and space for five people. And it's tough to discern S4 from A4, the only big visual cues being an upturned deck lid, quad exhaust pipes and standard 18-inch wheels with 245/40R18 tires (19-inch wheels are optional, and come with 255/35R19 rubber).

The S4 might come only one way, but the options are plenty. The big choice you'll make is between the 6-speed manual transmission or spending the extra dollars on a new 7-speed dual-clutch option. After that, you'll choose whether the sport rear differential is for you. (Estimated to come in at less than $1,000, we think it's a no-brainer — read on).

The most expensive option is Audi Drive Select, which allows the driver to push a button to affect throttle response, transmission shift points, shock stiffness and steering response. If you've opted for the sport differential, Drive Select affects the aggressiveness with which it intervenes.

Under the Hood
Previous Audi S4s have had twin-turbocharged V6s and naturally aspirated V8s underhood. But Audi wants to be known for innovation, so this S4 is outfitted with a supercharged V6. The direct-injected, 333 horsepower 3.0-liter V6 in the 2010 S4 may just be the best engine an S4 has ever seen. It's 11 horsepower shy of the previous V8's 344 hp, but it makes 325 lb-ft of torque (23 lb-ft more than the V8).

You can have that supercharged V6 with a 6-speed manual transmission or a new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which features steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Ticking the dual clutch option gets you substantially faster shifts, and because of the additional gear ratio, quicker acceleration. Seven speeds equal better miles per gallon, too. With the dual-clutch transmission, the new S4 is actually 27 percent more fuel-efficient than the previous car. Audi estimates around 16/28 mpg (city/hwy).

As always, the S4 is available only with Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system. This year, the S4 sports a revised 40:60 front/rear torque split to help accentuate the car's sporting character, as well as what Audi is calling a sport differential. The system uses clutch packs to change the amount of torque delivered to each of the rear wheels, which serves to eradicate understeer by forcing power to the outer wheel. The system can send as much as 100 percent of torque (per axle) to the outside wheel, making turn-in much more apparent than many existing systems.

Inner Space
The S4 is a large midsize car with ample room in a cozy cabin. Like its more plebeian brother, the A4, the S4 benefits from Audi's latest in interior design. The layout is pleasant and the quality of materials is top-notch.

Unique to the S4 are sport seats, which feature integrated headrests and are available in silk nappa leather. If you're feeling particularly sporty, you can opt for that leather in two tone with contrasting stitching. European models can be fitted with Alcantara seating, but only leather will be available in the U.S.

The steering wheel and manual transmission shift boot sport contrasting stitching regardless of your choice in leather. Other notable options include heated and cooled front seats, a rear-view camera and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo system with 15 speakers.

On the Road
Get on the gas just once, and you'll never want to lift. The high-pitched whine of supercharged V6 combined with a seemingly instantaneous wall of torque is utterly addicting. Even if this car is just slightly faster than its V8-powered predecessor (5.1 seconds to 60 mph), it feels like night and day. The 6-speed manual slots into gear with the precision of a bolt-action rifle, and the clutch throw is short but progressive. Alternatively, opt for the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which offers millisecond-shifts from steering-wheel-mounted paddles and causes an abrupt "pop" from the exhaust when shifting under power.

Engineers told us that the S4 doesn't understeer, but it took a drive on a rain-soaked test track to cement the idea. From behind the wheel, the sport differential feels as if there's an invisible finger gently pushing the rear of the car, to line it up where you wished it was. The telepathic system takes some getting used to, but once you're accustomed, it's like having a secret cheat code on the track.

Our test car was equipped with Audi Drive Select, which instantly varies the damping characteristics of the suspension. The difference between "comfort" and "dynamic" is instantly noticeable, the former being considerably less affected by undulations in the road. Admittedly, we spent most of our time in "dynamic," where the absurdly quick steering (2.2 turns lock-to-lock) worked well with the more taut suspension.

Right for You?
Starting at around $50,000, the S4 isn't exactly cheap. And by the time you've ticked some of the option boxes, that total will be thousands higher. On the other hand, the S4 is many cars in one, achieving a balance that few cars can. It's so fun that you can sell your sports car, yet with quattro all-wheel drive, it can haul five in any weather. It's luxurious, and yet it's frugal at the pump. If it sounds like just what you're looking for, the only bad news is that you'll have to wait until next fall to get your hands on one.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB06 - 4/18/2014 3:48:49 AM