04/23/04 — Audi S4 — Thrills with four doors

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Audi S4 — Thrills with four doors

I love horsepower.

It’s an addiction. I am addicted and I have no intention of going to some kind of horsepower addicts anonymous group to overcome this obsession.

No sir. I will continue to get high on horsepower every chance I get.

It’s not so much that horsepower allows you to go fast and go fast quickly. It will. But much more than that, huge horsepower allows for almost unbelievable maneuverability in all sorts of crowded highway situations.

Audi S4, 20004

It allows you to safely surge into a moving hole in a lineup of cars, something virtually impossible and maybe even suicidal with just average power.

It allows you to fly past a slow-moving vehicle in the blink of an eye creating infinitely more opportunities to pass on a busy two-lane road.

It’s got nothing to do with breaking speed limits. You can break every speed limit in America driving a 108-horsepower Toyota Echo economy sub-compact. There’s not a car manufactured today that can’t hit 100 miles per hour if the road is long enough.

Huge horsepower can be as effective in driving as huge brakes are in stopping. When you can do things quickly and effectively, whether stopping or surging away from trouble, the safety factor will actually be magnified many times.

But giant horsepower also means giant responsibility. Keep this power under control and there’s just nothing on the road that will beat it for fun and excitement.

One of the most exciting cars — and one of the quickest — we’ve tested in several years was just snatched from our hands after a week of sheer automotive bliss. We are still in mourning over the loss of the 2004 Audi S4.

The S4 is the performance-enhanced edition of Audi’s entry-level compact A4 sedan. The S4 was designed to rival BMW’s vaunted M3 and Mercedes’ C32 AMG.

All three cars have been endowed with substantial horsepower and suspensions designed to defy the laws of physics through the back-road twists and turns of America.

Audi’s current generation A4 is an attractive, aggressively styled sedan with the choice of either a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine generating 170 horsepower or a 3.0-liter V-6 making 220 horsepower.

Both are solid performers and can be counted as excellent entry-level luxury choices.

A few years ago, the performance arm of Audi created the S4. It was a screaming machine with a twin-turbo V-6 generating 250 horsepower. But the S was no match for BMW’s M. So after skipping a model year, the new 2004 S4 was introduced about 12 months ago with the goal of upstaging the BMW M3.

Audi got the job done by shoehorning the company’s 4-2-liter V-8 — found in the large A8 sedan — into the small engine compartment designed for a 4-cylinder engine.

Audi played the one-up game massaging the V-8 until it surpassed the BMW’s inline 6, at least on paper, with 340 horses compared to the Bimmer’s 333. The Mercedes makes 349 horsepower. Now the three German compacts are virtually equals in performance depending on which magazine statistics you subscribe to.

We are talking breath-taking numbers such as 5 seconds from a standing start to 60 miles per hour and about 13.5 seconds at around 105 miles per hour in the quarter mile. Note that the BMW is a coupe and the Audi and the Mercedes are perhaps somewhat more practical albeit tight sedans. The S4 can also be purchased in station wagon from.

The S4 test vehicle came with a wonderfully sounding stereo, but who needs it when you can drink in the throaty music emitting through the tailpipes from the big V-8.

Run it up to the 7,200 redline and the sounds are as intoxicating as Norah Jones’ new album.

Our test car was equipped with a slick-shifting, short-throw 6-speed manual transmission. Audi will equip the S with a 5-speed automatic if you so desire. But how could the auto shifter duplicate the fun of shifting down to second and screaming toward third gear as the speedometer races from left to right?

Low-end torque is good allowing the Audi to cruise at low speeds in fourth gear in stop-and-go situations.

Horsepower is not all the S4 is endowed with. It comes with Audi’s Quattro, or all-wheel drive, system that not only provides stick-like-glue handling but inspires confidence on bad-weather roads.

The handling is lively and crisp, and the driver can easily gain the feeling that he can thread a needle with the Audi. It delivers point and shoot accuracy.

All this dexterity comes at some expense. The Audi suspension rides fairly stiff, but yet it is not bone jarring. We had no objection to the ride, and we don’t think anyone who enters into the S4 experience will have a problem.

The S4 is a hot-looking number with 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile high-performance tires. But other than the great looking wheels, there’s not much there to differentiate the S from the A. You will have to look at the S4 badging to make sure you are looking at the hot guy.

The S4 has a quality feel inside and the Recaro seats are comfortable and designed to hold the driver and passenger in place when the fun starts. The seats look great, too, in a two-tone suede-like material.

The gauges are straight forward and an information read-out between the tachometer and speedometer, an Audi staple, imparts information to the driver such as outside temperature, gas mileage and radio readout, without having to take eyes off the road.

One problem, it’s a tight fit getting in and out, especially for bigger people. The rear seat is actually two buckets as well. Like many compacts, leg room can be tight in back if the front seater needs space. If a compromise can be reached between front and back, four adults can achieve a level of comfort.

The rear seatbacks fold forward in a 40-60 configuration. That came in handy on golf day, making for easy storage of two golf bags.

All this good stuff does not come without a premium pricetag. The S4 well equipped starts at $48,040 including destination and $1,700 gas guzzler tax.

Options on our test car included special paint, a premium package with sunroof, upgraded Bose audio system and heated front seats. That brought the bottom line to $51,240.

Edmunds.com says Audi is getting list price for the S4. And be advised the sports sedan is coming to these shores in limited numbers.

This is one sedan that won’t disappoint even with a 50 grand sticker price.

In fact, you may find yourself crawling out of bed an hour early on some mornings just to get in some attitude-adjusting drive time.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on April 23, 2004 10:49 AM