The Audi S4 substitutes a 250 horsepower 2.7 litre turbocharged V6 engine for the A4’s 174 horsepower 2.8 litre V6, and adds a standard 6-speed manual transmission or optional 5-speed automatic Tiptronic tranny, more powerful brakes, a revised aluminum suspension, wider 17 inch performance tires and wheels, subtle exterior styling revisions, a distinctive interior with standard head airbags, and special S4 badging.
High-performance in an understated package
Introduced in the 2000 model year, the Audi S4 is a high-performance version of Audi’s most popular model, the A4 sedan (which was first unveiled in 1996). Audi defines the S4 as ‘a vehicle concept that perfectly combines superior performance with masterfully understated appearance, without sacrificing everyday practicality’. Take out the flowery adverbs and adjectives, and that’s a fairly accurate definition of this very fast, very attractive five passenger performance sedan.
The S4 substitutes a 250 horsepower 2.7 litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine for the A4’s 190 horsepower 2.8 litre V6, and adds a standard 6-speed manual transmission or optional 5-speed automatic Tiptronic tranny, more powerful brakes, a revised aluminum suspension, wider 17 inch performance tires and wheels, subtle exterior styling revisions, a distinctive interior with standard head airbags, and special S4 badging.
Like the BMW M3, the Audi S4 is a limited production, performance-oriented sport sedan that commands a price premium over its less sporty brethren. For example, the 2000 model S4 is $56,000 and a top-of-the-line A4 2.8 starts at $39,370. However, it is less expensive than the new BMW M3 which will be priced at $69,800.
Compared to many sport sedans which flaunt their sportiness with big spoilers, body cladding, oversized fender flares, and huge air dams, the S4 is an understated styling statement. Exterior differences between the A4 and the S4 are subtle: the S4 has a larger front air dam, special red and chrome S4 badges on the grille and the rear decklid, twin chrome tipped exhaust pipes, and a lower, wider stance accented by low-profile Bridgestone Potenza 225/45R-17 performance radials mounted on six-spoke alloy wheels.
At first glance, most people won’t even notice the difference between an A4 and an S4. My guess is that S4 buyers like it that way – not everyone wants to be the centre of attention on the road.
The S4’s smart interior has racing-style sport seats upholstered in a shiny, expensive-looking leather, a sporty, thick-rimmed steering wheel with an S4 badge on the hub (similar to the one on the grille and decklid), another S4 badge on the speedometer, and dark wood trim on the dash and doors. The interior could be described as ‘European sporty’.
The front sport seats offer excellent lateral support when cornering and have seat heaters with six heat adjustments for those cold winter mornings. A folding armrest located between the driver and passenger reduces right arm fatigue, but when changing gears, it’s better to have it folded up to prevent the drivers right elbow from striking it.
The S4’s instrumentation consists of two very large round gauges (backlit in red) for speedometer and tachometer complemented by smaller ancillary gauges. Controls are easy to reach but the headlight switch is in an unusual position: a small stalk on the left of the steering wheel behind the turn signal.
The S4 includes a standard 8-speaker 80 watt AM/FM/cassette/CD, automatic climate control, driver information display with trip computer, power windows with one-touch up for the driver’s window and one-touch down for all windows; power central locking with remote key fob, power mirrors, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
There is a cupholder that slides out of the upper dash area – it will hold a medium-sized coffee cup, but not a large soda cup. There are two more cupholders in the centre console area.
Rear passengers have overhead map lights, and a centre rear armrest with a first-aid kit inside the storage compartment. The S4 includes a trunk pass-through behind the centre rear armrest, and 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks. With the rear seats folded down, the trunk floor is almost six feet long!
For safety, there are dual front airbags, dual side airbags in the front seats, and new head/chest airbags. The new standard Sideguard head airbags cover the entire side of the car and protect both front and rear occupants. The S4 includes height-adjustable front and rear head restraints at all outboard positions, four three-point seatbelts and a centre rear lap belt.
As a four-door sedan, the S4 can double as a practical family car. The front and rear doors open out almost 90 degrees, making entry easier. Front legroom and headroom is roomy, and so is rear headroom, though rear legroom is a bit cramped for adults.
I drove a 2000 model S4 (the only one available at the time), but I understand the 2001 model is virtually the same car. The heart of the S4 is its twin turbocharged 2.7 litre V6 engine with five valves per cylinder and variable valve timing via hydraulically adjustable intake camshafts. The engine develops 250 horsepower at 5800 rpm and turbo boost kicks in at a relatively low 1850 rpm. 0 to 100 km/h goes by in under six seconds when the S4 is equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. With the 5-speed Tiptronic transmission (an Porsche-licensed automatic transmission with optional sequential manual shifting using buttons on the steering wheel spokes), the S4 takes 6.5 seconds to 100 km/h.
I found this engine to be very smooth, flexible and quiet with plenty of torque. Even in 6th gear, the car will pull away above 2000 rpm. However, from a standing start there is a momentary lag in acceleration, not unlike many German cars. But above 2000 rpm, you’d better hold on to the steering wheel, because it takes off with a steady surge of power. At highway speeds, the S4 makes a very comfortable touring car with the engine turning over just 2500 rpm at 100 km/h.
Shifting the six-speed manual gearbox is an easy ‘one-two’ motion between gears. Shifts are medium length, but I found clutch effort a bit heavier than average. The driveline is not as tight as I expected, and emits a mild ‘thunk’ gear changes are not done carefully. First gear is geared a bit too low for my tastes, requiring a gear change to second very soon after take off.
I found the steering at low speeds requires very little effort, but the car tends to wander with road variations, and steering feel wasn’t as precise as I would have liked in a $56,000 performance car.
The A4’s fully independent suspension is used in the S4, but the S4 suspension has been lowered, and many parts are made of aluminum including the control arms in the four-link front suspension and the double wishbone rear suspension. The S4 handles with exceptional stability and has very high cornering limits. And I found the ride was surprisingly comfortable for a car with a sport suspension and low-profile tires.
The S4’s large, powerful four wheel disc brakes with aluminum calipers exhibited excellent performance, quick stopping distances and no fade. Four wheel ABS is standard.
No description of an Audi would be complete without a discussion of its Quattro AWD system. The fourth-generation Quattro system sends power to all of the wheels all of the time (unlike some AWD systems) and now includes Electronic Differential Locking (EDL) operating in both front and rear differentials. This feature detects and limits wheelspin and distributes torque from side to side up to 45 km/h. Combined with the front to rear capability of the TORSEN centre differential that can distribute up to 66% of the power to front or rear, the Quattro system will allow the S4 to move if only one wheel has traction.
One of the advantages of Audi’s system is that there is no power lag when slippery surfaces are encountered – the reaction is immediate and traction is available right away. And while AWD helps improve wet weather traction or traction in the snow, it also helps improve traction and directional stability on dry pavement when cornering quickly. Even dry tires can spin on hot or dusty pavement, and the Quattro system compensates for it.
In addition to the standard features mentioned above, the S4 includes tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, folding ignition key, heated driver’s door lock, headlight washers and heated windshield washer nozzles, Xenon headlamps, fog lights front and rear, tool kit, anti-theft system, and a reflective emergency triangle in the trunk.
The only options are a glass, sliding sunroof, Bose premium sound system, 6-disc CD changer, aluminum belt-trim instead of wood, Audi navigation system, hands-free phone, and Homelink transmitter for the garage and home.
S4’s come with a 3 year/80,000 vehicle warranty.
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.7 litre V6, DOHC, twin turbochargers|
|Horsepower||250 @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||258 @ 1850 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed manual (5-speed Tiptronic automatic)|
|Curb weight||1680 kg (3704 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2607 mm (102.6 in.)|
|Length||4483 mm (176.5 in.)|
|Width||1848 mm (72.8 in.)|
|Height||1418 mm (55.8 in.)|
|Trunk space||388 litres (13.7 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.6 l/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/80,000 km|
At A Glance “Compared to many sport sedans which flaunt their sportiness with big spoilers, body cladding, oversized fender flares, and huge air dams, the S4 is an understated styling statement.”