Audizine reviews the 2010 S4 sedan
The hardest part about writing this article was figuring out where to begin. I sat there a day or so after I'd handed back the keys to a pair of brand-new S4 sedans with many memories and emotions still swirling through my head. OK wait, I take that back, the hardest part was handing those keys back over. I was already stricken with that longing feeling. They were like the children I never knew I had, that I never knew how much I wanted until they were gone. And now, like any good parent, can I really be asked to pick a favorite of the two?
These two S4s, while equally impressive and overall quite similar, did have a number of differences. One was a pretty basic (in relative terms) 6-speed manual, while the other was a very well equipped 7-speed automatic. Over the course of the next several paragraphs I'll provide my thoughts and feelings on the all-new S4 as a whole, both my likes and dislikes with the car. I'll attempt to do a little comparison of the two cars with one another, as well as to their competition and to their past. And yes, in the end I'll even pick a favorite between the two cars at hand. This should be interesting.
Day one began with me taking possession of the stick shift, a sparkly Sprint Blue model with black "Silk Nappa" leather seats, the 19 inch wheel package, and the only major option being navigation with the rearview camera. With a $45,900 starting point, the final sticker price on this one (which includes the destination charge) came in at $51,600. One of the big perks with the new S4 is an item that is actually missing from the sticker, something the past two V8-powered S4s had; the gas guzzler charge. I'm sure most of you know the basic stats by now. Audi dropped the 4.2 liter V8 (340 HP) in favor of a supercharged 3 liter V6 (333 HP). Sure we lose a few horses, but what's made up in gas mileage certainly outweighs that fact. The outgoing S4 was rated at 20 MPG on the freeway, while the new model comes in at 28 MPG. On top of that, Audi is still claiming a 0-60 run in 4.9 seconds. Now that's progress!
Now, please allow to me to get real mushy for a second... I love this transmission! Audi did a great job with this one. With its buttery smooth yet very short notchy throws, and the clutch pedal offering just the right amount of play, it allowed for the best launching from a stop I have yet to achieve with any manual equipped Audi. Even after 15 some-odd years of driving stick, I have never felt more proud of or impressed with my rowing skills. I am a realist though. I know it wasn't all me. I had already began to sense just how good this new S4 was.
OK enough gushing, time for some negatives. The problem? This car is too quiet! Sure it's a four door sedan and not a pure sportscar, but that badboy side of the B6 and B7 S4 is nowhere to be found here. The rumble and grumble from under the hood and out the backside is gone. Part of the fun of owning and driving an S versus an A is the more aggressive turbo(s), or the additional liters, or in this case the supercharger. With the B8 you wouldn't even know it was there if you didn't lift the hood and look for it, or if there wasn't a badge somewhere telling you what it actually had in there. (Insert comments about how "T" somehow equals "Supercharger" here)
Luckily though, there are small hints of what lie beneath. You can at least feel the power. It's quite apparent that it's not simply a naturally aspirated V6. The sound is there too if you listen hard enough. I'll go with the obvious and overused metaphor of a caged wild animal, just because it really is quite true in this case. In this scenario, the trusty tuners at companies like APR, GIAC, and Revo are the animal trainers. As with the B5 S4 several generations ago, there is undoubtedly a lot of potential here, it just needs to be channeled. That's exactly where the tuners come in, to unleash the caged beast within. The new S4 is begging to be free, to be given back to the wild. OK, cheesy metaphor over.
I understand that us enthusiasts are in the minority. Yes Audi makes models like the S4 for us, but they also make it for Joe Average; the same guy shopping for the top of the line BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C Class. This new S4 stands up extremely well to the competition and will undoubtedly win over a lot of guys like Joe A. We're a different story though. We're never happy with good enough. Thankfully, this car's potential puts it far beyond just good enough.
This brings us to the handling. As with its little brother the A4, the B8 S4 is much improved over the B7 before it. With the engine and bulk of the weight shifted back a bit, the platform is better balanced and more behaved. It may be the largest S4 yet, but it doesn't feel like it is when being pushed through the twisties. The sense of feedback, response, and balance makes it an extremely desirable sport sedan. The brakes play into all of this as well as the large vented rotors and calipers bite impeccably well. All of these things combined make it the best S4 that Audi has produced to date.
Having had my heart stolen by the drive train in the Sprint Blue car, I was a little hesitant on giving it back in exchange for test car number two; an automatic model in Ibis White. Thankfully though, this isn't your momma's slushbox. Audi is finally bringing the dual-clutch transmission (previously known as "DSG") to the A4/S4 line-up. It's now called "S tronic", and the version on the new S4 is seven speeds deep. Aside from that major difference (which adds $1,400 to the base price), this one also had the $6,000 "Prestige" package, the $4,000 "Audi Drive Select" (ADS), and the "Driver Assist" package which is $900. All these techno goodies bring the car in at a sticker price of $60,075 including destination. The item I was most looking forward to on the car was contained in the ADS package, the sport rear differential.
While all of the gadgets on the Ibis S4 were nice, I really didn't miss not having them on the first car I tested. As mentioned above though, the one item that does stand out from the list of extras would definitely be the sport rear diff. While no immediate difference was felt in the testing done over the course of my few days with the two cars, it's certainly a great option to have if you love to drive the car hard or have any plans to track your S4 at all. And if you're the kind of person that actually prefers 'HAL 9000' to do most of the thinking for you, then ADS would be worth its weight in gold, especially on the already CPU-heavy "S tronic" version. The fact that you can stiffen (or loosen) the steering feel, shifts, and suspension all at the touch of a button is just downright awesome. Setting the car on "Dynamic" makes it noticeably quicker, more responsive, and even sound more aggressive. While still not the potential beast the car can truly be, you do get a slightly more audible burble out of the tailpipe.
Owning a 2009 A4 myself, I couldn't be happier with my own vehicle. Until I drove a 2010 S4. On the outside there are a few things that set the S4 apart from the A4. Aside from the badging of course, the S4 has polished silver accents at the front and rear splitter as well as on the mirrors. There is a subtly different S4 grille up front and then the very obvious quad exhaust pipes out back, now a common S4 trademark. On the inside you have the S4-emblazened white-stitched sport seats, subtle changes to the gauges such as the white needles, and the S4-only option of carbon fiber trim.
So in closing, which is my favorite of the two S4s? Is it the classic manual transmission 6-speed or the nearly loaded "S tronic" 7-speed? While I did appreciate each version of the S4 for what it was, there can really be only one favorite. Of course, like the typical enthusiast, I'm going to have to opt for the manual. No surprise I guess. Sure the "S tronic" is an amazing transmission, and it is light years better than "Tiptronic" or any previous automatics before it, but if you truly want to become one with your car you still have to go with the stick shift. You can "replicate" the feel of a manual all you want, with paddle shifters or pseudo shift knob movements, but there is still nothing like rowing your own gears. All of the extra feature-rich techno-loaded packages are neat too, but just give me a 6-speed S4 with nav and the sport rear diff and I'd be one very merry boy.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to the entire staff at Audi Stevens Creek for their assistance with the demo vehicles used in this article.