Don't let the fact that the 2010 Audi S4 says "V6T" on its quarter panels confuse you. This alphanumeric soup has more to do with Audi's marketing department than it does with anything going on under the hood of the new S4.
Rest assured, the 3.0-liter V6 in the 2010 Audi S4 cranks out 333 supercharged horsepower and 325 supercharged pound-feet of torque, which hit the ground via a six-speed manual transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Audi's seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual S tronic transmission is optional.
You see, the sassy Germans running Audi's marketing department decided that "T" should be the moniker used to indicate both turbo- and supercharged engines on the fenders of all S models using forced induction. For this, Audi lacks a good explanation — offering only that the "T" is, in fact, misleading.
Accordingly, we've come up with an equally sensible name for the new sedan. For the remainder of this review, this Imola Yellow S4 will be known as the Red Baron.
From Eight to Six
Indeed, this 2010 Audi S4 is a giant leap for Audi, if not in the expected direction. After all, its last S4, which disappeared in 2008, had under its hood the genuine article as far as Americans are concerned — a V8 power plant. That all-aluminum mill revved to a righteous 7,000 rpm, cranked out 340 hp at full tilt and made all the right sounds. It was also strapped to a car which (according to our measurements) was lighter than this new-generation S4 that replaces it.
To these facts the Red Baron flips a big, supercharged middle finger and disappears into the distance. This is because in addition to being bigger (a good thing for rear-seat passengers) and heavier (a bad thing for everyone), it manages to punch through the 60-mph barrier in only 4.9 seconds (4.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). It goes on to complete the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 106.1 mph.
Both of these numbers are considerably more impressive than those of the previous S4, which might have sounded good, but simply wasn't as quick. At least part of the gap can be explained by the fact that the blown V6 makes more torque than the old V8. Its 325 lb-ft of torque is delivered as low as 2,900 rpm, while the V8's torque peak of 302 lb-ft didn't arrive until 3,500 rpm.
Lightness and Its Measurement
Run these figures past anyone at Audi and they're quick to point out that the new 2010 S4's chassis is actually 10 percent lighter than the outgoing S4. Our scales show that this does not translate into a lighter car, but when you consider the fact that the new car's wheelbase and overall length is more than 6 inches longer than the previous generation, it's quite a feat to have kept this package as light as it is.
There's also the matter of weight distribution. Hanging eight cylinders forward of the front axle gave the old S4 an unavoidable 62 percent front/38 percent rear weight distribution. The Red Baron hit our scales at 3,984 pounds. The front axle, however, bears only 55 percent of that weight thanks to the new car's revised engine placement and its lighter engine. Meanwhile the 2008 S4's claimed curb weight was 3,864 pounds.
Better weight distribution almost always means better manners, and we were impressed with the 2010 Audi S4's handling. At 68.8 mph it charged through the slalom at a rate approaching the last BMW 335i sedan we tested, which managed the feat at 69.9 mph.
Lateral acceleration around the skid pad was also striking. A two-way average of 0.90g with the stability control off is good, but the 0.92g average with the system turned on speaks volumes for Audi's attention to the calibration details.
The S4's 109-foot stop from 60 mph is also better than most of its competition, as is its pedal feel.
Following are the words you'll need to understand what's missing from the above acceleration numbers.
Topping BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six in a contest of throttle response is a task we figured impossible. But tickle the Red Baron's go pedal and its V6's instant snap makes the Bimmer engine feel positively apathetic.
So rapid and immediate and crisp is the supercharged Audi engine's response that it made us forget all about the fact that turbos are, ultimately, more efficient than superchargers when it comes to adding power. Again, in response to this fact, the Red Baron simply snaps to attention and begins making real, usable power faster than you can say "turbo lag." Such is life with belt-driven boost.
To that snap this S4 adds Audi's Drive Select — a $3,950 option that includes adjustable suspension damping and steering assist as well as Audi's active rear differential, which can bias torque individually to each rear wheel. Of course, this is coupled with all-wheel drive, 60 percent of which the 2010 S4 now biases to the rear under normal conditions.
When you're driving hard, you'll likely not notice these bits of management, but you will get a sense that you're driving one of the most capable sport sedans available today. The S4's balance rivals its German competitors even if feedback — especially through the steering wheel — is less natural. Drive Select can add or remove steering assist, but the S4 lacks the high-resolution steering communication we'd like it to have.
Still, there's more control here than we expected, largely due to the adjustable suspension, which stiffens up the ride control to a level that permits maximum attack, a level of confidence that can only be had with all-wheel drive. Oh yes, and it's fast. Very, very fast.
We worked up to a quick rhythm in the 2010 Audi S4 until we channeled our inner Walter Rohrl and dared to touch the brake pedal with our left foot. That mistake shut down the fun faster than you can say "unintended acceleration," as the electronics cut back the throttle in response. Audi says the electronics' lack of tolerance for an overlap between throttle and brake action is a safety feature. We say it diminishes the S4's abilities when going flat out and takes away a useful driving tool for skilled drivers.
It's What's Inside That Counts
There is no shortage of S4-specific niceties on this car. Embossed into the silky napa-style leather upholstery of the optional seats is the S4 logo. The front brake calipers share this logo as do the rocker sills, steering wheel and grille.
The rest of the interior is typical Audi, with lavish materials solidly assembled in a sensible and appealing fashion. Everything the driver needs to touch feels solid, durable and responsive. Quirks include the iPod cable in the glovebox that needs to be about an inch longer, because it binds when the door is fully open. And there's the engine start/stop button, which seems to kill the engine only about half the time. (Certainly this is because of something we are doing or not doing, but, really, should this ever be a problem?)
Your rear-seat passengers will never notice this gaffe because they'll be too busy appreciating the abundance of legroom. No longer is the backseat in the 2010 Audi S4 a penalty box. In fact, it's so commodious that a 6-foot-1 passenger will fit comfortably behind a driver of the same size.
Then there's the $6,100 Prestige package, which adds 19-inch wheels, the ear-tingling Bang & Olufsen audio system, keyless start/stop, navigation, voice-activated controls, auto-dimming mirrors and seat memory. Really, that's a lot of goodness for $6 grand.
All in — with its Prestige package, Drive Select, leather seats and Driver Assist package — the S4 you see here totals $59,150 including destination. That's no small investment for a car in this class, but the S4 is no small consideration, either.
The Drive Select adjustable suspension and steering alone set the Red Baron apart from most of its rivals, many of which are just as comfortable, but lack the ability of the 2010 Audi S4 to adapt to full-whack driving with the push of a button. Plus, the S4 is quicker. And in the sport sedan segment, quick counts for something.
The fact that the German marketers behind this car don't give a rip about the difference between a "T" and an "S" probably isn't going to keep anyone from enjoying this truly great car. Least of all us.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Inside Line Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
I'll admit to feeling a little annoyed when I saw that the S4 was switching to V6 power instead of a traditional V8. Having that big lump stuck out front always made for some dicey handling, but so what? It was a German muscle car that sounded cool and felt damn good. And that's half the fun, no?
After plenty of seat time in the S4 I'm now conflicted. There is no way I could possibly complain about the performance of the new supercharged V6; it's just too good. Instant low-end torque, smooth delivery and better mileage for the eco-conscious. So what's the downside?
Visceral things, mostly. As smooth as it is, the feeling of winding up the V6 simply can't match the silkiness of the good V8. Our S5 long-termer reminds me of this every time I drive it. And of course, the exhaust note just isn't the same either. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if the S4's six made some kind of interesting noises. Instead, it emits an industrial-sounding wheeze most of the time that does little to entice you to visit redline territory again.
In the grand scheme of things, losing the small stuff isn't a huge price to pay. After all, we should be glad that cars like the S4 still exist at all. But as good as this S4 is in every way, I'm pretty sure that the market for the older V8-powered versions will stay strong for some time. Horsepower and torque numbers are just one small part of the performance equation. How those numbers feel from the driver seat still matters. Guess I'll have to save up for the RS4. Might be awhile.
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