- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

If you have gobs of cash and produce testosterone by the gallon, there is no shortage of big-ticket, high-performance hardware on the market with which to fulfill your boy-racer fantasies. The Europeans — primarily Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — are in a competition of one-upmanship that is producing all manner of tasty treats for the performance-minded.

While BMW has its M-Series and Mercedes its AMG models, Audi counters with its S-variations. Arguably Audi doesn’t yet have quite the stature of BMW or Mercedes, but it continues snapping at their heels and it’s only a matter of time before it is universally perceived as their equal.

New for 2004, Audi’s S4 is no half-baked performance sedan. In the spirit of one-upmanship, it had to not only be better than the previous generation S4, but it had to outdo the competition as well. By the numbers, Audi engineers were successful in surpassing BMW’s M3 in engine stats, but fell a few ponies and foot-pounds of torque short of catching the Mercedes C32. But what is a couple of horsepower between friends?

Tossing out the 250-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 that motivated the previous S4, Audi engineers went to a power plant from its A6 Sedan to juice up the new S4. It’s the 4.2-liter V-8 — a version of which is not only found in the A6, but in the A8 as well. Hefty amounts of twist are available as it deals out 302 foot-pounds of torque. All of this power is funneled through to the four-wheel quattro drive by — in the case of this test S4 — a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed driver-shiftable automatic with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles is also available.

The clutch and shifter work smoothly. While this V-8 seems to operate more happily in the higher end of the rev band, it has plenty of low-end grunt, too. As might be expected with an aggressive V-8, S4 fuel economy has taken a back seat to performance. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the S4’s miles per gallon at 15 in town and 21 on the highway.

Light in weight — it tips the scale at only 430 pounds — the 4.2-liter V-8 is just 18 inches long. Its compact size helps equalize the front-to-rear weight ratio to about 53/47 percent for improved handling. Less weight also benefits acceleration. By Audi’s stopwatch, the S4 needs only 5.6 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standing stop.

Much of the S4’s suspension architecture is aluminum. It features a four-link setup in the bow and trapezoidal-link arrangement in the stern. Speed-rated rubber covers the 18-inch alloy wheels. A true joy to drive, the S4 corners like it’s nailed to the ground. The steering is sharp, offering plenty of feedback and control. Despite the S4’s acute handling, it delivers a comfortable ride befitting a luxury nameplate.

The antilock system monitoring the four-wheel discs also features Brake Assist. This system intuitively senses when emergency braking is occurring and applies maximum braking power to shorten the stopping distance.

S4 passive safety includes a plethora of air bags. In addition to the next-generation dual front air bags, the S4 has front-seat-mounted side-impact air bags, rear side-impact air bags and head curtain air bags that run from the A- to C-pillars.

Anyone not figuring out that the S4 is a sport sedan before opening its door will certainly know it with one glance inside. Two-tone leather Recaro seats with matching door inserts, front/rear center armrests, shift knob and steering wheel are accented with gray birch wood trim. Analog gray gauges with white numerals and the S4 logo are centered in front of the driver. A full compliment of power accessories, as well as a dual-zone automatic climate control and driver information center with eight-color display are only the beginning of the S4’s luxury resume.

It also has 12-way power front seats, 10-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer and remote keyless entry.

The cabin is fairly roomy. Front-seat passengers have plenty of space. Occupying the rear seat, however, is tough on full-size adults. There just isn’t much legroom. The trunk is about average for this class. It’s a tad bigger than the C32 and Volvo S40. It’s easy to pack and unpack thanks to a bumper-high lift over.

With delivery charge the total-as-tested price of the S4 Sedan quattro MT6 is $46,340. There is also a $1,700 Gas Guzzler tax to be tacked on top of that. This is less money than the C32, but still pricey. But how do you put a price on being able to brag you drive one of the quickest sedans on the street?

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