$45,000 - $60,000 Compact All-wheel Drive Performance Sedan
Who should buy this car:
A person who wants a high powered sports car, but needs a family sedan
Comparable cars in this class:
BMW 330, Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes Benz C55,
2006 Audi S4 Road Test
What you really want is a sleek, two-seat sports car with a brawny engine, removable top, manual transmission, lots of luxury features and a suspension that can handle everything you and the powertrain can dish out.
What you really need is a family hauler with room for four, a solid roof overhead, foul-weather traction and a cargo compartment that will handle vacation baggage or an odd-size purchase from the Home Depot.
So, what youre really looking for is a satisfactory compromise.
The good news is that there are a few such vehicles out there. And the bad news? Well, if you want it all fun, luxury, exclusivity, - youll need a pretty big pile of money.
One of the most exciting is German manufacturer Audis 2006 S4 sedan, a mid-size screamer that can satisfy the inner Andretti all year round and still allow Mr. or Ms. Responsibility to cart the family around in sedate comfort and safety.
The starting point for the S4 I drove was a competent A4 sedan equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The excitement was added primarily via a beefed-up suspension and a lusty V-8 engine with 340 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque.
Put all that together, along with a lot of fine tuning, and youve got a sedan that will bolt from a stop to 60 mph in about five seconds . . . a sedan that will track around corners at obscenely high speeds without excessive body lean . . . a sedan with properly spaced gears and a short-throw shifter to maximize performance . . . a sedan with precise rack-and-pinion steering that telegraphs road conditions right to the drivers fingertips . . . a sedan with powerful antilock brakes and stability control to rein in the overly enthusiastic.
Youve also got a sedan that can transport up to four passengers in comfort . . . a sedan that is as happy cruising to schools and shopping malls as it is with the accelerator mashed to the floor on a mountainous switchback . . . a sedan with a ride quality that is firm, but not harsh . . . a sedan that contains all the amenities required of a true luxury sedan.
Well take a good look at that fine tuning but, first, a quick side trip. For those whose needs and wants do not coincide with a sedans specifications, S4 performance is also available in the form of a station wagon (avant in Audi-speak) and a convertible (cabriolet in Audi-speak).
Now, back to the main road.
The four-link independent front suspension and the complex, self-tracking, independent rear suspension have been tightened. This involved installing stiffer shock absorbers and springs, stronger front and rear stabilizer bars and lowering the car about an inch.
For 2006, Audi engineers have also recalibrated the standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system from the traditional 50/50 front/rear torque split to 40/60 on models with manual transmissions. This was done to make the S4 feel more like a rear-drive automobile.
As always, when the weather turns slippery the system directs power automatically to the wheels with the most grip. Those who order an S4 with the shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission will get Quattro with the 50/50 torque split.
The S4 also has speed-sensitive, power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering and powerful antilock disc brakes. The binders are equipped with electronics to distribute braking equally among all four wheels; hydraulic assist to automatically increase braking force in emergencies; and a wiping system that automatically presses the linings lightly against the discs at regular intervals to enhance responsiveness in wet weather.
The advanced stability control system can provide braking to one or all four wheels if sensors detect that the Audi is about to careen out of control.
Finally, 18-inch wheels and tires round out the S4s performance package.
Inside the car, leather-covered Recaro front buckets with 12-way power adjustments will keep driver and front passenger safe and secure when the back roads beckon. The rear bench, well, its a somewhat tight, leather-covered depository for two more passengers when the Audi is working its day job, but it really is no place to enjoy traveling when demon driver is honing his high-performance skills.
And, just in case enthusiasm overrules common sense, Audi sends along some guardian angels in the form of front, side and side-curtain airbags, front head restraints which help to prevent head and neck injuries, side impact beams and seatbelts for all with automatic pre-tensioning and force limiters.
The S4 is rather modest about its competence, signaling its special capabilities with nothing more than S4 badges, a rear spoiler and distinctive mirror housings.
The sedan trunk can accommodate 13.4 cubic feet of cargo. Fold down the 60/40 rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands significantly.
A close look around the interior provides ample proof that the S4 is a true luxury car. In addition to brushed aluminum trim and other the high quality materials on doors, roof, dashboard and steering wheel, a passenger will note the dual-zone automatic climate control system, the premium sound system with six-cd changer and satellite radio availability, the cruise control, the power window switches.
And thats just the equipment that comes standard with the $46,400 base price.
The $2,900 premium package features a sunroof, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, a remote garage-door opener, headlights that peek around turns, heated front seats and optional 18-inch wheels with summer performance tires.
The $1,950 navigation system transmits information from a dashboard-mounted 6.5-inch screen and a driver-information center located in the instrument cluster. The screen also flips down to reveal slots that can accept memory cards with MP3 music files.
The $1,500 premium audio package includes telephone preparation with Bluetooth capability.
The $400 cold weather package adds a ski sack and heated rear seats.
And, finally, carbon fiber beltline trim costs an extra $300.
Combine all that with the $1,700 gas-guzzler charge (Typically, the S4
will average between 15 and 21 miles per gallon of premium fuel.) and a $720 delivery charge, and the grand total comes to $55,870.
The S4 sedan is a satisfying multi-tasker, both sensible and sensational. Its too bad for most of us that the sensational price is beyond our budgetary sensibilities.
$46,400 + $720destination charge and $1,700 Gas Guzzler Tax
Standard Equipment Audi S4(Partial List)
4.2 liter 340 horsepower V8 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Mechanical center limited slip differential
18 inch alloy rims
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front and rear head airbags
Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
8-way power driver and front passenger seats
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Dual zone climate controls
AM/FM cassette in-dash 6 CD player stereo with 10 speakers
25quattro Special Edition Adds... (Partial List)
Power glass sunroof
Rain sensing wipers
Heated front seats
Power retractable mirrors
Carbon and leather trim on interior
Memory driver's seat
Bose premium brand speakers
Sirius satellite radio
DVD navigation system
Major Available Options
Premium Package Includes: power glass sunroof, HomeLink universal garage door opener, auto-dimming and power folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior rearview mirror with compass, memory driver's seat and mirrors, heated front seats, rain sensor wipers, 18" 14-spoke quattro alloy wheels and adaptive front lighting.