If you have been following along, you would notice that in my time here at AutoSpies I have made several announcements.
Usually they talk about a particular subset or experience that changed my perspective on things.
For example, I have said that the Nissan 370Z is the best sports car under $35,000. And I have also written that the Audi R8 was the best car I drove last year. Oh, then there was the time I penned that the X5/6M was one of the most fun experiences I had on a track.
Notice the ongoing trend? Superlatives.
This is where our subject fits in because it is that good. In the dry, wet and inches of snow, the 2010 Audi S4 is head and shoulders above the rest. Before you draw conclusions and start throwing fanboi tirades, hear me out.
Before you hop in and make its tires squeal, the latest generation S4 looks quite subdued. Make sure to take it all in. Where a lot of performance-inspired models, like the BMW Ms and Mercedes-Benz AMGs of the world, have a tendency to have some flamboyant characteristics, the S4 maintains a stealthy look. Kind of like the E36 M3 sedan. Only the real gearheads notice the chrome mirror caps and quad-tipped exhaust.
But, this begs another concern; this particular car does not compete with the Ms and AMGs anymore.
With BMW's M3 and Mercedes' C63 both powered by a V8 shoehorned under their respective hoods, you cannot compare the three. Additionally, they do not even line up on a price point basis anymore. The M3 sedan begins at approximately $55,000 while the AMG commands upwards of $57,000.
That means you are now looking at an S4 versus a 335i, versus a Mercedes C350. Although it is not quite a competitor because it is down on power and does not feature an all-wheel drive system.
With that said, let's move on to one of the S4's strongest suits, the interior. Boasting top-notch plastics and trim, knocking around trying to find a weakpoint is fruitless. Additionally, the design is well done as the center stack is slightly angled towards the driver. Every button and bit seems to be thought out and placed with a purpose.
And if you are not a total bore, you will definitely option this car with the two-tone leather/alcantara because it injects some liveliness into the cabin.
Speaking of the seats, that reminds me. The sport seats are the best I have ever sat in. They manage to be supportive without pinching, soft without being cushy and comfortable at just about all times.
Being 6'8 and driving a car can become downright painful at times, but in the S4 I managed to drive four hours straight without pain, soreness or becoming tired. That is a rarity that has never happened. Usually after two hours I need to get out and move around, not so in the S4.
But after a week with the S4, there is one beef that becomes apparent. Somewhere in the sunroof's sliding cover there is an ongoing rattle that is absolutely maddening. For the interior specialists to have a rattle on what is essentially a brand new car is somewhat disappointing.
Thankfully, the vehicle was equipped with a Bang and Olufsen sound system -- one of the best systems I have heard in a car, only surpassed by the Porsche Panamera Burmeister. I had no problem drowning out the rattle with this unit. It is very rare to get the kind of bass replication the B&O provided while maintaining crisp notes. I loved it.
Songs that I have heard hundreds of times sounded completely different.
And to control all of this wonderfulness is Audi's MMI. When I first used it I thought it was genius but I have noticed a trend. With every Audi I drive that has been optioned with MMI, I begin to realize how daft it is. There is no problem with it being button centric, it is just a bit of an annoyance to deal with. Particularly when there is Mercedes-Benz's COMAND, a unit whose functionality is as simple as pie.
Besides the silly MMI and a surprising rattle, these pluses just wind up being perks because the 2010 S4 is a brilliant performance machine.
Under the bonnet is a V6 that has been massaged with a supercharger. This equates to 333-horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, which is more than BMW's 335. And, the best part of this powerplant is the noise.
While you may expect to hear a whine from the supercharger, you do not. What you do hear is a six-cylinder symphony. Easily one of the nicest sounding sixes I have heard in my day; however, there is one problem. It is too quiet and restricted.
Unless you are giving it wide open throttle above 3,000 RPM, the motor remains relatively subdued. It is nice if you want a versatile daily driver but if you want something with a bit more gusto you will probably be finding yourself calling an aftermarket supplier.
Aside from that, 0-60 comes in just under five seconds -- equipped with a manual. Although it is quick by today's standards, it is a slower time than the fastest 335i's I have seen tested. If you are not driving on a track or racing, what is a tenth of a second anyway?
From an efficiency standpoint, the S4 does about as well as one can expect with this kind of motor. After a week of mixed city and suburban driving, I chalked up a decent 18 MPG. Imagine if Audi decided to leave in that honkin' V8? You would be lucky to obtain 15 MPG if you drove like a saint.
With this quick zero to hyperspeed, it is obviously necessary to have ample stopping power. But, I think the engineers at Audi got a bit overzealous and dialed in a bit too much bite into the brakes. Unless you have a touch so gentle you can walk on eggshells without cracking them, you will most likely find yourself in the steering wheel or windshield. Don't get me wrong, I like a good set of brakes. I just like to use them without causing my eyes to pop out of my skull.
Now, for my favorite aspect of this Audi. The clutch/shifter combination is superb. I have yet to feel a clutch weighted so well. When you clutch in, there is enough weight so that you have precision feel when it hooks up. In gridlock it does not become a strain on your left calf like some performance autos.
Then the shifter is an unbelievable complement. It does not require muscle to put the vehicle into gear but it does require more than just a finger tip. This crucial element of the B8 S4 makes it a pleasure to drive a manual, which cannot be said for all row-it-yourself transmissions.
I usually do not like to use peer pressure on my readers but I will say if you are in the market for an S4 and you order an S-tronic, you are missing out. Big time. No ands, ifs or buts.
Since we brought up my favorite aspect of the super A4, I think now would be an appropriate time to discuss my least favorite part. Steering. As of late, Audi has been putting their proprietary Servotronic steering in their autos. Usually these assisted power steering systems make it a little easier at low speeds to maneuver, but in the 4 -- like other Audis -- it is predictably overdone.
Literally you can flick the wheel with one properly strong finger at low speeds.
Thankfully, when you add on the MPH to the speedo, the weight gets dialed up and becomes confidence inspiring at speed and into corners.
And while this is not a huge set back for the S, it is a bit more than I would prefer in a performance machine. Additionally, when you get up to triple-digit territory, the steering becomes a bit too jittery and requires attention. In contrast, a 335 feels as solid as a rock.
Aside from my aforementioned qualms, turn-in is tight and direct; no complaints there.
As one would expect with Quattro, through the switchbacks there is plenty of grip. While our test vehicle was not equipped with Audi Drive Select -- the system that controls engine/throttle mapping, suspension damping, rear differential and dynamic steering -- I have heard from colleagues who have driven it extensively that it makes the S4 drive similar to a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
One intriguing thing that all of my little birdies said was that this option totally transforms the car. While I cannot imagine the car being any better than it already is, I do not take their opinion lightly.
While ADS has been said to make this Audi drive like none other, my lacking test vehicle did one thing in typical Audi fashion; it churned up the white stuff. During the period of my loan the New York Tri-State region had approximately 10-15 inches of powder.
Without hesitation, this meant I was to spend all night driving the S4 in six to eight inches of snow to see just how capable it truly was.
Full disclosure: it was shod with a set of winter tires.
Trudging through deserted towns at 3:00 a.m. was not only a blast but tremendously enlightening because I have not been entirely sure what exactly a Quattro-equipped vehicle was capable of in such poor conditions. It was simply astonishing, the only time the vehicle slipped was in heavily tracked areas when I pushed the RPMS up.
Ultimately, the S4 made it through the mush without so much as a titter. The coolest thing about the Quattro is how it is so controllable. Get the back end out? Oh, you want to go this way? Just dab the throttle and point the wheel in the desired direction.
At the end of the day when it comes down to the infamous 335 versus S4 question, it all boils down to the smallest details and what you prefer.
Which system is worse, IDRIVE or MMI? Which interior looks the best? Which steering suits your style of driving better? If you are not looking at an xDrive 335, do want to deal with the hassles of having a set of readily available snow tires?
For me, without question my vote goes to the S4. Not only is the vehicle more visually appealing, but I like the safety net Quattro provides living in the northeast. Additionally, it is nice to stand out from the crowd of far too many BMW 3-series in New York. An S4 shows that you have an imagination and can think outside of the box.
Oh, yeah. And it is the best sport sedan you can buy under $50,000.
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