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New models - Audi - A4 - S4 sedan

First drive: S4 built for comfort and speed

S4 sprinter: Weighing in at 1660kg, the manual S4 delivers a standstill-to-100km/h sprint time of 5.6 seconds.

New Audi S4 has the performance and practicality to persuade BMW M3 buyers

Audi logo9 Feb 2004

AUDI has released its second generation high-performance A4 flagship.

Called the S4, it is priced from $129,500 for the four-door sedan. The $132,500 four-door Avant wagon will be available from May.

A two-door S4 convertible based on the A4 Cabriolet is also expected to debut at the Sydney motor show in October.

The S4’s exterior giveaways are subtle. They include a reduced ride height, six-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminium-capped door mirrors, reshaped bumpers, a redesigned upper and lower grille, a small boot spoiler, an aluminium lower-door strip and four new colours – a yellow, blue, red and green.

It is the blue and white propeller of the $142,000, 252kW 3.2-litre six-cylinder BMW M3 from which the S4 is set to unseat potential buyers.

Also targeted are Mercedes-Benz’s outgoing $150,900 260kW 3.2-litre supercharged V6 C32 AMG (the facelifted C-class in July-August will include the new 270kW 5.5-litre V8 C55 AMG) and the $98,950 220kW 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder Volvo S60R/V70R.

Against the BMW and Volvo, the Audi ups the ante with 253kW of power at 7000rpm from a 4.2-litre V8.

The S4 also pumps out 410Nm of torque at 3500rpm versus the M3’s 365Nm at 7900rpm, with 400Nm-plus available from between 3000 and 4500rpm.

Weighing in at 1660kg, the new close-ratio six-speed manual S4 sedan delivers a standstill-to-100km/h sprint time of 5.6 seconds (1525kg M3: 5.2 seconds).

Audi also claims that the 200km/h mark is made in 20.6 seconds, while an electronic speed limiter cuts in beyond 250km/h.

To keep the added performance in check, the brakes are bigger (now 340mm ventilated discs up front and 300mm at the rear), operated via a new dual-rate servo for improved brake pedal feel at low speeds.

A feature of the upgraded braking system is its greater retardation abilities above 0.5g compared to the regular A4 set-up. At these levels, deceleration increases at a disproportionately high rate compared with brake actuating force, thanks to the brake servo’s ratio jump from a factor of 5.5 to 12.0.

This is also backed up by an anti-lock device, as well as Audi’s stability control program called ESP 5.7 (which includes hydraulic brake assist).

Also on offer is a new six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that’s 21kg lighter than Audi’s old five-speed unit.

It includes Audi’s driver’s style-adapting computer hardware called DSP, as well as a steering wheel-mounted gear ratio selector that augments the regular floor-mounted Tiptronic shifter.

The S4’s 4.2 V8 is an all-new design. It weighs 195kg, which Audi says is the same as the previous S4’s 195kW/400Nm 2.7-litre biturbo V6 unit.

At 464mm in length, the new engine is 52mm more compact than Audi’s previous 4.2 V8 seen in the current A6 and A8 range, enabling it to fit into the snug engine bay.

Installing a chain drive for the camshafts and shifting many of the ancillaries to the engine’s rear has helped.

Audi’s weight-shaving techniques also extended to the V8’s internals, with lighter pistons and connecting rods adding to the S4’s diet.

The S4’s A4-based four-link front and trapezoid-link rear suspension has been lowered by 20mm, and now includes firmer springs and shock absorbers, and a thicker anti-roll bar.

Modifications to the speed-dependent Servotronic rack and pinion steering run to re-tuned toe-angle kinematics for improved precision, stability and feel, and a more direct steering rack.

Included in the price are front, side and side-window airbags, xenon headlights, electric front and rear leather-trim Recaro sports seats, dual zone climate control air-conditioning, 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/40 R 18 Y tyres, the choice of aluminium or wood cabin trim inlays and a sports steering wheel.

On the practicality front, the rear bench seat splits and folds and includes an armrest-sited load-through ski-bag, a host of in-car lighting and – on the forthcoming Avant – anodised or black aluminium roof rails.

Sitting between the A3-based 1999 vintage S3 and the S6 first released here in early 2001, the S4 completes Audi’s triumvirate of high-performance ‘S’ variants.

As well as charging up the brand’s performance image, the S4 must reinforce brand features associated with Audi – such as Avant (wagon) and quattro (all-wheel drive).

It backs up the A6 Allroad quattro’s TDI turbo-diesel badge, as well as the upcoming (and highly lauded) DSG dual-clutch six-speed transmission that is set to debut in the 3.2-litre Audi A3 and TT variants.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AUDI has been using its brains as well as its brawn with the new S4.

As quietly capable and refined as the current B6-series A4 is, it can never become the super-focussed sports sedan that BMW’s iconic M3 has been in its three iterations over the past two decades.

And Audi knows this.

No rear-drive option and a weighty quattro drivetrain means that extracting the sheer athletic efficiency of the lightweight M3 from the A4 would have been an unfeasible – if not impossible – pursuit.

7 center image So they’ve done the next best thing by developing a four-passenger sedan (and wagon and convertible) that provides an M3 level of thrust in a driveable, everyday package.

And driveability is the key. The well-weighted but not too heavy gearbox works in harmony with a pleasant clutch and extremely strong brakes that won’t have the car stalling, snarling or lunging fitfully like a mad dog on a leash.

But that’s not to insinuate the S4’s V8 engine is not responsive. Just a tickle of the throttle will shove you forward, egged on by one of the smoothest, rev-happy V8 engines available at any price. It has a delightful rasp that never sounds strained.

There’s also a satisfying weightiness to the six-speed gearshift that snaps into each gear ratio with ease. Which doesn’t have to be very often because there’s all that torque on tap to catapult you though a corner.

If you’ve never driven the M3, the steering would be more than sufficient, with an equal measure of feel to the gearbox and clutch that’s totally in keeping with the S4’s grand touring personality.

The Audi has a neutral cornering attitude that can be nudged slightly into very controllable oversteer with a mid-corner power pedal lift-off. But it’s just a gentle jig really, as there’s little that can daunt the magnetic progress of the all-paw S4 pilot in hot pursuit of pleasure.

But it’s not in the same league for feel or response, lacking the M3 tiller’s otherworldly tactile interface. And while I’m at it, the Audi cannot approach the BMW’s tightly, taut body control through really quick corners.

Compared to other sedans though, the Audi is a corker. And it leaves you with the confidence of being able to shrug off bad weather like you’re actually just watching it on a TV screen instead of through a windscreen.

An S4 driver will cover ground virtually as quickly and with a huge safety and stability advantage unknown to the M3 driver, who would have to back right off on public roads while staying absolutely alert.

Uneven surfaces and road irregularities showed up a firm but pliant suspension. You’re not likely to complain, especially as you’re rarely aware of changing road conditions at high speed.

That’s the everyday bit where the S4 excels.

With only a couple of hours over twisty roads and fast motorway cruising, it’s surprising how fresh and fatigue free the S4 can be.

The A4 interior helps – always one of Audi’s key draws – and it’s up to the $130K-plus task.

A superbly supportive Recaro driving seat, an attractive new instrumentation design and tasteful leather, wood and aluminium trim complement the lovely, expensive materials you’d find in the $50,000 2.0 model.

You’re surrounded by one of motoring’s more ergonomic dash layouts, augmented by excellent front seat space but only average rear legroom. The big boot is a bonus though. Only some tyre and wind roar at high speed spoiled the enjoyable mechanical symphony that rendered the radio useless.

So that’s a taste of the new S4.

While it’s not quite as sensual or animalistic as its 253kW V8 power output might allude to, the latest Audi S4 is a thundering yet thoughtful cross-country tourer that eliminates many of the everyday compromises of its BMW arch-rival.

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