2004 Audi S4 Photo
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Cars that announce their thrilling performance with wings, spoilers, stripes and neon undercarriage lighting have their place. Mostly that place is in the fantasies of eighth-grade boys, but it’s a place. There isn’t an eighth-grader on Earth who’ll draw anything that looks like the new Audi S4 Cabriolet in his study-hall notebook.

It’s hard to think how Audi could have made this S4 Cabriolet more staid. Maybe they could have painted the side-view mirrors black instead of finishing them in aluminum? But there really isn’t any other ornamentation to dull down or remove. The S4 styling is affectation-free; a Listerine bottle laid down on its side and put on four wheels.

But the driving experience is anything but antiseptic.

Simple formula, well stirred

Audi engineers rushed the S4 Cabriolet to market after getting the corporate go-ahead just a bit more than a year ago. So there’s no big surprises in its engineering; this is an A4 Cabriolet stuffed full of the V-8 engine, quattro drivetrain and utterly capable suspension bits from the S4 sedan. In fact the only surprise would be if S4 stuff didn’t work just as well in the zip-top car as it does in the four-door.

The most compelling element of the S4 package is its 340-horsepower, DOHC, 40-valve, 4.2-liter V-8. There are loyalists out there who’ve bad-mouthed Audi for moving from the previous S4’s twin-turbo V-6 to this powerplant, as if it’s a betrayal of some sort. Betray away! Positioned longitudinally, the V-8 fills every micro-nook and nano-cranny of the engine bay and has so much low-end torque you half expect to open up the hood and be overrun by a thundering herd of pound-feet. Yet it still loves to rev. In fact the engine makes its peak 302 pound-feet at a modest 3500 rpm and sustains much of that right up to the redline — those 340 horsepower live at a super-zoomy 7000 rpm. Much of the credit must go to the five-valve combustion chambers, the variable timing on the intake valves, and the variable-volume intake manifold. Even with all that technology going for it, the output is still impressive considering the all-aluminum engine’s compact dimensions, low weight, and relatively modest displacement.

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