2010 Audi S4 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
October 3, 2009

The 2010 Audi S4 blasts its way into a performance war with BMW and Mercedes-Benz-and Lexus, Infiniti, and Cadillac-thanks to a big price cut and 333 supercharged horsepower.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2010 Audi S4 to bring you this hands-on road test of its styling, performance, comfort, safety, and features. TheCarConnection.com's experts also compared the new S4 to other sports sedans to bring you the best shopping advice and information possible. The companion full review adds a summary of opinions from other respected automotive sites to bring you the best information from around the Web.

High Gear Media accepted travel expenses to attend the first media drive of the 2010 Audi S4.

With the new 2010 S4, Audi takes a bold step to assert itself as one of the top three performance-sedan brands on the planet. The previous S4 had V-8 power that fell behind the Benz C63 and BMW M3, yet it was priced higher than those four-doors. A new 333-horsepower V-6 pits it squarely against those supersedans in acceleration, but the $47,000 S4 carries a base price nearly $10,000 less than those cars-which, Audi says, makes the much slower BMW 335i and Benz C350 its real competition.

The S4 shares most of its body with the Audi A4 sedan, which was revamped for 2009. The longer, wider body resembles Audi's larger A6, with a gentle wedge and aero-rounded roofline following a massive front grille and LED daytime running lights, capped by LED tail lamps in this special performance edition. The S4's unique styling pieces include deeper front and rear bumpers, a revised grille, new side moldings, a small spoiler on the trunk lid, bright mirror housings and bright trim on the air diffusers in the bumpers, and 18-inch wheels. Inside, the S4 has a taller, darker dash that's not as classically handsome as previous Audi interior themes, but it's still an efficient place to work. Special S4 additions to the basic wide-binnacle dash include a black headliner, a new steering wheel, aluminum trim, and a choice of console and door trim: walnut, aluminum, gray birch, or woven stainless steel.

Review continues below

This year, Audi reintroduces the S4 with a powerful new V-6 engine that's downsized two cylinders from the last edition. The 3.0-liter six-cylinder uses supercharging, intercooling, and direct injection to boost its output to 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. With a grittier sound than the old, sweet Audi V-8 purr, the six shifts its power to the ground through a six-speed manual gearbox or TheCarConnection.com's perennial favorite, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters that clicks off quick, precise, clutch-pedal-free gearchanges. Audi says the S4 shoots past 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, with a limited 155-mph top speed. It's as fast as a BMW M3 or a Benz C63. Fuel economy is rated at an awesome 18/27 mpg for manual-equipped S4s, and 18/28 mpg for the dual-clutch edition.

Quattro all-wheel drive, with a power split weighted to the rear wheels, and an optional Sports Rear Differential that vectors power from side to side, give the S4 awesome road-holding potential and grippy feel. It's entertaining to press to its tire limits, but the S4's optional Drive Select system dials in lots of artificial heft to the electronic power steering, while giving the driver some usable flexibility in ride comfort and transmission response. Audi's base configuration works well enough to avoid the expensive option.

The S4's cabin and cargo holds are essentially identical to the A4 sedan; the S4 does get unique front sport seats with firm backrests and high headrests that sit at an ideal angle. The current A4/S4 lineup is blessed with more interior room than the last-generation lineup, and though legroom in the backseat is good, the seat itself could use more bolstering and a taller, thicker cushion for better comfort. The trunk is large and usefully boxy, with a low liftover, and the S4 has lockable storage inside, good cup holders, and lots of small-item storage. Quality materials are incorporated throughout, though some knobs could look nicer and work with more refinement.

The 2010 Audi S4 has been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and has earned five-star ratings. TheĀ  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested it yet. Safety equipment includes standard airbags all around, as well as traction and stability control, all-wheel drive, a rearview camera, and parking sensors.

The $47,000 2010 Audi S4 comes in a single body style, and it's heavily equipped with luxury and technology features. Leather is standard, along with Bluetooth, a music interface for audio players, keyless entry and ignition, xenon headlamps, and Audi's MMI controller, which operates audio, climate, and navigation functions. A navigation system is an option on the S4, along with adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.

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2010 Audi S4

Styling

The 2010 Audi S4 wears quietly upgraded trim that's a step up from the A4 sedan.

Audi's sporty entry-level sedan lineup, the A4, was redesigned for last year, but the high-performance S4 variant remained unchanged for 2009. Audi took the extra year to refine the new-and-improved 2010 S4, which arrives on dealer lots with the new-generation A4's styling and a powerful supercharged V-6 engine.

The 2010 Audi S4 sedan features styling that is very similar to that of the latest-generation A4, and Motor Trend reviewers love the "fresh lines" on this single-trim model. Overall styling changes are minor, and Road & Track points out that a "subtle front grille and rear decklid S4 badging...are essentially the only visual tell-tales" that distinguish the S4. Out back, sharp-eyed observers will also notice the quad-exhaust treatment, though overall Automobile Magazine agrees that the Audi S4 "looks unexpectedly understated." The one element that will turn heads, however, is the front headlight treatment; it gets Audi's characteristic "LED running lights," which Cars.com reviewers say "are very good at grabbing the attention of oncoming motorists." Unlike the European version of the S4, which comes in two body styles, Cars.com reports that the 2010 Audi S4 is "offered only as a sedan and not an Avant wagon."

Subtle yet effective changes are evident throughout the interior of the 2010 Audi S4, according to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Motor Trend notices that "Audi has added sport seats with pull-out thigh support, a new instrument panel," and a choice of four different interior trim levels. The overall layout wins praise as well, with Left Lane News reviewers mentioning that the Audi's "relatively logical controls" are "considerably more user-friendly than even the latest variant of BMW's iDrive." ConsumerGuide reviewers love the control layout as well, reporting that the 2010 Audi S4's "gauges are clear and well-lit," although the "automatic climate system is a bit complex."

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2010 Audi S4

Performance

The 2010 Audi S4 offers capability without much compromise, leaving comparable sports sedans in its lower-emission wake.

Conventional wisdom dictates that in order to improve in one area-say, acceleration-you have to make sacrifices in another area, such as fuel economy. With the 2010 Audi S4, Audi takes the conventional wisdom and throws it out the window, making a whole host of improvements on the Audi S4 with no obvious sacrifices.

The biggest change for the 2010 Audi S4 is the return to a forced-induction six-cylinder engine, similar to the one that powered S4s a decade ago. While last year's S4 featured a powerful V-8 engine, Motor Trend says that "worries about gas mileage and CO2 emissions are finally causing the automaker to blink," and the "new 2010 S4 has a supercharged 3.0L V-6 under the hood." Road & Track summarizes the powerplant change nicely, writing "while horsepower figures are down slightly (333 bhp versus the former S4's 340), torque figures have improved and are available across a wider rev range." The result, according to Automobile Magazine, is that the "new 333-hp S4 outsprints the car it replaces from 0 to 62 mph by half a second." Most reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com agree with Left Lane News, where experts find that the V-6 is capable of "delivering strong power at pretty much anything above 2,000 rpm."

Audi's sport-oriented version of the A4 gets one of two available transmissions, depending on whether you prefer to shift for yourself or let a computer handle the gearwork. Left Lane News reports "a six-speed manual transmission returns, but a seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission is new." Although most reviewers are serious driving enthusiasts, and thus prone to choosing tried-and-true manuals over the high-tech automatics, Automobile Magazine nevertheless recommends the "seven-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic, which makes its American debut here, [and] definitely is the gearbox to go for." CNET reviewers love the transmission's dual personalities, finding that the dual-clutch "was smooth and comfortable on the road," yet when used at the track "the transmission fired off lightning-quick upshifts." While the automatic fares extraordinarily well with reviewers, the manual doesn't score quite as high, and Left Lane News reviewers lament the "relatively long throws and a slightly rubbery feel" that seem to plague the six-speed.

With a full half-second separating the 2009 and 2010 Audi S4s in the 0-to-60-mph run, you expect the quicker 2010 S4 to be the thirstier sedan. However, the 2010 S4 only has to feed six cylinders, as opposed to eight, and its fuel economy is actually significantly better than the outgoing S4's. According to EPA estimates, the 2010 Audi S4 with the S Tronic transmission should return 18 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, with the manual close behind at 18/27 mpg. Left Lane News deems these numbers "class-leading," and Motor Trend compares them favorably to those of the 3.2L Audi A4.

Many car manufacturers have tried to deliver a sports sedan that is comfortable during commutes but aggressive during hard driving maneuvers; they almost always strike a compromise that fails to deliver on either count. Audi circumvents the straddling problem by offering a driver-selectable suspension that can alternate between comfort and sport settings, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are unanimously positive regarding this feature. Left Lane News calls the ride "soft and composed over urban bumps" but notes that it "firmed up nicely for sweeping on-ramps and hilly curves." Motor Trend adds that the Audi S4 is an excellent "option for those who include canyon-carving as part of their commute." CNET is impressed at the Audi S4's split personalities, concluding that "Audi's Drive Select system" effectively makes "the S4 two cars in one: a comfortable boulevard cruiser and a rip-snorting canyon carver." The only major criticism comes from Left Lane News reviewers, who point out that "the S4 suffers from an ever-so-slightly vague feel through the tiller" in some driving situations.

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2010 Audi S4

Comfort & Quality

With the 2010 S4, Audi grants the space of a mid-size sedan and the quality of a luxury sports car.

The 2010 Audi S4 is technically a compact sedan, at least according to official EPA ratings, but you wouldn't know it based on the roomy interior. Compact also leads to an association with low budget, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2010 Audi S4 boasts a best-in-class interior and excellent build quality.

The 2010 Audi S4 has "more space inside" than the outgoing model, according to Motor Trend, thanks largely to multi-inch growth in all major dimensions. The driver and front passenger will be treated to what Left Lane News calls a "roomy front compartment," complete with "very supportive seats with built-in headrests," while those in back get "a decently spacious rear area." Road & Track isn't quite so high on the backseats, however, observing that "rear seat leg room, like many others in this midsize luxury sports sedan class, is a little tight." ConsumerGuide reviewers find "adequate headroom" for rear passengers, though overall the "legroom is tight behind taller drivers."

In addition to a comfortably spacious seating compartment, the 2010 Audi S4 offers drivers and passengers more cargo room than you'd expect. Cars.com reports that "cargo dimensions lead the segment, and a 60/40-split folding backseat, unavailable on the G35 and Lexus IS, is standard." ConsumerGuide reviewers add that the 2010 Audi S4 "sedans have a long but narrow trunk, but more actual space than most cars in this class." The trunk does feature a number of grocery-bag hooks and other organizers to help you make the most of the space. Inside the cabin, "interior storage is limited to the glovebox, door map pockets, and a small center console bin," says ConsumerGuide.

Audi's recent marketing efforts make a big deal about putting the German brand on par with the better-known luxury marquees, and Audi backs up its talk with world-class interior quality. Road & Track says that the S4's "cabin is typical Audi - exemplary in design, materials and execution," while ConsumerGuide raves that the "cabin impresses for classy design, materials, and workmanship." Edmunds asserts that Audi has a way of incorporating "supreme quality that makes more expensive cars look cheap by comparison," a technique on full display with the 2010 Audi S4. A wide range of interior trim choices add to the luxurious ambiance, and Cars.com notes that Audi offers "brushed aluminum trim or your choice of carbon fiber, wood or stainless steel."

The Audi S4 is supremely capable from a performance standpoint, but as Automobile Magazine remarks, the outrageous "speed is barely audible...barely decipherable." A lot of that is due to the excellent acoustic insulation featured on the 2010 Audi S4, which is so effective that Motor Trend claims "only under wide-open throttle does a faint hum" from the supercharged engine "emanate into the cabin."

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2010 Audi S4

Safety

The 2010 Audi S4 has extensive safety features, but hasn't been tested yet by the IIHS.

The 2010 Audi S4 hasn't yet been fully crash-tested, but the automaker boasts a strong safety pedigree and loads the S4 with enough safety features that TheCarConnection.com's editors are comfortable giving the S4 a high safety score.

Although the IIHS has not yet tested the 2010 Audi S4, NHTSA has crash-tested the nearly identical Audi A4, and the results were undeniably impressive. In both the driver's side and passenger's side frontal impact tests, the 2010 Audi S4 earned the agency's highest-possible five-star rating. The 2010 Audi S4 also earned five stars in both of NHTSA's side-impact tests, placing the S4 in rare company as one of few cars to earn five stars in all possible NHTSA impact tests. Stay tuned to TheCarConnection.com for the latest on the IIHS's crash-test results for the Audi S4.

Safety ratings involve a lot more than just crash tests, and the 2010 Audi S4 delivers a lot more than simply a strong frame and chassis. Motor Trend reports that, "in addition to the usual array of safety equipment, the 2010 Audi S4 offers features such as adaptive cruise control...and a braking guard that warns of potential rear-end collisions." Cars.com lists "torso airbags" as one of the Audi S4's major safety features, noting "they can be added to the rear seats as an option." The 2010 Audi S4 also comes with the security of Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system, as well as an electronic stability system and optional Side Assist blind-spot awareness system.

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2010 Audi S4

Features

The 2010 Audi S4 brings an impressive array of equipment to the sport-sedan game, with exceptionally good audio.

Audi realizes that its customers are after more than just performance, so the automaker has equipped the 2010 Audi S4 with much, much more than just performance-oriented features (although there are plenty of those).

The 2010 Audi S4 is a rare breed indeed, as Automobile Magazine reports that it "costs less than the car it replaces," yet offers the same level of luxury and even better performance. The 2010 Audi S4 has a base MSRP of "around $49,000," according to Motor Trend, putting it on par with the standard versions of BMW's and Mercedes' performance sedans. That base price "includes bi-Xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, heated leather sport seats," and LED daytime running lights, says Motor Trend. All 2010 Audi S4s also get "the third-generation MMI," which CNET raves has "absolutely beautiful Nvidia graphics" and "traffic data map overlays, 3D building data, text-to-speech turn by turn directions and voice control." The Auto Channel reviewers simply state that the 2010 Audi S4 has "more performance and technology than ever," and other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree.

One of the highlights on the 2010 Audi S4 is the ultra-premium "505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio arrangement" that Edmunds says "feeds 10 channels of sound through no fewer than 14 speakers." Cars.com reviewers love this sound system, declaring that "the audio quality is stunning" and "competing Bose and Harman units just don't come close" to matching the sound of the S4's upgraded unit.

Among the other options on the 2010 Audi S4, Motor Trend reports that most revolve around performance, including "$900 for the sport diff, $1000 for 19-in., RS-style wheels" and "$1300 for the S tronic," although convenience features include "$2400 for navigation" and "$900 for the Bang & Olufsen audio."

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