2008 Audi S4 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 17, 2008

The 2008 Audi S4 has aged gracefully—and still has fleet V-8 feet and great handling, too.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com read the most respected Web reviews on the new 2008 Audi S4 to put together this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's editors also drove the V-8 Audi compacts to be able to deliver our definitive opinion on the car, to compare it with other cars in the class, and to help you decide if the S4 Audi is the right car for you.

Audi's latest A4 arrived in 2002, and it's due to be replaced in the 2009 model year with a new range of sedans and wagons. But for the 2008 model year, the fastest A4s ever have arrived in the form of the S4 sedan and wagon, as well as the RS4 Cabriolet and sedan.

Coming in sedan and Avant wagon versions, with quattro all-wheel drive standard, the 2008 Audi S4 range offers exceptional performance thanks to its 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8 engine. It's no longer the only V-8 in its class, with the arrival of the Lexus IS-F, the BMW M3, and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, but it will accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds—not far off the mark set by that trio of high-performance luxosedans.

The S4's V-8 can be mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a manual-operation mode. To give it better handling over the stock A4, the S4 gets stiffer suspension settings and a lower ride height. Hydraulic power steering gives great road feel with lighter effort than some tuned sedans, and the Audi S4's braking feels natural and progressive.

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Like all 2008 Audi A4 vehicles, the Audi S4 undergoes cosmetic changes to signify its tougher demeanor. S4 badges are sprinkled inside and out; sedans get a decklid spoiler, while wagons pick up aluminum roof rails. Dual exhausts and sport seats round out the discreetly handsome package.

The 2008 Audi S4's front seats are comfortable and supportive, and the instrument panel speaks of high-grade materials and great assembly quality. The S4 benefits from a larger rear-seat area than past Audi compacts, too. Its trunk, however, remains relatively small, with just 13.4 cubic feet of total capacity.

Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, stability control, traction control, and front-seat side-impact and curtain airbags come standard. All S4s get standard Sirius Satellite Radio and can be ordered with 18-inch wheels, an iPod integration kit, and a navigation system.

Though it's at the end of its life cycle, the Audi S4 remains one of the most sophisticated luxury sedans on the market. It's not the fastest German compact any more, but it's one of the most balanced offerings and one of the few to sport standard all-wheel drive.

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2008 Audi S4

Styling

The jury is out on whether the high-performance 2008 Audi S4 is an introvert or an extrovert, but its styling ranks as impressive.

Few cars age as gracefully as the Audi S4, which has been on the road in its current form for over six years. The classically styled 2008 Audi S4 still looks good, though, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com appreciate the usefulness of its more subdued looks.

According to Edmunds reviewers, the 2008 Audi S4 “is available in sedan” and “wagon (‘Avant’)” body styles “with one well-equipped trim level.” Reviewers are taken by the exterior styling of the Audi 2008 S4, which features subtle differences when compared with the standard Audi A4 lineup. MyRide.com reviewers love the “sleek German body” of the 2008 Audi S4, while Edmunds raves that “the S4 maintains the good looks and excellent interior quality that have become two of the model line's best selling points." ForbesAutos says “Audi’s now-trademark single-frame trapezoidal grille is the centerpiece of an uncluttered, attractive exterior” offering a “stealthy appearance” that “can be a virtue for drivers who want to blend in (say, from the highway patrol), but it can be disappointing for those who want to turn heads.” Edmunds respectfully disagrees, however, finding that competing cars from BMW and Lexus don’t offer “the same type of visual panache or the street cred that goes along with” the Audi S4. Strong visual cues on the Audi 2008 S4 include “aggressive front and rear bumpers that include slotted lower air vents, a revised grille and fog lights,” in the opinion of Kelley Blue Book.

The exterior of the 2008 Audi S4 gets some pretty positive reviews among the impressions read by TheCarConnection.com, but the real praise is saved for the interior. MyRide.com loves that the interior is “clean and uncluttered with everything designed to be functional.” Kelley Blue Book agrees, claiming that the 2008 Audi S4’s interior “might just make you want to climb in and never leave” and approving of the driver-centric touches, like “pedals [that] are perfectly positioned for those who can accomplish the classic heel-and-toe downshift.” ConsumerGuide also notes that the Audi S4’s “gauges are clear and well-lit,” though they mark it down because “the front center armrest blocks use of [the] handbrake lever and cupholders.” Overall, however, most reviewers agree with Edmunds, which re-ports that “Audi consistently produces some of the finest automotive interiors and the 2008 Audi S4 is no exception.”

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2008 Audi S4

Performance

The 2008 Audi S4 is a satisfying, high-performance vehicle that can also take on inclement weather conditions.

The exterior differences between the Audi 2008 A4 and the quicker Audi S4 may not be drastic, but the changes under the hood certainly are. A bigger, more powerful engine and revised suspension tuning make the 2008 Audi S4 a supremely capable high-performance luxury car.

When Audi upgraded the powerplant in its 2004 model, the S4 was definitely one of the su-perpowers in what Edmunds says is not just a market segment, but "a gosh-darn arms race." And although current models of the BMW M3 and the Mercedes C63 AMG outgun the Audi 2008 S4, they do so at a higher cost, making the Audi S4 definitely worth a look.

Edmunds reports that while the engine bay of the 2008 Audi S4 might be small, it “is fitted with a 4.2-liter 340-hp V8” that Cars.com says “produces 302 pounds-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm." MyRide.com reports that when they ran "the S4 hard through the gears...triple-digit speed comes quickly, the sensation masked by a wide, flat, linear power curve from an engine that doesn't build velocity at the same rate that it builds revs." Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com similarly praise Audi’s spectacular V-8, and Cars.com reviewers claim the 2008 Audi S4 “can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.” ConsumerGuide doesn’t doubt that figure and agrees “S4s are rapid” and “plenty fast.” Car and Driver also loves the “honking V-8 power and noise” that accompanies the Audi S4.

The 2008 Audi S4 comes with a pair of transmission choices—for driving purists, Edmunds says there is “a six-speed manual gearbox,” while Audi also offers “a six-speed Tiptronic automatic” that “allows manual-style shifting via steering-wheel-mounted paddles” for those drivers who can’t be bothered to use their left foot. Edmunds adds that “the Quattro all-wheel-drive system” is standard on the S4, though unlike other Audis, “it has a 40/60 front-to-rear power split in normal situations to give the car a more dynamic attitude when cornering.” Reviewer impressions of both transmissions are positive, and Kelley Blue Book calls the Quattro system “a perfect match for the engine,” as it “does an exemplary job of delivering the V8’s remarkable output to all four wheels.” MyRide.com finds “the shifter abruptly bangs from gear to gear” when driving the S4 quickly, describing the linkage as “rarely smooth but always authoritative,” and with an “easy clutch.”

A big V-8 engine might bring a low 0-60-mph time, but it also means another low number for this 2008 Audi S4—fuel economy. The official EPA estimates for the 2008 Audi S4 are a bit shocking, with the manual transmission returning 13 mpg in the city and just 20 mpg on the highway, while the six-speed automatic gets 14 mpg city, 21 mpg on the open road. Real-world testing seems to bear those numbers out, as ConsumerGuide reports that their “S4 sedans averaged 16.1-18.4 mpg.”

The aging Audi S4 may no longer be the quickest car in its class, but it can still compete with the latest offerings from BMW and Lexus when it comes to handling and ride quality. ConsumerGuide is pleased to report that the 2008 Audi S4 lineup is “stiff but seldom punishing and [shows] impressive high-speed stability.” Other reviewers simply rave about the cornering ability of the 2008 Audi S4, which Kelley Blue Book says is “simply far beyond most drivers’ previous automotive experiences,” and “even those with considerable time in very high-performance cars will likely be seriously impressed.” The one performance draw-back noted in some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is captured by Car and Driver reviewers, who lament “the S4’s resolute understeer,” and MyRide.com feels that the “steering [is] much too light.” Edmunds, however, loves how the 2008 Audi S4 manages to offer “excellent handling while still providing a supple ride.” MyRide.com does end on a positive note, finding that “the brakes are great” on the 2008 Audi S4.

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2008 Audi S4

Comfort & Quality

There are definitely better cars for moving five people around, but few offer the luxurious interior and quiet ride of the 2008 Audi S4.

Reviewers generally praise the 2008 Audi S4 for the quality of the interior materials and the comfort provided to the driver and front seat passenger; as with many vehicles covered by TheCarConnection.com, however, backseat riders may feel a bit cramped.

According to reviewers over at ForbesAutos, “four fit comfortably” inside the 2008 Audi S4 lineup, “and five can squeeze in a pinch.” Passengers riding in the front of the Audi 2008 S4 will find themselves enjoying “firm and comfortable” seats that ConsumerGuide says come “with heavier side bolsters to snug occupants in fast cornering.” ForbesAutos claims front-seaters “will find ample room” in nearly every direction, while ConsumerGuide adds that “all models have ample headroom and legroom.” The rear seat is a very different story, though, and most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com mention the lack of rear-seat space on the Audi S4. Car and Driver notes that the “tight back seats” are one of the car’s least appealing features, while ForbesAutos echoes the sentiment, reporting that “back-seat space is at a premium.” Edmunds agrees, though they feel that Audi S4 owners with small children should have no problem sticking the tykes in back, but “adults seated back there will likely complain about a shortage of legroom.”

Despite the lack of rear-seat passenger space, the 2008 Audi S4 sedan offers decent cargo capacity, while the wagon is hugely versatile in terms of its carrying capacity. Car and Driver calls the Audi 2008 S4 sedan suitably “practical for everyday use,” and ConsumerGuide mentions that the sedans “have a usefully roomy trunk and standard fold-down rear seatbacks.” The Audi S4 Avant wagon gets much higher marks from reviewers for its practicality. Edmunds reviewers calculate that “the Avant wagon provides up to 61 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded,” and for those who need to haul both people and cargo, Cars.com says that, with the seats in place, the Audi S4 Avant has “27.8 cubic feet of cargo room,” or “slightly more than double the sedan’s.”

Some Audi S4 detractors will argue about the more conservative styling or poor fuel econ-omy on the 2008 Audi S4, but few can claim the materials and build quality are anything other than superb. Cars.com mentions “silk Nappa leather upholstery is used” on all 2008 Audi S4s, while Edmunds goes so far as to say “Audi consistently produces some of the finest automotive interiors” that “feature superb materials [and] excellent fit and finish.” Con-sumerGuide reviewers, who are normally quite conservative in their assessments of interior quality, are also wowed, claiming the S4 “cabins impress for classy design, materials, and workmanship.”

In addition to top-notch materials and assembly, the 2008 Audi S4 lineup boasts an incredi-bly refined and quiet ride. ConsumerGuide remarks that the “engines purr at cruise and snarl discreetly at full throttle,” and this theme appears in several reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Car and Driver in particular feels that both the Audi S4 sedan and wagon “sound fantastic.”

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2008 Audi S4

Safety

Excellent crash scores and safety features make the 2008 Audi S4 a safe ha-ven for concerned drivers.

German vehicles have long boasted a strong reputation for safety, and the 2008 Audi S4 is no exception. The 2008 Audi S4 excels in both crash testing and safety features, and there’s little more you could ask for from this Audi 2008 edition.

The Audi S4 has been crash tested by both the NHTSA and the IIHS, and the two groups report results that range from good to great. The NHTSA is largely impressed with the 2008 Audi S4 and has awarded it four of a possible five stars in both front impact tests, as well as their side passenger impact test. The Audi S4 also earned a perfect five-star safety rating from the NHTSA for its side driver impact protection. The IIHS is even more taken with the Audi S4’s tough engineering and gives the Audi 2008 S4 the Institute’s highest possible rating, "good," in both the frontal offset impact and side impact categories. Furthermore, the IIHS found the Audi S4 so impressive that they awarded it one of their Top Safety Pick awards for 2008, citing its “good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control.”

In addition to its crashworthiness ratings, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2008 Audi S4 boasts quite a few standard safety features. ConsumerGuide reviewers observe that standard safety features on the 2008 Audi S4 include “dual front airbags, front side airbags,” and “curtain side airbags.” Cars.com adds that the standard “antilock brakes have electronic brake-force distribution,” and the “height-adjustable front seat belts have load limiters.” Edmunds rounds out the standard features list by reporting that “stability control” is included on all 2008 Audi S4 models, while Kelley Blue Book points out “rear side-impact airbags” are available as an optional feature.

The prodigious use of glass in the 2008 Audi S4’s upper body makes for pretty good visibility from the driver’s seat. However, Audi still sees it necessary to offer a “rear-obstacle-detection system,” according to ConsumerGuide, since nobody likes to dent their car in the parking lot (or run over a loose child, for that matter).

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2008 Audi S4

Features

You can get just about any feature worth having to jazz up your 2008 Audi S4, for a price.

Though user-friendliness may not be the vehicle's strong point, the 2008 Audi S4 has luxurious features that befit its starting price.

The standard features that one finds when sitting down inside the Audi S4 are numerous and, for the most part, well-executed. Kelley Blue Book reports that “the 2008 Audi S4 is packed with such goodies as a…power moonroof” and “12-way power Recaro seats with power lumbar support.” Those two barely begin to scratch the surface, however, as Ed-munds mentions that “silk Nappa leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated mirrors, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker audio system” all come standard as well. Furthermore, Cars.com points out that all Audi 2008 S4s “are prewired for either Sirius or XM Satellite Radio.”

With standard features like Nappa leather and a power moonroof, it’s hard to imagine what sorts of options Audi has to tempt Audi S4 buyers with, but Kelley Blue Book assures us “the S4’s options sheet is extensive.” Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com certainly back that up and reveal Audi 2008 options such as “adaptive, high-intensity headlamps that pivot to illuminate the road around curves,” according to ForbesAutos. ConsumerGuide reports that an available “Audio Pkg.” includes an upgraded “Bose sound system” for around $1,000, while “carbon-fiber interior trim” is also available. Edmunds says there is an avail-able “navigation system” for the Audi S4, though they also note it “isn’t a model of user-friendly design.” ForbesAutos expands upon the statement, commenting that “the optional navigation system” on the 2008 Audi S4 “includes Audi’s Multi-Media Interface,” which they say “can be difficult to operate and may distract drivers from the road, but it’s less annoying than similar systems offered by other European imports.”

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