Test Drive: Audi S4

Everyone seems to have a vehicle type that they are most interested in whether it is a sports car, a big SUV or a hybrid.? For our lifestyle, the midlevel sport sedans or wagons appeal to us most.? These are cars like Cadillac CTS, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G37, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A5 and a few others that fall into the $35,000 to $55,000 price range.

Cars in this category are comfortable, stylish and have to be fun to drive.? They generally get better than average fuel economy and are all offered with all-wheel drive.? We also like that they are large enough to carry a couple of friends and luggage for several days on the road.

Looking back over the years, we have liked nearly every one of the cars in this niche for varying reasons, and as the new models arrive for us to drive, our favorites often change.

Of the sport sedan?s we?ve driven in the last six months or so, the Audi S4 has been a stand out.? The S4 is the performance version of the Audi A4 sedan.? Rather than being powered by the 211-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, which is the only engine available in the A4 for 2010, the S4 has a new 333-hp, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine.? The last year the S4 sport sedan was built, 2008, it was powered by a 340-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 engine.? The new smaller engine has about the same performance, gets significantly better fuel economy and is lighter weight.

When we get a car like the S4, it calls for a road trip, so off we went to the Oregon Coast.

The S4 is an outstanding road car especially on all the winding roads on the way to the coast.? Ours was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. ?This manual transmission was outstanding ? smooth, intuitive and positive without being overly notchy. The optional automatic is also a masterpiece.? The seven-speed twin-clutch automatic adds $1,400, and shifts faster and smoother than is humanly possible with the manual transmission.? It can be left in the automatic mode, or shifted manually using the shifter, or steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The previous model V-8 had a beautiful deep-throated exhaust sound, but so did the V-6, with just a little more crispness to the note.

The S4 does everything well, the handling is perfectly balanced and the steering is right on.? Our car was equipped with the Adaptive Suspension option that allowed the driver to switch the suspension between four settings to tailor the vehicle dynamics to the driving style and road conditions.

As the top model of the four series Audis, the S4 sedan has an extensive list of standard luxury features like all power, sunroof, heated seats, Sirius radio, Bluetooth in addition to the upgraded performance features.? The S4 has a base price of $46,725 with the manual transmission. ?This price has been dropped more than $4,000 from the previous generation S4 putting it at a good price point when compared to many of the competitors.

There are several options that can run the price up; however, they are the types of extras that can make a significant difference.? Our test vehicle had the Prestige package (19-inch alloy wheels, Bang & Olufsen audio, keyless stop and starts, voice activated navigation audio and phone, etc.) — $6,100.? It also had the Active Suspension — $3,950, silk Nappa leather seats — $1,000 and driver assist — $900 with backup camera and rear sensors.

The Audi S4 is stylish, elegant and a hoot to drive.? It would make a perfect addition to our garage.

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