The local chief of police himself just spent 30 minutes warning us about speeding in Mallorca, Spain, and he threatened the most severe consequences with a waving finger. Yet somehow less than an hour later we find the throttle pinned to the floorboard, despite relentless and driving rain. Snicking the lever into fourth gear, an instant wave of torque picks up, uninterrupted, as the whine of a positive displacement supercharger permeates the cabin. This is the most addicting S4 Audi has ever made. How bad can the consequences possibly be? A siesta in the local slammer? Maybe a sampling of some local wines and an olive or two?
On the topic of new versus old, this S4 does something that previous generations just haven't. It's in the way everything is tied together - no single part of the driving experience dominates any other. It's a quality that's increasingly rare in modern cars and difficult to describe. Everything seems to work together toward the common goal of producing a smile on the driver's face. The engine is something we can picture God himself using, yes, but even the steering is good. And that's saying a lot for an S4. It takes a scant 2.2 turns of the wheel to go from lock to lock, and there's quite a bit of feedback, too.
It's arguable that these aren't the best conditions under which to experience a car with 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque that's available at 2900 rpm. And the whole reason we're in Mallorca in the first place is because of the beautiful weather. But the hell with it, we've got Quattro all-wheel drive, and the new S4 sports the old RS4 torque split (40:60, front/rear). This thing will probably nail the quoted 5.1-second zero-to-60 time in standing water.
Then there's the shifter. The throws aren't Neuspeed short, but there's a level of precision we haven't previously associated with Audi. It shifts into gear so fluidly you can almost shift as fast as you would have with a shorter, notchier throw anyway. Which is good, because you can't buy your S4 in automatic anymore. Instead, you'll pay for a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. As you might expect, shifts with that are lightning-fast and having the extra ratio means quicker acceleration. But the real benefit is that this transmission nets the S4 an estimated 16/28 (city/hwy) mpg, which is some 27 percent better than the previous V8-powered car.
And if all you can think about when we say S4 is inevitable understeer generated by a giant V8 dangling over the front axle line, think again. This one comes with Audi's take on Active Yaw Control (that's a Mitsubishi term we don't expect you to know), which varies torque between the two rear wheels. It's called a sport differential, and the reason it's an important $1,000 option to you is that it makes the car turn. No, we mean it really makes the car turn. Able to shift as much as 100 percent of available torque to the outside wheel whether you're accelerating or not (even with the clutch depressed), the sport differential makes understeer a thing of the S4's past. If you spend $50,000 on the car and don't tick this box, we won't know what to think about you anymore.
The grass is of course greener in Europe, where the S4 is still available in Avant trim, and Alcantara seating surfaces are standard. As is typical of German sports car interiors, the line between "sporty" and "gaudy" can be blurred by simply opting for the two-tone leather. Nothing new here, but we'll forgo the flourescent inserts for the black silk nappa leather on our sport seats, thanks. Tasteful contrasting stitching is found on the steering wheel and shift boot, and we'd opt for the gigabuck Bang & Olufsen stereo - it's that good.
Another option - probably the most expensive option - is Audi Drive Select, which varies shock stiffness, steering and throttle response, and shift characteristics at the push of a button. In the S4, the system also controls the tenacity of the sport differential. If you're driving in "comfort" mode, the differential will act primarily to counteract the effects of rapid weight transfer. In "dynamic" mode, the system's focus is in getting the car to rotate in the corners. Dynamic is considerably more fun, too.
Setting yourself apart from the rube in the A4 the next lane over are quad-exit tailpipes and a mini-diffuser. The trunklid is turned up, a la M3 CSL, and there's a little "V6T" emblem on the front fenders (V6S would apparently have looked goofy). Your car will have silly looking 18-inch wheels as standard, too, and those come with 245/40 rubber. Luckily, it's easy enough to trade "silly" for "bad-ass" by opting for the 19-inch package (255/35), which looks phenomenal.
The S4 will be here next fall, and you can expect it to start at around $50,000. It's a sizeable outlay, considering the M3 and IS-F (again, we don't expect you to understand that one) are just a few grand away once you've ticked some of the option boxes on the Audi card. But on the other hand, this thing is good enough that a 30-minute lecture from Mr. Policia himself couldn't keep us off the loud pedal. You be the judge.
2010 Audi S4
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
3.0-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve, supercharged
Six-speed manual; optional seven-speed S tronic
Five-link front, trapezoidal rear
Length/Width/Height (in.): 185.7/71.9/55.7
Wheelbase: 110.7 in.
Peak Power: 333 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.0 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Price Tag: $50,000 (est.)