Don't let the fact that the 2010 Audi S4 says "V6T" on its quarter panels confuse you. This alphanumeric soup has more to do with Audi's marketing department than it does with anything going on under the hood of the new S4.
Rest assured, the 3.0-liter V6 in the 2010 Audi S4 cranks out 333 supercharged horsepower and 325 supercharged pound-feet of torque, which hit the ground via a six-speed manual transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Audi's seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual S tronic transmission is optional.
You see, the sassy Germans running Audi's marketing department decided that "T" should be the moniker used to indicate both turbo- and supercharged engines on the fenders of all S models using forced induction. For this, Audi lacks a good explanation — offering only that the "T" is, in fact, misleading.
Accordingly, we've come up with an equally sensible name for the new sedan. For the remainder of this review, this Imola Yellow S4 will be known as the Red Baron.
From Eight to Six
Indeed, this 2010 Audi S4 is a giant leap for Audi, if not in the expected direction. After all, its last S4, which disappeared in 2008, had under its hood the genuine article as far as Americans are concerned — a V8 power plant. That all-aluminum mill revved to a righteous 7,000 rpm, cranked out 340 hp at full tilt and made all the right sounds. It was also strapped to a car which (according to our measurements) was lighter than this new-generation S4 that replaces it.
To these facts the Red Baron flips a big, supercharged middle finger and disappears into the distance. This is because in addition to being bigger (a good thing for rear-seat passengers) and heavier (a bad thing for everyone), it manages to punch through the 60-mph barrier in only 4.9 seconds (4.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). It goes on to complete the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 106.1 mph.
Both of these numbers are considerably more impressive than those of the previous S4, which might have sounded good, but simply wasn't as quick. At least part of the gap can be explained by the fact that the blown V6 makes more torque than the old V8. Its 325 lb-ft of torque is delivered as low as 2,900 rpm, while the V8's torque peak of 302 lb-ft didn't arrive until 3,500 rpm.
Lightness and Its Measurement
Run these figures past anyone at Audi and they're quick to point out that the new 2010 S4's chassis is actually 10 percent lighter than the outgoing S4. Our scales show that this does not translate into a lighter car, but when you consider the fact that the new car's wheelbase and overall length is more than 6 inches longer than the previous generation, it's quite a feat to have kept this package as light as it is.
Better weight distribution almost always means better manners, and we were impressed with the 2010 Audi S4's handling. At 68.8 mph it charged through the slalom at a rate approaching the last BMW 335i sedan we tested, which managed the feat at 69.9 mph.
Lateral acceleration around the skid pad was also striking. A two-way average of 0.90g with the stability control off is good, but the 0.92g average with the system turned on speaks volumes for Audi's attention to the calibration details.
The S4's 109-foot stop from 60 mph is also better than most of its competition, as is its pedal feel.
Following are the words you'll need to understand what's missing from the above acceleration numbers.
Topping BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six in a contest of throttle response is a task we figured impossible. But tickle the Red Baron's go pedal and its V6's instant snap makes the Bimmer engine feel positively apathetic.
To that snap this S4 adds Audi's Drive Select — a $3,950 option that includes adjustable suspension damping and steering assist as well as Audi's active rear differential, which can bias torque individually to each rear wheel. Of course, this is coupled with all-wheel drive, 60 percent of which the 2010 S4 now biases to the rear under normal conditions.
When you're driving hard, you'll likely not notice these bits of management, but you will get a sense that you're driving one of the most capable sport sedans available today. The S4's balance rivals its German competitors even if feedback — especially through the steering wheel — is less natural. Drive Select can add or remove steering assist, but the S4 lacks the high-resolution steering communication we'd like it to have.
We worked up to a quick rhythm in the 2010 Audi S4 until we channeled our inner Walter Rohrl and dared to touch the brake pedal with our left foot. That mistake shut down the fun faster than you can say "unintended acceleration," as the electronics cut back the throttle in response. Audi says the electronics' lack of tolerance for an overlap between throttle and brake action is a safety feature. We say it diminishes the S4's abilities when going flat out and takes away a useful driving tool for skilled drivers.
It's What's Inside That Counts
There is no shortage of S4-specific niceties on this car. Embossed into the silky napa-style leather upholstery of the optional seats is the S4 logo. The front brake calipers share this logo as do the rocker sills, steering wheel and grille.
The rest of the interior is typical Audi, with lavish materials solidly assembled in a sensible and appealing fashion. Everything the driver needs to touch feels solid, durable and responsive. Quirks include the iPod cable in the glovebox that needs to be about an inch longer, because it binds when the door is fully open. And there's the engine start/stop button, which seems to kill the engine only about half the time. (Certainly this is because of something we are doing or not doing, but, really, should this ever be a problem?)
Then there's the $6,100 Prestige package, which adds 19-inch wheels, the ear-tingling Bang & Olufsen audio system, keyless start/stop, navigation, voice-activated controls, auto-dimming mirrors and seat memory. Really, that's a lot of goodness for $6 grand.
All in — with its Prestige package, Drive Select, leather seats and Driver Assist package — the S4 you see here totals $59,150 including destination. That's no small investment for a car in this class, but the S4 is no small consideration, either.
The Drive Select adjustable suspension and steering alone set the Red Baron apart from most of its rivals, many of which are just as comfortable, but lack the ability of the 2010 Audi S4 to adapt to full-whack driving with the push of a button. Plus, the S4 is quicker. And in the sport sedan segment, quick counts for something.