Audi's newest S4 proves that power and fuel economy are not mutually exclusive. Pushed by upcoming European and U.S. regulations covering CO2 emissions and fuel economy, the company created a 2010 Audi S4 that delivers exciting performance, everything you would expect from an Audi S, and very reasonable fuel economy.
The new S4 gets rid of the previous version's 4.2-liter V-8 in favor of a supercharged 3-liter direct-injection V-6, giving it much better fuel economy with no real loss of power. The new S4 also benefits from Audi's improvements to its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, its Nvidia-powered 3D navigation system, and Bang & Olufsen audio quality, along with other features making it a créme de la créme tech car.
Talking to a car
Heading toward our favorite Northern California driving roads (think a lonely road winding through rolling hills covered in green fields), we pushed the voice command button and said, "I need gas." Immediately, the navigation system went to work, responding with a list of nearby gas stations. Glancing down at the list, we merely had to say the line number for our preference, and the navigation system guided us off the freeway toward a full tank of gas in preparation for an afternoon of hot driving.
Beyond finding gas stations, Audi has incorporated other natural speech voice commands into the S4's cabin electronics. Most usefully, you can tell it to call Joe, and if you have a Joe in your phone's contact list, the car will dial the associated phone number. Other new voice commands include, "I'm hungry" and "I need cash," each activating different point-of-interest searches (rather than popping a pastrami sandwich or a bundle of cash in your lap).
The navigation system itself showed us an incredibly detailed 3D map of downtown San Francisco, rendering all buildings and even texturing a few. Audi launched this new navigation system, which uses an Nvidia graphics chip to draw the buildings, in the Q5. Out of the city, the map shows the topographical features of those rolling hills toward which we were heading. This is a car a geographer would love.
Live traffic is also a feature of this navigation system, along with the capability to dynamically route around bad traffic. In fact, the only thing we don't particularly like about it is the destination-entry screen, which lacks an aesthetic touch.
When purchasing an S4, you are faced with four choices: Premium Plus or Prestige, with each trim giving the option of six-speed manual or seven-speed automated manual transmissions. Our car was a Prestige model, which not only brings in the navigation and voice control systems, but also adds a 14-speaker 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Believe us, Prestige is the way to go, as the audio system delivers a very clean and balanced sound. We found that the bass was sharp without being thumpy, and the highs showed nice separation. The system seemed to favor midranges, making vocal tracks shine.
As for the transmission, the high-tech choice would have been the seven-speed automated manual, Audi's newest dual -clutch gearbox, but we had the six-speed manual. We didn't have any regrets about this gearbox, though, as it shifts with silky precision, proving a perfect partner for the supercharged V-6.
This is one responsive, yet subtle, engine. Making 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet or torque, it should make a throaty growl as it pushes the small S4 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, but instead it purrs with the sound of precisely engineered German parts interacting. All you hear is a slight whoosh from the supercharger squeezing power from the relatively small-displacement direct-injection engine.