Driven: 2010 Audi S4

The 2010 Audi S4 gets about 30 percent better fuel economy than the 2008 S4.

What? You don’t think first about fuel economy when shopping for a 333hp super sports sedan?

How about price? In that department, too, the new S4 triumphs over old, retailing for $45,900 (manual gearbox) vs. $48,610; $47,300, vs. $49,710 for the S-tronic vs. Tiptronic cars. And thanks to that superior fuel economy (18 city, 27 highway, manual gearbox), the 2010 models sell sans the $1,300-$1,700 gas guzzler tax that applied to the prior versions.

Ah, now you care about fuel economy!

The kicker, by the way, is multifaceted.

More Space

The lengthened wheelbase (by six inches) of the new A4/S4 greatly benefits both handling and the cockpit arrangement. (More on handling, shortly.) While the cabin grows by every measure, some of these gains are quite fractional, but one gain, headroom, is substantial, and has the effect of making the A4/S4 far more airy and pleasing.

I’m not an especially large man by American standards but if you’ve ever been to Germany you know that, on average, Germans are very big people (and I don’t mean obese — I mean tall, long, lanky). Imagining even an average-sized German driving the old S4 was always a push for me. I understand at least slightly how the Mazda RX-8 could come to market with a decidedly tight cabin. The Japanese are no longer small folks, but on average they aren’t as huge as Americans or Europeans.

But German cars with cramped interiors always struck me as decidedly Lutheran — a Protestant reaction to excess that must only make sense where austerity is still, in some circles, seen as virtuous.

The newest Audis, however, at last feature generous fore/aft legroom, and while the A4/S4 duo take a small slice out of trunk space as a consequence the rear seats fold, 60/40, so you’ll still be allowed a generous 34 cubic feet of storage should you require carrying golf bags or other such bulk.

More Pace

The outgoing S4 featured a 4.2-liter V-8. The new car gets a much smaller, three-liter supercharged V-6 with direct gasoline injection (an exceptionally high pressure spray of fuel is emitted into the combustion chamber for a far cleaner, more efficient burn). While the new car has a smaller motor, the seven-speed S-tronic transmission car out-sprints the 2008 to 60mph in 4.9 seconds, vs. 5.6 seconds for the old Tiptronic S4; 4.9 seconds for the new manual six-speed vs. 5.3 seconds for the prior manual.

One gain here is that although that V-8 had a bit more horsepower (340hp), the new car features more torque (325 lb. ft.) at 2,900rpm vs. 302 lb. ft. at a far higher rev of 3,500rpm. Amazingly, though the 2010 S4 has grown in all dimensions, it’s lost between 30-60 lbs. (depending on transmission), which also helps account for its quickness. And the fact that that stronger torque figure is available all the way up past 5,000rpm means you’ll need to change gears less often as well; there’s more power at lower revs, and this not only improves engine life (no reason to chase that 7,000rpm redline for propulsion), but improves the daily driving livability of the car, a fact your passengers and spouse will appreciate as well.

Better Transmission

There’s no getting around it; while we tested the six-speed manual Audi, the S-tronic is a great transmission, one we’d readily take instead of the true manual. Yes, that’s a dubious statement to traditionalists, but Audi’s latest double-clutch gearboxes are superb and shift faster than any human being can. Plus, in daily driving you can treat them like automatic gearboxes, which is a huge benefit if you commute through traffic with any regularity.

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