By on November 9, 2009


Once upon a time, S was for Audis what M was for BMWs. A decade ago Audi took an A4, added a pair of turbos to the V6, stiffened the suspension, plus-oned the alloys, and tagged the result the S4. A special driving experience that became more special (if less moddable) when the 250-horsepower turbo V6 was replaced by a 340-horsepower V8 a few years later. The A4 was redesigned for 2009, and this year there’s a new S4. The V8 has been tossed in favor of a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that kicks out 333 horsepower. Is the resulting car worthy of the S?

With the B8 A4, Audi rearranged the drivetrain bits to shift the front axle forward four inches. The primary goal: lose the nose-heavy feel that has long plagued Audis. But this change also improved the car’s proportions—having the front wheel opening just a couple inches from the front door cut is never pretty. Other changes included some BMW-influenced (but more tastefully done) “flame surfacing” on the lower bodysides. Even with these changes, the current A4 looks much like the previous one at a glance. It’s a handsome car. But the closely related A5 coupe is stunning.

audis4sideThe new Audi S4 looks nearly identical to the A4 on which it is based. The wheel design is unique, but such a subtle difference will be lost on all but the most ardent Audi fans. The fascias might also be tweaked, but I couldn’t tell. I literally checked the badges prior to entry to verify that I was indeed getting into an S4 rather than an A4.

The S4’s stealth act continues in the interior. Good thing then, that Audi has led the industry in interior design and construction for at least the last decade. While the S4’s cabin is largely up to snuff, some bits seem cheaper than in the previous car, most notably the silver plastic trim plate across the top half of the instrument panel face and the hard plastic door pulls. Other manufacturers wrap the latter, a key touch point, in leather, and it feels good. Why doesn’t “the interior design leader?”

The new S4, like the A4 on which it is based, is 4.6 inches longer and 2.1 inches wider than the old one. This larger exterior translates to a larger interior. In the front seat, you sit a bit lower behind a more imposing instrument panel than before and the cabin feels noticeably wider. These changes, together with the longer wheelbase, lend the B8 an almost midsize feel. This can be good or bad. Buying a compact sedan only because it costs less? Then good. Buying a compact sedan because you like the more agile, more intimate feel of a smaller car? Not so good. audis4int

The S4 does have standard sport buckets. The prominent side bolsters provide excellent lateral support, but are just short of uncomfortably tight for me–and I have a fairly slim build. Larger people might find these seats unbearable. My seat recalls the old S4’s Recaro buckets much more fondly.

In the back seat, knees have about an inch more space, which is significant since many adults couldn’t quite fit into the back of the old S4. As in nearly every competitor, the rear seat remains too low to the floor to provide adults with thigh support. As before, the rear seat folds in two parts to enlarge the trunk. Try finding that in a Japanese competitor.

The new Audi S4 is available with two transmissions, a six-speed conventional manual and a seven-speed automated dual clutch manual (“DSG” in VW-speak, “S tronic” in Audiese). I drove the former. Start up the new S4 and get going, and the first thing you’ll notice is that the shift lever is a too tall for comfort. First mod? Otherwise, the new car’s shifter feels smoother than that in any other Audi I’ve cogswapped.

The next thing you notice is that, when driving the new Audi S4 casually, there isn’t much to notice. In the old V8-powered S4, a sporty burble reminded you at all times that you were driving something special. In the new one, noise from all sources, including the engine, is low. In some supercharged engines (Ford’s V8 comes to mind), the blower assaults the eardrums. With this one, my ears failed to notice it.

audis4engineIs the new S4 quick? Absolutely. The supercharged engine doesn’t pack the now-off-now-on wallop I recall in the old biturbo V6—power builds more linearly and without a lag—but it does pull very strongly. You’re at sixty-plus before your senses have time to process the (non) experience. Fuel economy benefits from the engine swap: EPA ratings go from 13/19 to 18/27—goodbye gas guzzler tax. The benefits don’t end here—Audi has also cut the price by a few thousand to reflect the lower manufacturing cost of this engine. And yet, something is also lost. As Baruth noted in his drive of the A6 3.0T, the supercharged V6 verges on characterless. It has none of the spine-tingling soul of the V8.

Like the new A4, the new S4 has more communicative steering and more balanced handling than the old one. The nose no longer seeks the outside curb in hard turns. Any curve taken at semi-sane speeds is carved without complaint. And yet the edge that marks the best performance sedans is absent. The driver gives orders, and the car faithfully executes them, but the two don’t meld. On the flip side, the ride is surprisingly absorbent.

A couple of performance-oriented options were absent from the “stripper” S4 I drove. An $1,100 active rear differential should lend the S4 more of the feel of a rear-wheel drive car, with (hopefully) throttle-induced oversteer on demand. Spend an extra $3,950 for the Audi Drive Select Package, and this audis4rearactive differential is joined by active steering, ultra-quick electrically-adjustable shocks, and a switch to alter the calibrations of both. The adjustable steering and shocks get stellar reviews in every Audi in which they’re offered. With them, the latest S4 might be the most thrilling yet.

Problem is, without them the new Audi S4 feels much like a regular A4, just with 50 percent more power. If Audi had called the car I drove an A4 3.0T, as it does when the A6 is fitted with this engine, then I’d have no complaints. But an S4 should be more special. As it is, it’s just a very quick and very competent but otherwise normal-feeling car.

My suggestion: give the car I drove the regular A4’s more accommodating buckets and rename it the A4 3.0T. The S4 nameplate should be reserved for a car with a more thrilling engine note, the trick suspension and steering, and tuning that thoroughly engages the driver in the experience. Otherwise, the S badge seems like little more than a marketing afterthought.

[Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability and real-world gas mileage information]

Performance: 5/5
By any objective standard, the supercharged six is strong. Just soulless.
Ride: 4/5
The biggest pleasant surprise–the ride doesn’t suck. Tar strips? What tar strips?
Handling: 4/5
More balanced and communicative, but (at least without the optional trick shocks are rear end) it lacks a sporty edge.
Exterior: 4/5
A handsome car. But why is it so hard to distinguish from the A4. And why can’t it look more like the A5?
Interior: 3/5
Less special without the B7’s Recaros and with the additional hard plastic.
Fit and finish: 3/5
The bits fit together well. But have I mentioned the hard plastic door pulls?
Toys: 2/5
Nothing special on the base S4.
Desirability: 4/5
Those who buy based on stats will want one. Those seeking a passionate romance…will keep waiting for a car company to remember that it’s not all about the stats.
Price as tested: $47,200.
Overall rating: 4/5
Highly competent. Now just needs a soul.
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49 Comments on “Review: 2010 Audi S4...”

  • avatar


    My suggestion: give the car I drove the regular A4’s more accommodating buckets and rename it the A4 3.0T. The S4 nameplate should be reserved for a car with a more thrilling engine note, the trick suspension and steering, and tuning that thoroughly engages the driver in the experience. Otherwise, the S badge seems like little more than a marketing afterthought.

    Or just buy the 335i. Without any fancy one-letter-marketing badges :)

  • avatar

    Without any fancy one-letter-marketing badges :)

    You mean fancy, one-letter marketing badges like “M”?

  • avatar

    I personally enjoyed driving the 335i more, between the feel of its engine and, more than anything, the rear-drive configuration. But, as noted in the review, the Audi Drive Select Package (or even the trick differential alone) might close the gap.

    Based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, the B8 A4 had been at least average in reliability so far. In general 2008 and up VWs and Audis have been more reliable than earlier years. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the new cars will remain reliable when they’re 3+ years old.

    Results for the A4:

  • avatar

    Sounds like the new SHO. A competent and fast car that doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of its badge.
    If only Mercedes made a C550 or GM built a CTS with the L99 V8.

  • avatar

    Yes TZ.

    If BMW would have followed Audi’s marketing style, the 335i could have easily been named M335i or something similar.

  • avatar

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think an M car has shared an engine (yet) with any non-M BMW. The new X5 M and X6 M come closest, but still get a more powerful version of the regular twin-turbo V8.

    Sharing has so far been the case with most of the S cars, including all S4s.

    For a bespoke engine, Audi would have you spend the big bucks for the (upcoming?) RS.

  • avatar

    RS is RennSport, S must be just Sport then.
    M is Motorsport, so BMW doesn’t have any letters left to dilute the motorsport heritage soup :)

  • avatar

    A decade ago Audi took an A4, added a pair of turbos to the V6, stiffened the suspension, plus-oned the alloys, and tagged the result the S4.

    Not to get all nerdy, but the UrS4 was actually closer to 20 years ago and first appeared as a turbo charged 5-cyl version of the C4-platform Audi 100…

    But we all knew that, right?

    • 0 avatar

      And of course that one came shortly after the 1991 Audi S2, which was an Audi 90 Coupe (and later 90 Avant) with the engine from the S1 Sport Quattro.
      But we all knew that, too, right?

  • avatar


    Knew that. Also knew that they renamed that first S4 the S6 after the 90 became the A4. Once thought about buying a mid-90s S6 Avant.

    Didn’t see the point in mentioning the first S4 because it was connected to the current one by nothing other than the name. It’s existence doesn’t render the quoted sentence incorrect.

  • avatar

    $47k for 5 hp more than a G37. Really?

  • avatar


    The Infiniti is certainly the bang-for-the-buck champ. But if you want a “letter car” or a stick with AWD, you’re SOL.

    Also note that the Audi engine has a major torque (i.e. midrange power) advantage, with 325 ft-lbs @2900 rpm vs. [email protected]

  • avatar


    It is my understanding that the Audi naming convention changed circa 1994 with the introduction of the A8 which replaced the V8 quattro. Shortly after the A8 introduction the 100 became the A6 circa 1995 and I thought at the same time the S4 was renamed the S6. The 90 (actually the 80 for most of the world) was not renamed the A4 but rather replaced by the A4 for the European 1995 model year.

  • avatar

    One of the nice aspects of the S4 is that you could get a sedan or wagon, where BMW gave you a coupe alone, and still doesn’t give NA customers a 335 or M3 wagon. Are they still bringing the S4 Avant to North America?

    Another point: this engine would probably be better-appreciated in the A3 (S3?) or TT. I don’t think we’ll get the former, but the latter would be nice.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      This engine wouldn’t physically fit into the A3/TT platform.

      • 0 avatar

        Wouldn’t it?  Is it much larger than the 3.2 that they currently cram into those cars?

      • 0 avatar
        Mirko Reinhardt

        Wouldn’t it?  Is it much larger than the 3.2 that they currently cram into those cars?
        It’s much wider (90° angle between the cylinder banks), and it doesn’t exist in any transversally mounted application. The 3.2 in the A3/TT/R32 is a VR6. 15° angle between the cylinder banks.
        They do have a 10.6° 3.6L VR6 with 300hp in the Passat R36. Maybe they could use that. But why – they have a turbocharged 5-cylinder in the TT-RS that makes 340 hp. The 5-cylinder sound is much more distinct than a six, and the most awesome Audis all had 5-cylinder engines.

    • 0 avatar

      No, they’ve discontinued the S4 Avant. For shame.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      A brown S4 Avant overtook me on the ‘Bahn yesterday.

  • avatar

    My friend’s wife has lemmon-lawed two A4s, she just got into a 335, she swears a difference of night and day in quality and reliability.  She leases only, but said she would go for a G37S if she had to fork over money for a keeper car.

  • avatar

    Did you really use “reliable” and “VW” in the same sentence?  Given the Audi’s are derived from their more humble cousins, it will take a lot more than a non-scientific True Delta data to get me interested.
    Can Audi’s really be better quality than VW’s?
    I even fear future contamination of Porsche.

    • 0 avatar

      What scientific reliability data would you like to use?  Manufacturers don’t give people access to their warranty databases, and after warranties expire there is no authoritative data source — so all you can do is use survey techniques.  JD Power, Consumer Reports et all do, as well.
      I like TrueDelta’s methodology in that it looks for repair data from owners on a monthly basis rather than infrequent surveys that are more prone to owners’ (unintentional bias) and rose-colored glasses.
      Or if you do have an authoritative data source, not just anecdotal comments (whether yours, mine or someone else’s), please do let us know.

  • avatar

    Did you really use “reliable” and “VW” in the same sentence?  Given the Audi’s are derived from their more humble cousins, it will take a lot more than a non-scientific True Delta data to get me interested.

    You mean like Consumer Reports?

  • avatar

    Michael –
    You definitely need to test the car with the Sport Differential, it is a night and day difference.
    The differential makes the car a point-and-shoot like no Audi before it.  Not perfect, but significantly better than any Audi prior.
    As for Audi Drive Select, while it’s a neat bit of kit, it’s a horribly expensive option. Stick with the Sport Diff only and most people will be perfectly happy.  I tested an S4 with ADS and couldn’t understand who would use the “comfort” setting on a regular basis as it turned the car into mush.

    • 0 avatar

      Believe me, I want to. I cannot comprehend why every S4 isn’t ordered with the diff–seems to make a big difference with no downsides, for only $1,100.

      With the ADC, does it make the handling any sharper in the sport setting?

    • 0 avatar

      Disagree. Even with rear diff and drivers select, it does not have the steering clarity or precision of the RS4, it’s just not there. It is numb on center, where as the RS4 feels as if the steering is wired into your body, the difference is night and day.

  • avatar

    vento97, bucksnort:

    CR recently noted that VWs and Audis are improving, but <a href=>TrueDelta noted it back in May</a>.

    TrueDelta’s results have been repeatedly confirmed by both JD Power and Consumer Reports, just months (even a year) later and in vaguer terms.

    We’ll have results for a few early 2010s later this month.

  • avatar

    Somehow, this (and other recent Audis) remind me of the women I see at the Neiman Marcus store at Stanford…   middle-aged, well-dressed, stylish, classy and obviously high-maintenance… but boring.  Undoubtedly the world is a better place for having a few of them around – but I don’t feel anything stronger when I see them.

  • avatar

    I have to say, the fact that Baruth toasted the brakes on his S5 in a matter of laps makes me think that S doesn’t mean the same thing as the M.   It doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but it does mean it would be relegated to the spouse-as-primary-driver category…
    And – a tired comment, but what’s with the dig at the *Japanese* competition?  Does everyone else (Koreans, Americans, and BMW) have split folding seats?  I’m actually curious…

    • 0 avatar

      <blockquote>”Does everyone else (Koreans, Americans, and BMW) have split folding seats?”</blockquote>
      I know you’ll be shocked, but BMW offers it, but as an option, not standard.  The S4 is indeed aimed at the 335(x)i. Audi’s putting around docs showing that the S4 is cheaper once you kit out the 335i with everything that the S4 has standard.  True enough, but certainly doesn’t decide things if you <em>don’t want</em> those options.  (Then again, it’s a question of how many stripper 335s you can find at your local BMW dealer anyway.)
      Some previous S4s were aimed at the M3, but after the 335 raised the bar from the 330 (and pushed the M3 up), things changed a bit.  At one point, BMW had nothing that could match the RS4.
      Regarding another question, no, the S4 Avant isn’t coming to North America.  People insist that they want it, but the sales numbers weren’t there in the previous generation.  North Americans have moved from truck-based body-on-frame SUVs to tall-wagon crossovers, but still aren’t going for wagons.  Hence BMW only has the 328 wagon, not the 335, but has the X5 M and X6 M.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not shocked that BMW has them.  I actually like split folding seats.  I really am not sure who else had them (Hyundai, Caddy, Lincoln), and I didn’t feel like going through everyone’s configurator to find out.
      It just seemed like such an random shot at the Japanese.  It’s like picking out some minor widget that the G and the ES have standard and then saying, “Take that, German cars!”
      Whatever… I appreciated the review in general.  The S actually sounds similar to the SHO badge on the Taurus: more scoot for the stoplight suburbanite, but not really a sports sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      @imag: The brakes on M-Bimmers are no better. The 135i has Brembos (which apparently crack their pistons) but the E92 M3 has plain ol’ sliding-caliper brakes.
      The RS4 has the best brakes in the segment, followed closely by the C63, then a huge gap back to the sliding-caliper competition.

  • avatar

    “Once upon a time, S was for Audis what M was for BMWs.”
    Not true. The 250hp B5 S4 competed in this country with the castrated 240hp E36 M3 that BMW sold at the time. In Europe though, Audi’s answer to the unconstrained M3 was the RS4, just as it is now. The S6 has also never competed directly with the M5. That’s what the RS6 is for. The S cars are just the sporty, top line variants of the standard models. They are not “tuner specials” like M or AMG models. For that, you need RennSport and Quattro GmbH.
    Bucksnort, yes, Audis are MUCH higher quality than VWs. Look at the 2009 JD Power VDS, for example. See the difference between Audi and VW? See how Audi tied Porsche and beat BMW?

    • 0 avatar

      “The 250hp B5 S4 competed in this country with the castrated 240hp E36 M3 that BMW sold at the time. In Europe though, Audi’s answer to the unconstrained M3 was the RS4, just as it is now.”
      Except that the B6 S4 competed with the E46 M3 just fine in Europe as well.  Now the E90 M3 jumped up past the B7 S4, so then the B7 RS4 needed to exist.  It’s all made a bit more complicated by the fact that neither company actually releases new models at the same time as the other.

      • 0 avatar

        Audi S models never competed with BMW-s M series cars. With S-cars you basically only get similar power figures. What you don’t get is the race-bred technology – high revving engine with individual throttle bodies, well sorted and balanced chassis, sharp handling and proper weight distribution.

        If You talk about European market rivalry between S-Audis and M BMW-s then good example is the trackday carpark at Nürburing  – two cars domninate the selection – GT3 Porsches and E46 M3-s. You see very few Audis there, RS models are very rare, not mentioning the S models. True enthusiasts know what is what.

  • avatar

    i don’t think the last V8 engined S4 was worthy of the name either, too soft and heavy by most reports.
    i don’t particularly think the characterless engine is that unexpected for an Audi, most reviews i’ve read in as long as i can remember mention the clinical, souless feel they have.
    the A6 3.0T has significantly less power here than the S4, in the USA do they have the same power?

  • avatar

    BMW did offer an M badge on a startard car. The M540i of 1994.
    I’ve seen this engine’s dyno (online), and it made about 400hp.
    From my driving of an A6 3.2, I’m sure that engine in this car is great.

  • avatar

    There is no doubt that the new S4 is a good looking, fast and practical 4 door. The problem I see is the price. When properly configured, it’s $10K more expensive than the 335 and is edging into M3 territory – a problem that is compounded by Audi resale values.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, when comparably equipped, they’re within about $2.2K of each other:

      An excerpt from C&D’s comparison test:

      “… the $41,125 BMW 335i with its 300-hp, twin-turbo inline-six is the S4’s new, lower-priced doppelgänger. But watch the little print. The BMW doesn’t match the S4’s standard equipment until you add the Premium pack ($2650), the Sport pack ($2150), the Cold Weather pack ($1150), and $995 in iPod interfaces and satellite radio…….Forget the Audi’s as-tested price of $59,425 and the BMW’s $49,320 tab. This story is about how a $50,675 Audi S4 (the base price plus the performance-vital Audi drive select…. ) …meets a $48,470 BMW 335i (base price plus all the requisite options to match the S4’s standard equipment) on virtually equal treads.”

      (The S4 would be more like $10K cheaper than a comparably-equipped M3, BTW.)

    • 0 avatar

      Resale values? Audi has beaten BMW and MB in terms of resale over the past 3 years. Old myths die hard I guess.

  • avatar

    The S4 nameplate should be reserved for a car with a more thrilling engine note, the trick suspension and steering, and tuning that thoroughly engages the driver in the experience.

    I disagree.
    Audi is saving all of that for the upcoming RS4. The S nameplate is simple marketing talk for a car in the A4’s class meant to compete with the BMW 335i, even more so since they both occupy the same price points. They’re obviously holding back the goods so as to compete directly with the M3.

  • avatar

    I test drove one of these, too, recently, and loved it.  It has plenty of soul – it  just doesn’t readily do the “lunge/oversteer/dab of opposite lock” thing that BMWs do.  It WILL do that, mind you:

     Don’t take just his/my word for it, though, take THIS guy’s:

    He owns an M3 AND an S4, and the S4 replaced a 335i.  Says the S4 reminds him more of the M3 than it does the 335i (heresy, shock, awe, denial!!!!!;-)

  • avatar

    Speaking (as I was) of a dab of opposite lock, check this:

    (still more shock, awe, and denial!!!!)

    PS: MK – yes, the Sport diff does indeed make all the diff…….erence.

  • avatar

    I’ve had my b5 s4 for about 8 years years.  I’ve owned a lot of other cars in that time framebut I have never sold that s4.  It was the first nice car I bought myself, I still think that body style is the best looking, best proportioned sedan ever. Like i’v mentioned before on this site, I spent more on repairs this year than the car is worth, so its definatly time to get rid of it.   So my daily driver replacement will be the new  s4 premium plus 6 speed  w/bang olufsen, sport diff, birch trim, and the black nappa leather.   I truely feel that the Audi s4 is the ultimate daily driver- each generation is fantastic compared ot its competition. The m3 more have more ultimate performance, but the s4 is far superior on anywhere but a drivers ed event.  Plus, if you’re into the whole image thing, I definatly prefer the audi driver image to the bmw driver image. Let me put it this way, If i would have bought a 3 series or m3, i would have sold it when it got older because i would feel like a tool driving it.   I almost replaced my b5 a couple times over the years with a b6 or b7, but the v8 car just didn’t do it for me like the turbo six.   Mine has gotten quite  a few upgrades over the years including many rs4 parts like turbos, clutch and fuel system. When something failed, it was usually cheaper to upgrade than to repair it at audi.

  • avatar

    Man I miss my B5 S4 Avant. It was totaled last January right before my birthday. I found out on my birthday I would have to by myself a new car…  I agree with saponetta, it was a great car for everything, but yes it was cheaper to upgrade than to repair.
    I was one of the 1460 people that bought a B5 S4 Avant, and would do it again if they offered one. But they don’t, so I bought a Golf TDI (my commute also became 140miles/day)

  • avatar

    Just read Lexintonian’s comment about the S4 only having 5 more HP than the G37: Drive the two cars, then make the same statement. I own a 335, and if the S4 pulls like my car does, then the G37 is worlds lower.

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