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2006 Audi S4

Audi’s Former Hot Shot Plays Second Fiddle These Days, But The Music Still Sounds Good.

    If you’re a regular reader of these pages then you know cars from top to tailpipe and the fact that the S4 is no longer the baddest boy in the Audi garage isn’t news to you. If you stumbled onto this page courtesy of the geeks at Google then allow us to catch you up.
     Audi has made a wonderful entry-level luxury sedan called the A4 (it has also gone by other names) for a long time. Some years back, perhaps after renting American Graffiti, engineers at the four-ring company decided a big ‘ol engine (they actually used turbos for a while) in their itty-bitty sedan would be a lot of fun. Thus began the history of the high-horsepower A4, appropriately renamed S4, presumably for super but possibly for Sweeeeeet! In 2006 the highest-performance Audi remains the 340hp S4, but that is set to change when the 415hp RS4 arrives on our shores in July.
     We reviewed an S4 with glowing praise in 2005 but that model had an automatic, which we eloquently passed judgment on by saying “save some dough, stick with the stick.” When the time came to see for ourselves how much better the 6-speed manual is we jumped at the chance for one last spirited run in the S4. We are proud to report we know what we’re talking about. The do-it-yourself S4 is a classic.
     “Classic” is a heavy word to be using in automobiledom but all the prerequisites are met by the S4’s polished resume. It has styling that will pass the test of time with flying colors—there are those who vehemently dislike the new corporate grille, but seriously, it looks fine in person so get over it. The 4.2-liter V8 is worthy of engineering praise today thanks to its finely tuned 5-valves per cylinder design that yields 340hp and 302 lb-ft of torque. The horsepower resides way up at 7,000 rpm but the torque peak is at a much more useable 3,500 rpm so the all-aluminum engine moves the S4’s 3,869 pounds with plenty of punch. As we already mentioned our tester retained the S4’s standard 6-speed manual so we saved $1,200 and can drive the super Audi as we see fit, instead of how a computer says we should. As with any Audi manual tranny the effort is low and the gearshift moves between cogs with the well-oiled precision of a rifle bolt. Clutch take-up is spot-on for producing smooth shifts at any speed and you won’t wear your leg out on the commute home. Tell us again why anyone would want to pay more for less fun?
     You’ll find no surprises inside. Of course all S4s come well equipped but our completely loaded model left nothing to be desired. Check the box marked “Premium Package” and you’ll get a bunch of luxury goodies for your $2,900. We like everything in there except for the 18” wheels that replace the standard car’s better looking Avus style 6-spoke rims. We felt the wheels on our car projected a rally image that clashes with the elegance of the Audi design. No thanks. Audi’s MMI navigation system continues to be on of the best in the industry but as we’ve noted before, in A4 models the controls are placed on the dash and aren’t nearly as comfortable to use as when they are placed south of the gearshifter. It’s a small nitpick but one we hope Audi rectifies for the next generation A4 range. While we are at it, let’s ask Audi for a few more inches in cabin space too. We fit just fine up front but anyone sitting in the back will see exactly why the S4 is classified as a compact. Audi has some of the finest audio systems on the market and the upgraded Bose system in our example sounded brilliant. The rest of the interior features top-notch materials and straightforward ergonomics. From our vantage point in the well-bolstered extremely comfortable driver’s seat, the S4 looks mighty good.
     So it seems only natural, and hardly surprising, that the S4 drives so well you’ll forget about everything else and focus on the V8’s throaty growl and the road ahead. S4 provides the goods to tackle the best back roads with ease. We’d argue that the heavy-steering is a little too isolated from direct road feel but turn-in is satisfyingly sharp and overall it seems to fit the luxury/sport ratio of the S4 just fine. Of course, quattro all-wheel drive makes the S4 far more useful than other similarly power sports cars, at least in areas where precipitation comes in solid forms.
     If you want a hardcore sport setup then you’ll have to wait for the fire-breathing RS4. If, however, your next car needs to be a daily driver with some practicality and enough power and luxury to feel special, we would suggest the $56,620 S4. It may be playing backup, but the band sounds better than ever.

The Good:
Taut Audi styling, comfortable seats, slick manual, 4-year/50k warranty.
The Bad:
15/21 city/highway mpg, options hurt value quotient, tight cabin.
The Verdict:
The RS4 may be in the spotlight, but the S4 continues to offer a lot in a little package.


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