Wildsau’s Wheelhaus: 2011 Audi S4 (B8)

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Am I a little partial to this German bad boy? Aber sicher! Of course I am.

If you know me, you’ll know I’ve owned a few Audis, and my most passionate ownership revolved around the S4 Avant I had. I wrote this blog post, detailing how I lost it. I still miss it a lot.

So when one of my fine readers asked if I would want to take his (newer) S4 for a spin, I did a few cartwheels and back-flips of joy and yodeled a heart-felt “Yes!” back at him.

Mine was the last-generation, a brawny V-8 powered beast and a wagon – for me, it was my dream car. This is the newer generation (which was JUST updated again, but only in terms of small visual changes). To say it’s all-new is an understatement.

The styling, clearly derived and not too different from the ubiquitous Audi A4, is clean, efficient and, like all other S4s, understated. Connoisseurs will quickly detect the S4’s give-aways – the chrome mirrors and the quad tailpipes (more about those in a minute) – there are other visual cues too, but not many. It’s really not hard to dress an A4 up to look like an S4, but either way, you’re looking at a handsome, slick automobile. It’s a sedan, and that’s all we get. I’m a wagon freak, and I’m sad to say the last generation of S4 (mine) was probably the last time a performance-oriented Audi wagon will make it to these shores on an Audi-sanctioned boat. Europe understands the unparalled awesomeness of wagons, however, and they sell more of them there than sedans, I think. Anyway, I digress…

The last thing I want to mention on this particular car’s styling is the upgraded wheel and tire package. The 19″ tri-spoke rims are simply stunning, and shod with enormous 255-sized rubber. It looks amazing, and the Pirelli P-Zero Rossis are some of the best tires on the market.

Although they look similar, the A4 and the S4 part ways rapidly when you look under the hood. Though the A4 is no limp noodle, it’ll quickly feel like one when you compare the two. The S4 cast aside its rumbly, hairy-chested V-8 for a much more modern supercharged V-6. A 3.0-Liter unit, smooth as all get out, rated at 333 HP @ 5500 RPM. Enthusiasts cried foul for a while after this drivetrain was announced. HOW COULD AUDI PUT LESS HORSEPOWER IN THE S4?! Protests were launched. Peaceful marches took place. Yes, it has a couple of horsepower (7 to be precise) less than the last generation. Here’s what matters though. Torque is rated at 325 lb.ft (only about 8 more than the last generation), but  more importantly, it’s available to you at a fantastically low RPM. And that makes all the difference because it seems immediate.

Efficiency also gets a boost. The V-8 was truly horrifying in terms of fuel economy. At first I thought it was how I was driving my car – I averaged around 17 L/100 km (14 mpg) during my years with it. A couple of times, I decided to granny the car around town, driving it as efficiently as possible to see where things could end up. The reward for my valiant effort? Somewhere around 16 L/100 km (15 mpg) and a complete lack of satisfaction. I never tried that again, and happily took what I could get, and enjoyed the V-8’s snarl once more. The new V-6, paired with a manual transmission, is rated at 12.2 L/100 km (19 mpg) and 8.1 L./100 km (29 mpg) on the highway. Though these aren’t really great numbers, they certainly look delightful to me, and considering the performance potential of the S4, they are just fine. As long as you keep in mind that when you’re on the go-pedal, that supercharged goodness gets thirsty. Real quick. On a side note, the automatic transmission bumps those numbers slightly – its efficiency allows it to gets slightly better fuel economy.

Oh, right – the exhaust. The S4 comes with quad exhaust outlets – they look good, but not good enough. I had them, and I always wished they were just a little bigger and more pronounced. Not Merc-AMG pronounced – those just look like they’re compensating for something else, but just slightly bigger. The owner of this car never even drove it with the stock exhaust. Before taking delivery, a STASIS exhaust was installed. STASIS is a very high-end tuner, and their performance upgrades are happily installed at the local dealership, and if I’m not mistaken, they don’t void the warranty. That’s a good sign. Visually, the exhaust system is quite arresting – the outlets are noticeably bigger than stock, beautifully chromed, siamese-twinned and embossed with the company’s logo. The sound also changes dramatically, and this addresses one of the biggest issues that the V-6 S4 has caught crap over.

The seats in the S4 are incredibly comfortable, lined with Alcantara in this case, and provide fantastic bolstering for side and thigh support. Audi interiors need no introduction – they’re simply the best in the industry, and even though I’ve seen this one for a few years now (since the current A4 generation was introduced), it still looks good and fresh. Ergonomics are stellar, and space is pretty good. It’s not a big car, and that goes for the back seat especially – though it’s grown to become more useable, it’s still a snug space, and as I found out, it won’t work for 3 kids’ seats.

With that said, it’s a well thought-out car, with decent storage spaces including a nice trunk, great amenities, and wonderful materials. This one has relatively low mileage on it, and I did notice a few shimmies and shakes over irregular road surfaces, indicating that some interior fitment isn’t as tight as it needs to be. No surprise there – I experienced the same issues with my own Audis. Beautiful interiors, incredible ergonomics and details, less than perfect fit and finish – not that it’s visible – everything looks absolutely perfect.

The dash is easy to read, and the driver compartment is easy to use. “What’s there to use, Wildsau?” you ask. Why, the gear shifter, for one. That’s right. This one is a manual. From what I’ve researched, that makes this particular S4 an extremely rare beast. This generation of S4 introduced the excellent dual-clutch 6-speed automatic, which has received nothing but giddy reviews. Frankly, it seems people froth at the mouth when they try it out and the vast majority of cars are ordered with it. But this owner loves the interaction with the gearbox. This car was custom-ordered, and in making this S4 his very own, he deleted the things that seemed unnecessary to him (such as navigation), and he chose to order a manual transmission.


 

The Drive

So what’s it like to drive? Awesome. The first big difference I noticed when stepping on it and rowing through the first couple (OK, three. Fine! FOUR!) gears is that the delivery of power is absolutely linear. The supercharger doesn’t take long to work its magic, and it seems that there is no hesitation in pouring on the torque – thick. It’s a seamless wave of power, and it runs hard to redline. First gear is amazing, and jumping off the line would be the only point, because it’s short and stubby. Getting from first to second caused me migraines – I simply couldn’t get a smooth shift in the 1-2 transition. Luckily, unless you’re trying to make a point, you can easily start in second – there’s plenty of power for that. Regardless of how you get there, it’s second gear that is a true revelation. When you’re on the gas, second gear will get you into illegal speeds in a heartbeat.

The S4 has been timed doing the 0-100 km/h run in under 5 seconds – that’s with the dual-clutch automatic, which snaps off shifts quicker than a human ever could. I have no doubt that, even with my mediocre shifting abilities, I was able to crack off that run in close to 5 seconds. Truth is it feels even faster.

In some ways, the experience is maybe less visceral than I expected. Because everything is so smooth. Clutch action is fantastic, and the transmission is wonderfully slick, with the exception of that grumpy 1-2 shift. Gone is the brawny “I’ll make you work for this fun!” experience from the previous generation’s manual transmission, which just became laborious and ultimately irritating. This one is easy as pie, and no problem for daily puttering and for banging off full-throttle acceleration runs.

The ride is stiff, but not uncomfortably so. It remains supple enough that you don’t dislike it, and it gives in return. The trade-off is the handling, which is fantastic. The S4 loves curves. Corners? I woudn’t say it loves them. It likes them. Audis have been notoriously front-heavy and S4s have particularly endured well-deserved criticism over this. They’ve always handled well, but they’ve also always plowed into corners, understeering like a sunuvagun, and reminding you that a big percentage of the weight sits right up front. Mine was a great example of this, and front tire wear was simply grotesque if you drove aggressively.

This generation made a big deal about moving some of that weight back toward the center of the car, and this S4 feels significantly more balanced than mine did. It’s a sharper tool, to be sure, but it still reminds you that A4/S4s are built around a front-wheel drive platform. The front end doesn’t plow nearly as much as the last generation though, and for every day driving as well as aggressive cruising, it’s an amazing car – you just need to remember that there’s some weight up front, and those tires are being powered, and you drive accordingly.

The one thing I took issue with regarding this car’s road manners is how grumpy it got with road ruts. The huge 255s really stuck to any kind of ruts in the road, and it often wandered around, following those well-worn areas in some of our roads. This is less of an S4-specific issue, and rather an issue with any car that has fat tires. But it was quite noticeable.

The quattro all-wheel drive system is legendary of course, and in my opinion, the best in the world. It was completely transparent during normal driving, with no low-speed binding. You just don’t know it’s there, unless you need it. It was a hot, dry weekend, and the only time I noticed it was there was around a few, too-fast corners. And I’m thankful for it.

The STASIS exhaust is noticeable immediately when the car is fired up – it throws an authoritative bark out, and gets appreciative looks from people who know things. It deepens the sound of the V-6, which has drawn a lot of flak over its tinny exhaust note. The STASIS sounds classy and brawny, and never brash or rice-rocket-ey. If you accelerate smoothly with no nasty intentions, the exhaust note is a nice, deep purr under any kind of load. Step on it though, and the intensity climbs a whole bunch of notches up the “Imma get you” ladder, and it certainly conveys a stern message. I love that it sounds like it means business, without ever sounding stupid or too loud. I don’t know if there is a noticeable performance gain with the exhaust itself, but the difference it makes in the S4’s exhaust note and the aesthetics of the rear-end alone make it worth the investment.

The Verdict

The S4 is an amazing car. It takes a nice docile A4, drops it a big, puts big fat rubber on it and tweaks the looks a tad, stuffs an athletic over-achiever under the hood, and asks little in return. Well, actually, it asks quite a bit from your pocketbook up front, but once you’ve taken care of the dowry, it’s a refreshingly easy car to drive. I love that it stays that way, even when you pick up the pace in a hurry, which it will gladly do all day long. This car was a pleasure to drive around town with my wife and kids in it, and it was just as much of a pleasure to drop them off, so I could head out and carve some corners, do some high-speed runs down the freeway and have a blast with it.

I give the Audi S4 an 8.5 out of 10. This car competes squarely with the BMW 335, and if I were cross-shopping these two, I’d head down the Audi road every single time.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. My wife loved my Audi wagon, and even appreciated that delicious V-8 rumble, so she didn’t balk at the upgraded exhaust of this one. She loved the interior, and the exterior styling of the car and was particularly fond of the color.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the B8-generation S4 to anyone looking for a previously-loved sports sedan, or a new one with the slightly-refreshed visuals. Obviously, if you’re looking at the used market, remember that some folks buy an S4 to take advantage of what’s going on underneath, and if you’re looking at picking one up, make sure it wasn’t abused and that it was well taken care of.

 

Disclosure: I was entrusted with this car by one of my readers.

I am extremely grateful for this person’s generosity, the trust that was placed in me, and the instructions that came with the key: “Drive it like you drove your own S4!”

Thank you so very much!

I shot a quick and dirty clip of the S4 firing up and doing a couple of mild revs if you want to check it out here.

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