2007 Audi S4 – Holy Imola!

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Imola is the name of a little town in Italy, located on the plains to the east of the Apennine Mountains. The region is filled with such passion for racing cars it makes Laguna Seca seem like Autopia at Disneyland. If you close your eyes you can envision the great marques making their way through the Italian countryside, nose to tail, a little road rashed, weaving their way through the hills at red line. Ferraris, Alfas, Maseratis, have all cut their teeth in and around the town of Imola. The Mille Miglia even ran through the hills behind Imola. Therefore, it seems quite fitting that Audi used ‘Imola’ to describe the yellow paint stuck to the exterior of this particular 2007 S4.

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Mild Mannered?
If not for the Imola Yellow paint this S4 could have been merely a mild mannered four-door sedan and perhaps a more mature color would have been more appropriate. A more muted color would make the S4 a true Q-Ship. The S4’s main body lacks the muscular fender flares found on its more aggressive brother, the RS4, and the badging is subtle. For the most part the S4 mirrors the basic A4, but packs a bigger punch with a 4.2L V8 with 340 normally aspirated horsepower (A4 w/3.2L V6 is @ 255 hp), a six-speed manual and Quattro AWD. The same 4.2L V8 found in the larger A6 Sedan.
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Train of Thought
For years I had the pleasure and privilege of driving Porsche 911s and could think of no suitable substitute. But I’ve seen the future of German automobiles I would lust after, and they wear the ‘Audi’ badge. The honor to drive this S4 came last weekend and the opportunity to visit a relative in Santa Barbara presented itself. California’s Highway 1 is just a little further north and is definitely a must for any auto enthusiast. It offers the driver a little latitude and you can leave the fray of the cities far behind. The roadways on this trip offered the freedom to engage in an untainted driving experience with the S4 and I must submit that I reached some kind of nirvana.

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Composure under Duress
The S4 provides usable horsepower through a very smooth power band while remaining taut and grounded with Audi’s Quattro AWD (no traction was lost). The lateral cornering force and engine torque matched the S4’s traction and suspension control. The result was outstanding communication of vehicle dynamics to the driver. I was amazed.
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Experience has taught me to be very aware of weight distribution when cornering, as Porsches tend to have a rear weight bias and oversteer. The S4 had none of that. I didn’t have to be as concerned about the S4’s breaking point. This meant that a driver could push the car a little harder and deeper into the corners than a typical 911.
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Sport Sedans
Segments have been known to ‘morph’ or change over time and although there will most likely always be two door sports cars, sport sedans have become so good they almost make sports cars obsolete. Its true, sport sedans may never be as sexy as two door coupes and they’re definitely not exotic but they’ve still got performance, versatility and teeth. This S4 did handle and perform better than the last air-cooled 911 I drove.
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Around the Campfire
Back in the office there was a short discussion about the S4 and to my surprise many of my colleagues decided that it was NOT a vehicle they could live with. The interior is not spacious enough and the suspension is too taut. Their points were very valid but like everything in life there are trade-offs that many people would not mind making. I for one would be willing to make the trade-off. There was also mention of NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) but as you know, weight is the nemesis of performance and the lack of additional sound dampening material may have made the vehicle that much lighter, albeit the interior cabin was quite noisy at times (especially on concrete roadway) I didn’t care. Overall, the S4 was very well put together and there were no squeaks or rattles.
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Again, Audi deserves kudos for their excellent interiors. They do have some of the nicest interiors in the business. However, I would suggest the center armrest be ripped out and mailed back to Ingolstadt COD (However, we could have used a center armrest that adjusted fore and aft instead of up and down – the current one was forever in the way; especially when shifting). It spent most of the journey in the ‘up’ position. The ‘body kit’ on the S4 did add to the overall aesthetic but unfortunately most of what resembled ducting was not functional. In the future, functional ducting might be a nice touch.
A Few Thoughts
If I had my way I would redesign every Audi with a little more bold/aggressive styling and sell every Audi in the USA with Quattro AWD. Before it reached the end of the assembly line I would rip the CD changer out of the glove compartment and place it (if at all) in the center stack above the ESC and Hazard lights. With MMI technology reaching iTunes integration, phone integration (w/uploadable music), etc. this may be a moot point.
Speken Ze Deutsch?
So the car is not perfect… but it did speak my language. Just like old friends we ‘clicked’. There were no awkward feelings and the conversation between the two of us could go on for hours. It may not be the car for everyone and at $57,020 USD I know it’s not for me either but someone out there with a trust fund, who appreciates a tight sports sedan is going to love it.
A4 3.2 vs. S4 4.2
Notes: After the first few miles of driving the S4 4.2L I still preferred the Audi A4 3.2L (To see last blog – click HERE). The V6 felt a little lighter, more ‘sprightly’, and got better fuel economy. However, after our little road trip I must admit that the S4 would be my first choice if I could afford it. The power band is much smoother, the added weight helps the car feel more solid and more mature, while the different transmission felt smoother and the clutch refused to punish the driver (great clutch!). Not to mention the sounds of the V8 out the quad exhaust. I think the word of the weekend was ‘smooth’. The S4 was so much smoother than the A4 3.2L in so many ways that it might offset the increased fuel expenditures and higher MSRP that comes standard with the S4.
The Future
When looking to the future Audi plans to be at the forefront and I think they are on their way. They are launching an offensive that should eventually put them ahead of both Mercedes-Benz and Bavarian Motor Works earning the title as the largest luxury automotive manufacturer. They are looking to both change people’s perception of the brand and nearly double their model line up. As for the former, it is really just that, a perception. As to the later, Audi AG currently has 22 models and has plans for around 18 more are in the works. Those interested should also expect ‘Diesel’ to come to the forefront of the marque’s lineup.

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