Audi S4 Avant On The Road

Audi has been firmly committed to the DCT idea right from the very start. The very first commercially produced DCT, developed by Volkswagen, was installed  in the transverse-engined A3, alongside the VW Golf in 2003. Since that time Audi has expanded its offering from the initial six-speed DQ250 unit to a total of three different transmissions, including the seven-speed DQ200 for the upcoming A1 small car, and the latest seven-speed premium unit, the DL 501.

This latest design is especially important for Audi as it is configured for inline rather than transverse installation, allowing it to be applied to the brand’s larger cars – in particular the high-performance quattro® models.

The most recent of these is the new S4, the top performer in the A4 line and a competitor to the BMW M3 and Mercedes C Class AMG. The A4 shares much of its chassis architecture with the A5 coupe, cabriolet and the Q5 medium SUV; the range has the distinction of being available with a wide variety of transmission types – a six speed manual, a continuously variable automatic, a six-speed torque converter automatic and the new seven-speed DCT, labeled S Tronic by Audi.

From V8 to supercharged V6

With 333 hp from its three-liter supercharged V6 engine, the seven-speed DCT transmission and the latest quattro all wheel drive power distribution, the S4 is technically a very sophisticated car; as with all Audis, its visual appearance is impeccable – restrained but powerful, immaculately finished and luxurious but without ostentation.

The same holds true of the driving experience. The throaty loudness of the old model’s V8 is gone, replaced by a medium-pitched rumble from the V6; the supercharger is barely audible, even under hard driving – in contrast to some Jaguars. Equipped with the Audi Drive Select [is “drive select” a trademark?] system that is able to adjust the responsiveness of the steering, suspension, throttle and, on S Tronic versions, the transmission, the S4 is able to reflect the driver’s – and passengers’ – mood in terms of chassis settings. With the transmission selector in D, the S4 is smooth and easy to drive, though its ride is always on the firm side; upshifts are smooth and so seamless that the only indication of them taking place is a discreet drop in the pitch of the exhaust note.

Audi S4Push harder and the changes are quicker and firmer, while at maximum rpm the exhaust becomes a strident bark and there is a real shove in the back as the next ratio slots in. Triggering the same process with the column-mounted paddles prompts an exhilarating sequence of events within the fraction of a second the gearshift takes: a slight pop from the exhaust, a semi-tone drop in the exhaust note and a shove in the back. The size of this shove depends on how hard you are driving.
A squeeze on the left-hand paddle is rewarded with a neat blip on the throttle and a smooth downshift, except at lower revs or under gentle driving when no shift takes place: the S4 seems to sense whether the driver is hurrying or just cruising.

Dynamic mode sharpens responses

In the S4’s Dynamic mode all the controls are sharpened up and the gear changes become sharper, too; however, it is not as major a difference as on some DCT-equipped cars, and the S4 can be driven around town in this mode with no difficulty. For hardline enthusiasts there are special individual settings available, programmable through the MMI control knob on the center console behind the gear shifter.

Though this S4 may not be as loud or extrovert [not sure of meaning, may be too euro centric] as its front-heavy V8 predecessor, it offers a much more pleasing handling balance thanks to a combination of innovations such as the moving of the engine rearwards, a greater proportion of the power being applied to the rear wheels, and a new rear differential which accelerates the outside wheel to speed up yaw response in corners and improve perceived agility.

Reflecting its 1,700 kg mass and its 5.4 seconds 0-100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration performance, this five-seater sports wagon is not light on fuel, its 9.7 liters of gasoline per 100 km corresponding to 224 /km of CO2 or 23.3 US mpg. This is better than the six-speed manual though, unusually, the DCT version loses a couple of tenths in outright acceleration. What is clear is that the combination of a modern supercharged V6 engine and Audi’s latest S Tronic transmission has produced a much more modern and more balanced high-performance car than the old model, alluring though its mighty V8 always was.

Specifications – Audi S4 Avant quattro

Vehicle type:  

four-door sports station wagon (sedan also available)


3.0 liter supercharged gasoline V6

Power (Europe)

333 hp at 5,500 rev/min


440 Nm at 2900-5300 rev/min


Seven-speed wet-clutch DCT, all wheel drive

Max speed 

250 km/h (155 mph)

0-100 km/h  

5.4 sec

Fuel economy

9.7 lit/100 km (23.3 US mpg)

CO2 emissions

224 g/km

Price on the road

€52,600 (Germany)  $74,000 (U.S)

Story Filed: 7/14/2009
By Tony Lewin, managing editor

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