You don't see this very often: a car company dropping a V-8 engine from a performance car and replacing it with a V-6. But German automaker Audi does it in its 2010 S4 compact sedan.
The move not only creates a more fuel-efficient vehicle during these times of concern for the environment and oil supplies. It keeps performance because the 3-liter, double overhead cam V-6 is supercharged, has direct injection and 333 horsepower. This is just seven horses shy of the 340 horses in the V-8-powered predecessor S4.
The change for 2010 also allows a lower S4 retail price -- all the way to $46,725, including manufacturer's suggested retail price and destination charge. At that price point, buyers get a base model with six-speed manual transmission, standard all-wheel drive, sport suspension, sunroof, leather seats, three-zone climate control and Xenon headlights.
The price is an attractive midway point for buyers of compact, luxury sedans who want a sporty edge.
A BMW 335i sedan with twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine had a starting retail price of $41,125 for the 2009 model year and produced 300 horsepower. A 2010 BMW M3 with 414-horsepower V-8 starts at $56,975.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz C350 with 268-horsepower V-6 starts at $40,625, while a 451-horsepower 2010 Mercedes C36 AMG starts at $58,225.
The latest S4 is the performance version of Audi's best-selling sedan, the A4, and it also serves as an entry sporty sedan for the brand. So it's best that it's not too far out of reach, financially, for upwardly mobile buyers.
2010 Audi S4 quattro MT6 sedan
- BASE PRICE: $45,900.
- AS TESTED: $51,575.
- TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact sport sedan.
- ENGINE: 3-liter, supercharged V-6 with direct injection and dual intercoolers.
- MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 155 mph.
- LENGTH: 165.4 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 110.7 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,847 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Germany.
- OPTIONS: Navigation package $2,500; genuine silk Napa leather-trimmed seats $1,000; Bang & olufsen audio system $850; carbon interior inlays $500.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $825.
- More details and reviews
Company officials have said that the old S4 -- offered as a convertible as well as sedan in the past -- accounted for just 5 percent to 6 percent of U.S. sales of the A4 line. They're hoping for more like 15 percent for the lower-priced S4, which is available in 2010 as a sedan only.
If the test vehicle, in bright red paint and mostly black interior, was any indication, buyers will get a car that has personality galore. It was spirited, right out of the garage and down the driveway. A little nudge of the accelerator while I was in first gear pushed my head back into the head restraint.
Yes, that's healthy torque that peaks at 325 foot-pounds at 2,900 rpm.
With six-speed manual transmission, I roared past other cars on the highway and moved around double-parked cars in the city without effort. In fact, Audi said its tests show the V-6 S4 goes from standstill to 62 miles an hour in 5.1 seconds, which is 0.1 second faster than the heavier S4 with V-8.
Yet, when I wanted a more leisurely ride, I upshifted and let the S4 move at a sedate pace without fuss.
Fuel economy is up some 25 percent in the new sedan, thanks to an engine with two fewer cylinders than the V-8.
The tester, for example, was rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. I was lucky to get 20 mpg in the test drive because it was so easy to tap that low-end power.
The ride was firm, to be sure, and I felt vibrations of road bumps nearly all the time.
But there wasn't harshness, save for the time I went a bit too fast over a speed bump. Then I sort of shook in the seat as I noticed just how tightly the suspension managed the car's mass.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that can be operated like an automatic also is available. But I liked the control and feel of the S4's manual gearshifter. It wasn't too notchy and it was easy to find the gear I was looking for.
Road noise was noticeable, thanks in part to the 18-inch high performance tires. But the same tires had great grip in the curves and during turns. Even at decent speeds, the S4 clung to the pavement and maintained its traction and poise.
Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system helped, too. In normal driving, the system maintains a slightly rear-drive bias by sending 60 percent of the engine power to the rear wheels. Then, as road conditions and driver inputs change, the system can adjust the power between the front and rear wheels to help maintain traction.
The S4 is a tidy package, weighing less than 3,900 pounds with the manual transmission.
As a compact sedan, it doesn't have the roomiest of back seats. I found the back seat legroom of 35.2 inches to be adequate, but not great, and three adults would sit closely.
But the optional black Napa leather on the seats in the test car had an upscale feel and tasteful red accents here and there.
The optional Bang & olufsen audio system was awesome in producing clear tunes. At the end of one workday, I sat in the car in the garage just so I'd hear a song all the way to the end.
Impressively, the S4 earns across-the-board five stars from the federal government in frontal and side crash testing, and there's a long list of standard safety equipment. This includes curtain air bags, traction control, electronic stability control and enhanced brakes to help stop this powerful car.
As for the loss of the V-8, company officials note an eight-cylinder engine is available in the larger Audi S5 for 2010, so V-8 aficionados can move over to that model.