Cars that announce their thrilling performance with wings, spoilers, stripes and neon undercarriage lighting have their place. Mostly that place is in the fantasies of eighth-grade boys, but it’s a place. There isn’t an eighth-grader on Earth who’ll draw anything that looks like the new Audi S4 Cabriolet in his study-hall notebook.
It’s hard to think how Audi could have made this S4 Cabriolet more staid. Maybe they could have painted the side-view mirrors black instead of finishing them in aluminum? But there really isn’t any other ornamentation to dull down or remove. The S4 styling is affectation-free; a Listerine bottle laid down on its side and put on four wheels.
Audi engineers rushed the S4 Cabriolet to market after getting the corporate go-ahead just a bit more than a year ago. So there’s no big surprises in its engineering; this is an A4 Cabriolet stuffed full of the V-8 engine, quattro drivetrain and utterly capable suspension bits from the S4 sedan. In fact the only surprise would be if S4 stuff didn’t work just as well in the zip-top car as it does in the four-door.
The most compelling element of the S4 package is its 340-horsepower, DOHC, 40-valve, 4.2-liter V-8. There are loyalists out there who’ve bad-mouthed Audi for moving from the previous S4’s twin-turbo V-6 to this powerplant, as if it’s a betrayal of some sort. Betray away! Positioned longitudinally, the V-8 fills every micro-nook and nano-cranny of the engine bay and has so much low-end torque you half expect to open up the hood and be overrun by a thundering herd of pound-feet. Yet it still loves to rev. In fact the engine makes its peak 302 pound-feet at a modest 3500 rpm and sustains much of that right up to the redline - those 340 horsepower live at a super-zoomy 7000 rpm. Much of the credit must go to the five-valve combustion chambers, the variable timing on the intake valves, and the variable-volume intake manifold. Even with all that technology going for it, the output is still impressive considering the all-aluminum engine’s compact dimensions, low weight, and relatively modest displacement.
Buyers can opt for either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmissions behind that V-8. As this is written the automatic still had yet to be released, but the manual is a sweet shifting device. Fifth gear is already overdrive so sixth is like falling off a cliff and most high-performance romping is done in second, third and fourth. Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, incorporating a Torsen limited-slip center differential, distributes power to all four wheels.
Just like the engine, the suspension carries over from the S4 sedan to the Cabriolet intact. The front end sits on double A-arms done in aluminum while the independent rear suspension is built around trapezoidal links done in the same material and there’s a coil spring at each corner. Considering how Mercedes and BMW both have dived into the deep end of the electronic suspension technology pool lately, the S4’s lack of such complication is almost refreshing and the S4’s electronic stability control system is relatively unobtrusive. This is a performance machine so the suspension is stiff, but 235/40ZR18 Continental Conti Sport 2 tires are relatively quiet and respond quickly to input from the rack-and-pinion steering.
The Cabriolet body doesn’t share a single panel with other members of the A4 family and has a more rounded nose. On the S4 that face decorated with a unique egg crate grille, larger air intakes in the bumper, xenon headlamps, a "titanium-colored" frame around the windshield, and of course those aluminum-finished side mirrors (now a hallmark of Audi S-series machines). In the rear the big change is the presence of wrist-thick twin exhaust pipes. There’s not even a hint of a rear deck spoiler on this car.