2010 Audi S4
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
3.0-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve, supercharged and intercooled
Six-speed S tronic automated manual
Peak Power: 333 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2900 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Fuel Economy: 18 city/ 28 hwy
They say history repeats itself; in the case of the automotive industry, it seems to repeat itself in distinct cycles. Through the 1980s, Audi made its performance bones with small-displacement turbocharged vehicles. Then came the '90s and the so-called horsepower wars, V8 engines once again became all the rage, and even Audi succumbed to that trend.
Hardcore S enthusiasts were sorely disappointed when the B6 S4 debuted with a 4.2-liter naturally aspirated V8, especially since one of the most loved Audi performers of all time was the previous-gen B5. It employed a twin-turbocharged V6 for motivation, and became one of the most sought-after European tuner platforms because of its huge power potential with varying degrees of induction modification.
Then came 2009, the new-age "gas crunch," and the faltering world economy-high efficiency once again became fashionable. And Audi has returned to its roots-somewhat-with this latest 2010 S4. Motivation again comes from a V6, 3.0 liters in this case, to which is strapped a forced induction system. But rather than turbos, this time it's a supercharger (in spite of the V6 T badging).
The inevitable groans erupted from the enthusiast quarter (I want my twin turboooooos). But to any naysayers, I challenge you to get your butt into a '10 S4, fling it around a bit, and then tell me it sucks. I dare ya.
The blown V6 pushes 333 peak hp. This won't make the S4 an M3 killer-it's aimed more at the 335i. But you could argue the new S4 is about three-quarters M3. And then there's the whole tuning potential thing with the forced induction; we'll just have to wait and see.
Engine output aside, the S4 has a couple of other things going for it. First, it will enter the market at $45,900 (manual transmission) with a long list of standard equipment. Second is engine efficiency. According to Audi's reckoning, that will run in the range of 21 mpg combined. Try squeezing that from a V8.
Most impressive is the car's poise and road-holding ability, thanks largely in part to Quattro drive and shockingly precise steering. An optional active center sport differential is available as a concession to those who'd like to try to go "tail-out." It certainly feels more dramatic from the driver's seat than it looks from the outside; tail-out here is a pretty relative term. That's not to say some enterprising hoon couldn't swing the rear around and go into a four-wheel drift... but that kinda defeats the point of AWD. -Karl Funke
From the Hip
Good power matched with good efficiency, excellent road-holding ability
No twin turboooos
Mini John Cooper Works
2009 Mini JCW
Longitudinal front engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 211 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 191 lb-ft @ 1850-5600 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.6 sec.
Top Speed: 146 mph
Fuel Economy: 26 city/34 hwy
When we took delivery in August, it was one of those puzzling late summer weeks when miraculously it wasn't ball-sweatingly hot. Where we normally would have opted for the stiffer-handling hardtop, we now saw the opportunity to enjoy a cabrio in the perfect conditions for which it was made.
Living about 20 minutes from the beach, I felt it was only fair my brother and I take the MINI for a seaside drive. (Quick note: two dudes in a convertible Mini don't get many looks from the ladies, if you know what I mean.) Charging down PCH with the top down was quite the aural assault. The JCW-tuned 1.6-liter engine makes a hearty 211 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque (a sizeable step above the Cooper S's 172 hp and 177 lb-ft). Spent fumage is barked out the backend through two sinister-looking (and sounding) exhaust pipes. And the Sport button-depressed from minute one-initiated boost on the quick and upped steering and throttle response. All that could be heard was the wind tearing over the open top, and that guttural exhaust note.
So we're flying along when we come upon a common sight on PCH in the summer: traffic. (Parallel parking on a highway? Serious?) But we knew some shortcuts through the hills of Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. Whipping around sweeping curves and tight corners in this little bugger is so fun as to be addicting. The Works' unique electronic differential lock control (EDLC) makes grip near absolute. Which isn't to say that you can't get some lateral travel. It's just that the car likes to stick. Big ol' Brembo breaks, color-matched calipers, and 17-inch wheels don't hurt.
What have we learned from JCW MINIs? That they're Coopers on steroids. With a larger turbo, larger wheels, larger exhaust and larger brakes, this MINI has been taken to the maxi. (That doesn't sound quite right, but you get the idea.) It's fast in a serious way, but infused with quirky enthusiasm not found in most Euros. Most of the cars we drive are fun, yes. But in a "don't smile, this is serious business" kind of way. The MINI is a sprightly little bucket filled to the brim with fun. JCW came along and piled some more on top.
That new ad hook, about how they have go-kart handling? Spot on. But even karts have their flaws. Punching it from a standstill brings about some torque steer for the ages. If that's the one downside to this grippy little torque-monger, it's a small price to pay. -Drew Farrington
From the Hip
Traction machine, racecar feel in a compact package
Copious torque steer, pricey price tag