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2004 Audi S4 Quattro MT6 Compact Sport Sedan

What was Tested?: 2004 Audi S4 Quattro MT6 Compact Sport Sedan

Mileage: 15 city / 21 highway

Base MSRP: $45,650

The 2004 Audi S4's genetic makeup is pure muscle car - at least, under the hood. It's power packed with a 4.2-liter V8 heart that beats a pulsating 340 horses at 7,000 rpm and 302 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. It can race from 0-to-60 mph in 5.3 seconds and has a top speed of 155-mph. With so much adrenaline, you'd think the S4 was an asphalt-hungry wild animal, chomping at the bit to be let lose.

However, unlike some performance cars that require a heavy foot, the Audi is all sophistication. It responds without coaxing. There's a silkiness to the way its shifter slips in and out of the gates. Its handling is tight as it gallantly steers through twisties and S-curves with poise. All the while, its all-wheel drive system is designed to keep the tires sticking to the streets like glue. In essence, it's a marketer's dream as the Audi S4 is the real deal; there's no need to add extra commercial hype to make it appear larger than it is or to attract followers - one test drive and you'll be visualizing it parked in your garage.

Sunglasses alert

We must note however, that before we continue to sing the S4's praises, we do have to voice one concern that, had we not driven and experienced the S4, would have tainted our opinion of it. With so much automotive magic: awe-inspiring performance and high quality interior materials, why, oh why did Audi wrap it in an "Imola Yellow" exterior? It's like driving a sunbeam around town; granted, we never lost sight of it in a crowded parking lot, but it also seemed to take away from its luxury image.

Intrigued by its name and overly cheery disposition, we took to the Internet to find the reasoning behind this sheet metal conundrum. As it turns out, hard core racing fans will most likely appreciate this S4-exclusive color as its namesake, Imola, is the famous track in San Marino, Italy, and host of the Formula 1 racing, where racecars are known for their flashy, vivid colors. (Fortunately, for non-racing fans, the S-4 is also available in black, gray and silver.)

Back in the States, on the more mundane highways and boulevards that flow through our cities, the Audi S4 is involved in its own heated competition: vying for the consumers' eye in a segment that's lead by two of the most established luxury performance manufacturers out there: Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Spec sheet race

When it comes to the S4's closest competitors, BMW's M3 and Mercedes-Benz's C32 AMG, the differences among the three come down to personal preferences. There's the driving enthusiast's best friend, the BMW M3; the prestige seeker's trophy, the Mercedes-Benz C32 and right smack in the middle is the Audi S4, which has taken the racing spirit of the Beemer and the interior refinement of the Mercedes and rolled it into a sporty package that comes priced lower than both ($45,650 for Audi versus $47,100 for the BMW and $51,400).

The Audi S4, like the BMW M3, comes standard with a six speed manual transmission; thereby, maximizing the driver's connection with the road. The Mercedes-Benz C32, on the other hand, is only available one way: automatic transmission. Though, with a horsepower rating of 349 and a whiplash inducing 332 lb-ft. of torque, the C32 is no tortoise.

Other differences among the three include the fact that the BMW and Mercedes are both rear wheel driven versus the Audi's all-wheel system. Mercedes has the lowest drag coefficient (.27) while Audi comes in second (.30) and BMW a close third (.33). And, on the inside, the Audi takes the prize in rear legroom, as well as cargo and passenger volume.

Creature comforts

One of the great attributes of the luxury performance class is the fact that drivers get the best of both worlds: fast, confident handling mixed with polished, roomy interiors. These are the cars you purchase when you have an itch for a true sports car, but need room to escort a family of four around town.

Styled for the driver, the S4's cockpit is accented in gray birch wood and wraps around the driver in a racecar-style fashion, placing the audio and climate control knobs and dials within half an arm's reach. Meanwhile, the backseat generously caters to passengers, with room for two average-size adults and generous amounts of leg, shoulder and headroom.

Available as a sedan or wagon, the S4 packs in lots of standard goodies, such as xenon headlights, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated mirrors and a 10-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD player. Opt for the premium package and you'll add an extra $1,650 to the bottom line, along with a glass sunroof, Homelink remote transmitter, auto-dimming interior and exterior lighting and memories for both the driver's seat and the side mirrors.

If you are in the market for a luxury sports sedan, then you owe it to yourself to include the Audi S4 in your list of test-drives. It's powerful and capable and can confidently go head-to-head with better-known sports sedans. Furthermore, it can be as elegant or avant garde as you'd like - it all depends on if you choose the black sheet metal or Imola Yellow.

Side bar: What is Quattro?

Quattro is Audi's permanent all-wheel drive system. The theory behind this 20-year-long tradition is that power is transferred from front-to-back and side-to-side as needed, whenever a spinning wheel is detected. This equals better handling and improved traction.

Engine: 4.2L DOHC V8

Warranty: 4-year / 50,000-mile

Horsepower: 340 hp @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 302 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Curb weight: 3,825 lbs.

0-60 mph speed: 5.3 seconds

Top track speed: 155 mph