To borrow a phrase, Smurfin' ain't easy-- at least not for those hoping to maintain a low profile. Case in point: Our Audi S4 tester, resplendent in Gargamel-goading Sprint Blue Pearl Effect ($750). The cop-baiting color readily illustrates that cartoon blue is the new 'Arrest Me Red' -- as if the S4 lacks sufficient visual and aural drama to begin with. Given the S4's throaty 340-horse, eight-cylinder urge, drivers quickly learn that striking a wallflower pose is near-as-dammit impossible... but we'll get to that later. In the meantime, prospective owners are advised to invest in a quality radar detector, pick an understated hue from the order books, and pray for understanding magistrates.
It isn't as if the S4 wants for a sense of occasion-- at least up front. As seen here, Audi's new corporate face centers around the large chrome-lipped horsecollar grille has quickly spread throughout the lineup to divisive reviews. While it undoubtedly fails to deliver the elegant proportions of previous iterations, it certainly doesn't lack presence. This is particularly true in light of S4's broad stance and wide footprints. Given the massive shove underhood, candlepower of similar urgency for safe nighttime travel is comforting, necessary stuff. To that end, piercing tri-element high intensity discharge headlights cast their gaze down the road, augmented by bumper-resident round auxiliary lamps. With the Premium Package mentioned earlier, adaptive lighting is also part of the picture. Critically, our evaluator was registered in Michigan, saving it the indignity of a front license plate-- something that has a way of really blemishing the face of automobiles whose grilles appear to run below the bumper line.
In profile, the S4 is remarkably similar to garden-variety A4s-- no lurid fender extensions or rude cutlines, just some subtle doorsill extensions and side mirrors mittened in chrome. Audi's lilting arc of a roofline continues to age as gracefully as you like, with windows edged delicately in brightwork. On the S4, the brand's now-iconic 18" Avus wheels come as standard-fit, but as part of a $2,900 Premium Package, ours arrived shod with somewhat timid-looking 18" 14-spoke alloys and summer tires. With just a pair of small dedicated turn-signal lenses hiding in the bumpers and a fender-punctuating repeater (adjacent a diminutive 'V8' badge), the S4's profile borders on Q-ship innocuous.
Out back, the rump plays the same restrained tune. Eagles-head taillamps (subtly echoing the fixtures up front) and a flash of chrome garnish mark out the trunklid, and a blacked-out lower valance bookended by the business-end of a pair of double-tipped cans add visual aggression. But without the modest S4 emblems front and rear, one could be forgiven for mistaking Audi's bahn-burner for a bog-standard A4 flexing upgraded wheels and tires.
The net-net is a split-decision. For some, the S4's visual enhancements will likely not speak loudly enough to the substantial price and performance increase over more common A4s. For others seeking a clandestine mod-rod, the reigned-in aesthetics (our tester's color aside) and lack of boy-racer aerodynamic addenda speak of the sort of quiet dignity and restraint best suited to high-speed, ticket-free running. Besides, for those with the financial wherewithal, a hotter RS4 arrives in Audi dealerships shortly and promises to ratchet up the visceral wattage another notch.
Stay tuned as we crack the door, peer underhood, and row through our S4's six-speed gearbox with great vengeance and furious anger in search of its Quattro-abetted, V8-motivated mettle and soul.
Can't stand the suspense? Here's a hint.