2006 Audi S4 in the Autoblog Garage: Day 3-4

Recaro has long been synonymous with some of the world’s best driver-centric interiors... but as the seatmaker has expanded its influence as a original-equipment supplier, some might argue that the company’s racy edge has been lost. Happily, that isn't the case with the S4. Simply put, this Audi boasts some of the best sporting chairs going. Featuring 8-way power adjustability, a driver's side extendable lower cushion for those long-of-leg, 4-way power lumbar support and brilliant bolstering, ours arrived draped in Silk Nappa leather, a hue that does a nice job of lightening the interior, quite literally setting the tone. Great for hauls long and short, butts large and small, we're contemplating having a set made into rolling chairs for Autoblog's offices.... they're that good. They've even got little storage drawers underneath, perfect for storing valuables away from prying eyes.

[Click through to the jump for more interior details and tons of high-res photos]

Lest anyone forget, Audi has long enjoyed a reputation for standard-bearing interiors, particularly when it comes to finely crafted instrument panels and switchgear. Fortunately, the S4 will do little to sully that hard won reputation. Oh, it has its faults and its proclivities (as you‘re about to read), but make no mistake-- this is a focused machine with an interior to match.

Our Sprint Blue S4 came fitted with a dark gray dashboard and door cards of commendable fit and finish. Though most examples come spec'd with brushed aluminum trim, ours was outfitted with $300 of attractive carbon-fiber trim. Had it been paired with black hides, we'd probably recommend staying with the standard silver trim to avoid an overtly stark appearance.

As might reasonably be expected of a true sporting piece, a look at the gauge cowl tells drivers all they need to know. Dominated by the large silver-rimmed analog tachometer and 170-mph speedometer, a central rectangular screen also unobtrusively displays core information right in the driver’s line of sight-- including basic navigation directions, distance to empty, outside temp, rudimentary radio data, etc. Better still, most of the settings are easily manipulated via the clever little click wheels on the beautifully-proportioned leather-wrapped three spoker. Operating in a fashion similar to that of a PC mouse’s scroll button, they allow drivers to focus on the road ahead. Smaller auxiliary gauges monitor engine temp and fuel, and a trio of buttons on either side of the bottom of the binnacle adjust the usual -- clock, trip meter, and so on. Simple, intuitive stuff.

The same can't be entirely said of Audi's Multi-Media interface (MMi). While leaps and bounds better than, say, BMW's insipid iDrive and Mercedes' troublesome COMAND system, things are hardly 100-percent instinctual. MMi governs everything from inputting sat-nav data to the radio (AM/FM/XM), cd-changer and telephony functions. Drivers can pour through menus via the large twist knob adjacent the lower-right corner of the screen, and the four buttons surrounding it correspond to options offered on the four quadrants whatever menu is on-screen. For those willing to do without the sat-nav ($1950), a simpler layout can be had. As is the way with most media test vehicles, our S4 arrived loaded to the sills featuring everything from the aforementioned navigation system to a Bose Premium Audio system with Bluetooth capability and satellite radio ($1,500). The $2,900 premium package mentioned in the first installment brings to the party a slew of features including a moonroof, memory-enabled driver's seat and mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, Homelink and auto-dimming mirrors, among other features.

Audi's navigation software itself is fairly easy-to-use and boasts a high degree of configurability, enabling drivers to choose how they view their turn-by-turn directions, etc. Of note, a now industry-standard warning admonishes drivers of the dangers of operating the system while moving, requiring drivers to push the knob to "accept" responsibility. But critically, the system does not lock out those looking to adjust their destinations while on the move-- it simply repeats the distraction warning and lets one get on with the business of finding a destination. This strikes as a better solution to the liability issue, which has scared many automakers into disabling certain features when vehicles are in motion. Done this way, co-drivers can operate the system without stopping, particularly useful on long trips. In an amusing gesture, the 'points of interest' function on the GPS doesn't just find standard destinations like ATMs, restaurants and gas stations... it has icons for theme parks, golf courses, and... wait for it... casinos. Priorities, people.

As mentioned, our S4’s Premium Audio Package treats audiophiles not only to enhanced sound, but improved media options, as well. All S4s come with a glovebox-mounted six-disc changer, but the optional Bose system affords MP3 capability with two memory card slots hidden beneath the motorized 6.5” screen. iPod integration? Sadly, not so much.

Fortunately for all those involved, Audi has seen fit to keep the HVAC controls distinct from that of the MMI. Supervision for the dual-zone climate controls, defroster and weapons-grade seat heaters are via brace of buttons below the screen. They work well enough, but we still prefer the simpler three-knob variety, as all of the controls can feel alike and occasionally require a glance or more to decipher.

The center console's tall sides look to afford solid bracing during enthusiastic driving, and without turning the key, rowing through the slick six-speed gearbox topped by a pleasantly contoured leather knob is enough to give S4-intenders wannabe rally-driver fantasies. Shame about the anonymous-looking pedals, then. No slick aluminum pieces here, just mass-market rubber-padded items placed close together in standard European fashion. At least there’s an adjustable armrest for long-distance runarounds-- it integrates storage and cell phone accommodations.

While it's admittedly hard to give up the driver's seat, a quick look in back is in order. Rear seat occupants are likewise treated to Recaro seats, though obviously bolstering is a significantly less aggressive. A large, flat center armrest secrets a pair of retractable cupholders-- but for whatever reason, we couldn't get ours to budge. In keeping with the all-weather capability of our Quattro-aided S4, our example's Cold Weather Package ($400), included rear-seat heaters and a nifty ski-sack that extends into the cabin like a K2-sized prophylactic. The 60/40 split seats offer plenty of support, but the S4's major problem is its lack of legroom. Given a driver of standard size (say, 5'9"), rear seat passengers will find that there's barely adequate room behind the seats for longer drives. Head and shoulder room are acceptable, but those who ferry about a lot of adult guests would do well to note that this is a platform that would really benefit from 2"-3" more leg and knee room.

The abbreviated rear quarters means that the large trunk comes as something of a surprise. A tradeoff between the available 13.4 cubic feet of stowage and rear seat passengers obviously favors the former (that, or great effort has been made to preserve the vehicle's roofline and proportions). Regardless, the trunk's wide aperture and flat load floor are most appreciated, as is the cargo netting, a feature that should keep all and sundry intact when the driver summons the 4.2-liter V8's substantial reserves. With the seats folded (nearly) flat, it had no trouble swallowing a new 18" Diamondback mountain bike, though admittedly we took off the front wheel first. Should the occasion arise where one needs to remove a wheel on the S4, there's a full-size spare tire underneath the load floor.

Given the S4's decidedly lofty performance capabilities, a full complement of safety features are wisely in the mix, including a full compliment of airbags (front, side and curtain), seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters, active front head restraints, LATCH points for child seats, and so on. Defeatable Electronic Skid Protection (ESP) is also standard-issue stuff, as are anti-lock four-wheel discs with brake-assist.

All-in, the S4's interior is a suitably sporting environment, with peerless seats, excellent built quality and a wide range of standard features and optional extras. Given a knack for electronic wizardry (MMI) and understanding friends and/or offspring (tight rear seat), Audi's uber-A4 makes for a compelling package.

Stick with us for the S4's final days in the Autoblog Garage, when we grab it by the scruff and see what Ingolstadt's four-ringed wonder is capable of.

Missed the first installment of the Audi S4's stint in the Autoblog Garage? Catch it here.

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