The Dallas Morning News
Silence must be the official sound of the colourless 2000s.
When I walk just about anywhere these days, all I hear is nothing — and I don’t think I’m totally deaf yet, despite those fence-rattling afternoons at the drag strip.
Most of the time, I’m surrounded by digital zombies who stare intently at their hand-held devices, stumbling over curbs as they tap out texts to the mute standing next to them.
I’m not sure who tells them when to come in out of the rain.
But I sure hope this cultural disengagement doesn’t start tainting all of the rowdy, rough, proudly loud cars I’ve loved for decades — demanding, delightfully antisocial vehicles like Vipers and ’Vettes and Turbo Porsches.
If we’re not real careful here, we could easily become Europe or something.
And after a week with the polished, finely crafted 2013 Audi S4, I’m not really sure which direction we’re headed.
You probably remember some of the tough-guy S4s from a few years ago, back when they were smaller and blockier, powered by highly agitated, gas-gulping little V-8s.
They looked like neighbourhood thugs in porkpie hats.
Flat out, they sounded possessed — howling hoarsely through big quad exhausts like loonies racing through the Black Forest.
Although the 2013 S4 delivers just as much kick as previous versions of the high-performance all-wheel-drive sedan, it arrives minus some of the raw sensations of speed.
Somebody sweetened it.
As you probably know, Audi — like all automakers — needs to improve the fuel economy of its high-end vehicles to meet future federal standards.
The black S4 I had recently arrived with a supercharged three-litre V-6 that still spits out 333 horsepower but is now capable of achieving slightly better fuel economy of 13.84 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 9.05 L/100 km.
Moreover, it was tied to a proper six-speed manual, which certainly gave the 3,800-pound sedan great potential.
It looked pretty decent, too — far better dressed than the old S4s.
Though nowhere near as spectacularly styled as the more expensive A7, the S4 was handsome in a low-profile way.
Like most Audis, it wore a huge seven-bar trapezoidal grille stretched in the S4 between relatively subdued wrap-around headlamps.
A long, fairly flat hood extended from the grille to a moderately raked windshield.
Even the tires and wheels spoke quietly of the car’s performance — 245/40s on 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels.
While its smooth sides bordered on slabbish, they provided space for reasonably large doors.
As a result, the leg- and headroom in the interior were expansive.
As you probably know, Audi has long been an industry leader in interiors, and the $54,520 S4 confirmed that status.
A flat-black, discreetly textured dashboard curved gracefully over a black-faced instrument panel, dropping down onto a broad black centre stack.
The three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel felt sporty, and the smooth shifter and light clutch worked well at speed.
In addition, the black and red Napa leather seats seemed almost sinful, with smooth, taut black bolsters and lipstick-red centres.
Likewise, the door panels offered the same high-grade black plastic found on the dash, with padded red centres.
Before I began pushing the S4 hard, it felt more like a spirited luxury sedan than a German street fighter — a car that an executive vice- president at Cold Blooded Corp. would be comfortable in.
Though the ride was reasonably firm, it had enough compliance in it to lean some in hard corners.
And the engine, while silky and refined, felt soft and kind of quiet below 4,000 rpm — pretty appropriate for 2012.
But everything got a bit more intense when I pushed beyond 4,000, zinging the engine to its 6,800-r.p.m. red line.
The engine got leaner and meaner, surging some above 4,000 and pushing the substantial S4 to 100 km/h in a highly credible 5.1 seconds.
The light, quick steering —which felt overly boosted below 40 mph — got slightly tighter and livelier as the velocity increased.
Although the S4 never felt quite as athletic as an old S4, I strongly suspect that it is quicker on many curvy stretches of road.
Even in corners that caused it to lean some, the S4 never lost its balance, maintaining good grip in situations that put fairly severe loads on the tires.
It just didn’t look or feel as sporting as a similarly priced BMW 335 sedan — and that was a bit of a surprise.
But the S4 might offer a broader range — able to be a subdued business cruiser one minute and a semi-autobahn burner the next.
Here’s the deal: Modern cars like the S4 have gotten so good and capable that their manufacturers can dial in more compromises.
If you want smooth and quiet at slow speeds, that can be done. If you prefer fierce and loud, that’s possible, too.
But it’s tougher to sustain a gritty, snarling, sporting personality over a wide range, and that feels like a bit of a loss in the S4.
© Copyright 2013