Fun, fun fun on the Autobahn |

Fun, fun fun on the Autobahn

Special to the Daily Things only get better in the 2004 Audi S4 Cabriolet.

There’s an admitted impracticality to convertibles in the High Country, unless you’re one of those lucky folks with the four-car garage and a fleet of alternate rides more suited to chilly days. Nonetheless, there’s still something to be said for the open-air appeal of the drop-top, especially with fall colors at their brightest and temperatures still prime for cruising.That’s why last weekend was a primo opportunity to give an Audi S4 Cabriolet the full test treatment in the tight curves of both Battle Mountain Pass and a late-night run to State Bridge.

I must confess that even now, a half-week later, I still pine for the crisp, smooth and utterly breathtaking German engineering embodied by the S4. Tallied together, the car’s acceleration, flat-out speed, cornering, braking and ride make it the best vehicle we’ve driven all year, with understated but absolutely top of the line finishing details. Engineers somehow found a way to fit a 340 horsepower 4.2 liter V-8 into a chassis nearly identical to the A4 Cabriolet, with the results being ungodly surges of acceleration and passing power that never got old, no matter how much we drove the convertible. Audi’s time-tested Quattro all-wheel drive system also lends the S4 a degree of handling and agility that borders on the sublime, with a six-speed manual transmission channeling the charging in an even more effective fashion (a six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddles, is also available).First-timers will find the Quattro handling a little heady at high speeds but you’ll learn to adapt to (and love) the strong-arm steering. Or maybe slow down a bit and enjoy the ride.

The entire experience is infinitely more fun with the roof down. Fully automatic, the soft top disappears into the trunk in about 24 seconds – with considerable room left for luggage. And even at highway speeds, the open air effect is smooth and comfortable, although the S4 does come with an additional rear air deflector to cover the back seats during longer two-person trips. Road and air noise is surprisingly quiet with the roof up; there’s also a heated glass window in the back should you want to run the car year-round.Parked behind some incredibly bright Xenon headlights, the S4 carries a low and slightly stocky profile that softens up a bit with the top dropped. Some have noted that the S4 is the ultimate sleeper – especially wrapped in a soft Dolphin Grey metallic paint job, as ours was – ready to pounce at a stoplight or scream past slower traffic with nothing audacious to give it away. I’d heartily agree. Save for its pair of chrome exhaust pipes, the styling is understated and refined. But open the throttle up (and believe me, you will, at every opportunity), and the S4 rumbles and roars like an old-school muscle car.

A set of grippy, high-performance Continental 235/40 R18s (set on oversized six-spoke wheels) adds to that effort, holding the road at even the highest of speeds.Things get even better inside, with comfortable, full-leather seating for four. Rear passengers get legitimate legroom and ample seat space; up front, the infinitely adjustable driver and passenger’s seats offer solid but non-oppressive (i.e. BMW-style) support for longer trips. Access to back seats is also easy with a power slider switch near the headrests.With an attractive blend of leather, solid plastic and hardwood highlights, the whole package is very nice indeed.On the dash, red-lit gauges and steel-rimmed air vents ride behind an oversized, leather-wrapped and totally ergonomic steering wheel. Console controls are equally minimalistic, with a powerful dual-zone heating and A/C system; a digital display between speedo and tach offers instant updates on mileage, range, temperature and other warnings.

The S4’s awesome Bose Symphony sound system features an in-dash six-CD changer and oversized sound. Ours also came with 150 channels of XM Satellite Radio, which was wonderfully cool (check out Fred and Ethel, the alternative stations) and only lost reception during deep-walled canyon driving.Any negatives? Other than Quattro steering tightness at top speed, the S4’s main downside is its thirst for fuel. That roaring V-8 will serve up 11 miles a gallon if you run it too hot; 15 city and 21 highway are reported, and we averaged only 16 miles a gallon throughout the test. The S4’s low-set ride also means a bumpy experience on anything but smooth pavement; this is one all-wheel-drive we wouldn’t recommend for off-road jaunts (slow down for speed bumps too).Those seem like slight trespasses when contrasted with the S4’s fantastic feel and finish. At close to $60K, she’s not cheap but will certainly do the trick for drop-top fans seeking smooth power; the S4 is No. 1 on my Christmas Wish List for this year.

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