There are lots of advantages to being in America. But one of the disadvantages is that European car makers tend to keep many of their most intriguing high performance models at home. Now, BMW is quite generous with their superb M-series, eventually anyway. And Mercedes-Benz is offering us more AMGs. But until recently, Audi has been conservative about doling out its most exciting machines to U.S. buyers. That did change last year with the thrilling S4 sedan. And for 2001, there are two more amazing Audis to enjoy.
And both wear the coveted S-badge. The designation that signals these cars are more than the average Audi. They are the 2001 S4 Avant, a potent high-performance version of Audi’s compact A4 wagon, and the 2001 S8, a full-size luxury sedan, designed to teach sports-car drivers a few things about speed.
Like its sedan sibling, the S4 Avant is a big step forward over the standard A4. Under the hood is a 2.7-liter, dual-overhead-cam, 30-valve, twin-turbo V6. It pumps out 250 horsepower, and 258 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated to a positive, but slightly-rubbery-feeling, 6-speed manual transmission like our test car’s, or a 5-speed Tiptronic automatic, and pumps all that torque to the road by way of Audi’s bullet-proof Quattro all-wheel-drive system and a set of 17-inch alloy wheels, wearing 225 tires.
At our test track, the S4 Avant sprinted to 60 in only 5.9-seconds, and through the 1/4- mile in 14.5-seconds at 97 miles-per-hour. Power delivery is strong off the line, but then really hits in the midrange, and stays solid all the way to the redline. Now that’s what we call a sport wagon. To match this acceleration, the S4 Avant also gets a 20-millimeter lower suspension, with firmer shocks and springs, plus thicker stabilizer bars. Which allow it to cut through the cones like the best sports cars. Our drivers used words like quick, nimble, tossable, and all the other adjectives that we use to describe cars that are a real joy to drive fast. And it even looks good, though in an understated way. In addition to the wheels and lowered suspension, only a few subtle styling cues, like the larger front air intakes and the “S” badges front and rear, indicate that this is anything other than a handsome little family hauler.
Though the $41,050 base price certainly lets you know it! Fully optioned, the S4 Avant will set you back $46,075.
If your pocketbook can still handle a little more, then there’s the larger S8. Like its brother the A8, this full-size, all-aluminum sedan is luxury incarnate.
But unlike the A8, the S8 packs supercar punch, with the 4.2-liter dual-overhead-cam 40- valve V8 pumping out 360 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. That’s 50 horses more than the A8. And with its 5-speed automatic Tiptronic gearbox engaged, hits 60 in only 6.1-seconds and pounds through the 1/4 mile in 14.6-seconds at 98 miles-per-hour. Bloody quick for a 4,086 pound car! That fat V8 torque is there from the get-go, but the power curve is so smooth and flat. There’s not the drama of a rear-drive car, just a seamless, invigorating rush. Like the S4 Avant, the S8 copes with the extra power by way of a lowered, stiffer suspension, and of course, Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive. The result is probably the most balanced car of its size that we’ve ever driven. In fact, it comes very close to that of our favorite all-time rear-drive sport sedan, BMW’s smaller, lighter M5. An impressive achievement!
And it does all this while still retaining the A8’s handsome, understated lines. Only the lowered ride height, 18-inch alloy wheels, polished aluminum side mirrors and S8 badges give away its performance potential, while the interior gets upgraded leather upholstery, and birds-eye maple trim.
But as with its smaller S-series relative, you pay a price for the S8’s premium performance. But it’s a very reasonable price ö for its class ö $73,075. Fully optioned, our test car carried a sticker price of $78,975. That’s a lot of money to us working stiffs. But by the standards of the ultra-high-end luxury car segment, the S8 is a quite a buy! And we’d gladly buy either one of Audi’s newest S- models, now that Audi is finally sharing them with us Yanks.
The 2001 Audi S4 Avant and S8 sedan are two more amazing reasons to be a car enthusiast. And now that we get them on our side of the pond, two more reasons that we’re glad to be Americans!
Engine: 2.7-Liter Dohc 30-valve Twin-turbo V6
Torque: 258 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.5 Seconds @ 97 MPH