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2009 Audi S4 ReviewThe Good
While the 2009 Audi S4 Cabriolet remains essentially unchanged from the previous year, many will consider that good news, since it means the S4 retains its throaty, powerful V8 engine, stylish exterior, and sporty handling, which combine to make drop-top driving an invigorating experience.The Bad
The '09 S4's V8 engine tends to be a gas guzzler, and as in many convertibles, rear seat space and cargo room are limited, although the S4 offers more rear-seat legroom than some competitors' vehicles.
The CarGurus View
If you need an economical vehicle to haul around a large family, the 2009 Audi S4 probably won't meet your expectations. But if you're in the market for a car that makes a statement, drives like a true sports car, and delivers one of the best open-air driving experiences this side of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, the 2009 Audi S4 certainly fits the bill.
At a Glance
Drivers who like the power and rumble of a V8 engine should grab the 2009 Audi S4 while they can. The S4 will see a redesign in the coming year, and according to reports the next-generation S4 will receive a supercharged V6 in place of its current V8, as well as a design update. For now, the '09 S4 retains its throaty, compact V8 powerplant, which has put a smile on the face of a great many drivers and reviewers.
Audi offers the two-door, four-passenger S4, a sporty variant of the automaker's A4 Cabriolet, in two trims for 2009. The standard S4 Cabriolet comes equipped with a short-throw six-speed manual transmission with a synchronized reverse gear. The S4 Cabriolet with Tiptronic adds a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which enables drivers who want a sportier experience to override the automatic mode by maneuvering the shift lever into a second gate. Drivers can then shift manually using paddle shifters located on the steering wheel. Both transmissions work in conjunction with the S4's quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The S4 Cabriolet comes equipped with a fully automatic Acoustic soft top with a heated rear glass window. When the insulated top is up and in place, it keeps the cabin quiet and comfortable. Drivers can raise and lower the top in just 24 seconds at the push of a button.
Audi designed the S4 so it excels with the top raised or lowered. With the top up, the S4 delivers a tight, coupe-like ride, protecting passengers against wind, noise, and uncomfortable weather. But occupants will likewise be comfortable with the top down. Audi designed the S4 so passengers aren't buffeted by turbulence during open-air driving, and a structurally reinforced chassis results in a ride that's free of body sway and rattles. While Audi has geared the S4 primarily toward male drivers, female drivers will equally appreciate the S4's many attributes and amenities.
A well-reviewed 340-hp, 4.2-liter V8 engine remains the heart of the 2009 S4 Cabriolet. The V8 produces 302 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 RPM, which provides plenty of power under the pedal, either off the mark or when passing at highway speeds. As evidence, the V8 can drive the S4 from 0 to 60 mph in an exhilarating 5.3 seconds.
However, as you might expect, the V8 tends to guzzle gas, achieving just 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission. Those figures improve slightly to 14/23 with the Tiptronic transmission. (Fuel efficiency should also improve in the coming year with the S4's new supercharged V6.) The current V8 engine requires premium unleaded fuel.
The S4's quattro all-wheel-drive system, which comes standard on both trims, automatically transfers power away from spinning wheels to those with sufficient grip as needed to ensure maximum traction and stability on all types of road surfaces.
Ride & Handling
The 2009 S4 Cabriolet rides on a lowered sport-tuned suspension, which ably absorbs the harshest elements of the road while delivering a firm ride and agile handling, even in tight corners. Thanks to its rigid body, the S4 displays a minimum of body roll and sway, which is evident in some drop-tops. Reviewers note that when seated behind the wheel on a twisty section of road, the S4 rides and handles like a true sports car.
Audi's Servotronic speed-dependent power steering, which adjusts the amount of steering assist depending on road speed, comes standard. The S4 rides on big 18-inch seven-double-spoke alloy wheels and high-performance tires, which add to its ability to deliver a smooth, gliding ride.
Sport seats with lateral support, in the form of prominent side sections, keep the driver and passenger firmly planted, even in tight curves, while Silk Nappa full-leather upholstery makes for a comfortable driving experience over long distances. Interior controls are easy to reach and operate from the driver's seat.
The S4 offers ample headroom for tall passengers in both the front and back seats. Taller passengers might feel cramped in the rear seats, where legroom remains tight, although the S4 offers more rear legroom than some competitors' vehicles, according to reviewers.
Cabin & Comfort
The S4's interior does not lack for creature comforts. In addition to leather seats, as well as leather-wrapped center armrests and door inserts, the S4 comes equipped with a three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and 12-way power-adjustable heated front seats. The front seats also include electric lumbar support and electric head restraints.
Interior lighting includes fade-in, fade-out, and time-delay capabilities. Dual-zone climate control and a backlit instrument cluster also come standard. Drivers can add gray birch wood trim and heated rear seats as options.
The 2009 S4 comes well-equipped with all the latest audio and technology gadgets, including a Driver Information System with a color screen, electronic cruise control, an extended range (up to 150 feet) remote locking system, and an Audi Symphony audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and Sirius satellite radio.
An extending and retracting mesh wind screen, located behind the front seats, effectively reduces wind turbulence when the top is down. Although some might find luggage space in the trunk limited at 10.2 cubic feet, it should be sufficient for most cargo needs.
Chief among the S4's many safety features is its Active Rollover Protection system, which automatically unlocks the central locking system, switches on interior and hazard warning lights, and switches off the engine if it detects an impending crash. The system also triggers two protective bars, which extend within milliseconds to protect the passengers should crash sensors detect a rollover situation.
Other safety features include four-wheel antilock brakes, brake assist, and an Electronic Stabilization System, which helps the driver keep control of the car when it's pushed to its limits. Next-generation airbags include two fixed head restraints for rear-seat passengers.
What Owners Think
Given its combination of impressive power, sporty handling, and that retractable soft top, the 2009 Audi S4 naturally has garnered high marks from drivers. Many describe the S4 driving experience as elegant and invigorating, with excellent build quality. The S4 tends to practically glide over the road, according to some drivers, and handles surprisingly well, although the ride can sometimes feel harsh on rough roads. The V8's exhaust note and front grille were both singled out by drivers as positive points. However, the S4 can feel a little heavy at times, some note, and others add that manual shifting requires some care to avoid jerky operation.
CarGurus drivers similarly give the S4 high marks, especially for its powerful V8 engine and stylish exterior. On the downside, they note, the S4 has a small back seat, a small gas tank, and tends to be a gas guzzler.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.