A Rare Indulgence

2008, Audi, S4 Cabriolet

Forgive me if I sound a little guilty. You see, I just spent a week with a very special car, and it was wonderful. The only thing is it was not very kind to the environment. For a week, I didn't care, though, and neither would you, I'll bet, if you had a chance to drive it around yourself.

The Audi S4 Cabriolet takes the very fine entry-luxury A4 and pumps it up. That "S" on an Audi model means "sporty" and this model delivers that. With a 4.2-liter, 340-horsepower V8 behind the tall single-frame grille with its special "S" texture, this baby rockets along. Like the four-cylinder turbo and V6 engines in the A4 model, this V8 is on the Wards' 10 Best Engines list, notable industry recognition.

It's especially fun driving the S4 through its six-speed manual transmission. You rarely get the chance these days to individually select your own gears with all that power available on the other end of the shift linkage.

To make the experience all the more exciting, The S4 Cabriolet has a drop top. And it's not just any convertible, it is completely automatic and with the top up, it's almost as quiet inside as the four-door sedan version. I counted 21 seconds to get the top down or up. All you do is press a button. The soft top stows completely under the rear deck.

I impressed a couple of boys in front of a local Chinese restaurant when I dropped the top in front of them. Just be sure to drop the luggage protector in the trunk or the top will refuse to budge and a message will display in the gauge binnacle telling you what the problem is.

The 4,266-pound S4 Cabriolet, with all-wheel-drive Quattro, earns EPA mileage numbers of 13 City, 20 Highway, and I averaged just 16.3 mpg. Yes, I know. People who buy this car don't care, but it's sobering to pull up to the pump these days when it costs $10 a day to drive to work. The S4 Cabriolet wears a $1,700 Gas Guzzler tax on its window sticker.

And, the EPA Green Vehicle Guide rates the S4 with a reasonable 6 for Air Pollution, but its Greenhouse Gas score is just a 3, about the lowest I've seen. Ah, such a guilty pleasure to motor blissfully along knowing that fact.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, back to the fun part. The Cabriolet has that certain something that Audis possess, perfect proportions, carefully wrought shape, quality materials, excellent fit and finish. That makes a big impression when you see it on the road or approach it in your driveway and press the flip-out key fob and step inside.

Once you sit down, you can enjoy the fine materials, design and assembly that are the standard of the industry. My wife commented, "Now this is what a car's interior should smell like." The red seats, with black piping, emit a rich aroma of carefully tanned and colored hides. The driver's seat offers programmable settings for four different drivers, the most I've seen in a car. The driver's side mirror is included in that preset as well.

Those memory settings are part of the $2,625 Convenience Package, which includes many other enjoyable benefits, such as beautiful 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels, the Bose premium sound system, and preparation for the Bluetooth phone you need to be using in California since July 1, 2008 (it's the law).

My tester had carbon fiber trim inside, much more high tech looking than wood, but if you want real tree you can order walnut or fine-grain birch. Driving along, you tend to forget the car's a convertible when the top's up because the thermally insulated top keeps out sound and cold.

Even though it's a soft top convertible, the S4 is very safe. The windshield pillars are reinforced with steel tubes. The door sills are specially configured for crash safety. There's a carefully engineered rollover protection system. Sensor-activated bars pop out to protect rear passengers, and combined with the super strong windshield pillars, give you space to climb out. Drive safely and you have nothing to worry about.

My test car, in Ibis White, started out at $56,775, but options pushed it up a bit. Besides the Convenience Package, my car had Audi's navigation system, which included an iPod interface in place of the six-disk CD changer. When I plugged in my iPod, not only did the audio system list the songs and allow control but it actually charged the unit while it was doing it. On shuffle, it was like having my own radio station.

The $64,450 sticker price included rear heated seats, too, just the thing for cruising roofless on a cool evening.

Ah, guilty pleasure.

By Steve Schaefer

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Images of the 2008, Audi S4 Cabriolet

2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet front view
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet front view
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet interior
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet interior
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet naviagtion unit
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet naviagtion unit
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet rear shot
2008 Audi S4 Cabriolet rear shot