An M3 owner talks about his S4

All:
I have spent significant time in M3's in recent years (120,000+ miles in an E36, and 40,000+ miles in an E46), but recently I purchased a 2007 Audi S4. After nearly 3,000 miles in this car, I have some
observations.
First, this is NOT an S4 versus M3 "which is better" rant. It's just to point out what I have noticed as differences in the two cars...
For background, the cars have been as follows:
1) 1999 M3, purchased new. Ti silver with silver interior (silver sport "vader" seats, manual adjust), OBC, and sunroof.
2) 2002 M3, Purchased 2005 (thanks, Katrina) as a certified car. 6sp Carbon Black over black leather and Ti beltline trim, MkIII nav, seat heaters, sunroof, BiXenons.
3) 2007 S4, Purchased new. 6sp Black pearl over black/silver alcantara. Nav, Bose, DTM pkg, park control, BT, and the rest of the kitchen sink.
For background, about me: I'm 38, and a systems engineer by trade. I like to drive fast. A lot. I do not race in any sort of formal sense, though I have had more than my fair share of triple-digit encounters with other vehicles on the street. I don't have all weekend every weekend to take down and modify my car. And, even if I did, I have little or no desire to make severe mods to cars like these, anyway (with the possible exception of an exhaust or a remapped ECU), as I feel that a team of German engineers spending 7 years at the design table really do have more automotive knowledge than I do, and thus the final compromise might actually be better than what my shadetree butt can come up with.
That may make me seem to be less of gearhead than some, and that may be true, but the fact that remains is that I love my cars, and I think I am in a unique position to honestly compare the vehicles as a relatively normal driver.
Now, on to my observations...
First, the non-functional stuff:
Build quality-
The S4, by and large appears to have an overall better build quality than the either M3, at least as far as the interior goes. (The exterior appointments are essentially equal across the board for these cars).
The E46 BMW had numerous interior trim pieces, most of which were finished in some sort of coating which was given to peeling upon extended exposure to heat ( I live in New Orleans, and the cars do tend to bake in the summer ). I replaced 3 of 7 of the interior beltline trim pieces, at an average cost of about $100 apeice (I replaced both armrests, which are also coated in the beltline material). Not a huge deal, but on a mid-50K car, it was just something that shouldn't have happened. Also, the interior window trim, while very attractive, was a separate piece of fabric-covered rubber, and very given to delaminating from the door/window frame. Once again, how good can you feel about a relatively expensive car when you're driving down the street with part of the interior hanging in the window?
The E36 BMW had better trim than the E46, even though it wasn't as flashy. The trim was solid all around, with no esoteric coatings to peel, and the finish was a little more durable on the plastic. There were far fewer pieces to the fabric trim at the headliner and pillars, and those were apparently built better than their more modern counterparts.
My S4, by contrast, has carbon fiber trim that is really very durable looking, and the polished resin that makes up the bulk of the trim pieces appears to be very resistant to scratching. The whole setup is molded-through, not a coating, so I'm not worried bout peeling or nicking, etc. The pillar and window trims are integrated with the headliner, and the fabric appears bonded to the rigid structure of the headliner. All in all, it seems to be a more durable approach. The cleanability of this setup has yet to be determined.
Creaking armrests... From the moment I got the E46, the armrests, both door and center, creaked in a very plasticky way when any pressure at all was applied. This was eminently annoying, and really should have been worked out before the car saw the light of day. Yes, the replacement armrests creaked in exactly the same way. Now, I admit, this is not part and parcel to the performance of the car, but I use the armrests in some way EACH AND EVERY time I use the car. They should do their work silently.
The E36, on the other hand, had zero in terms of armrest creak. It was just nice in this way.
The S4 has rock solid armrests, but the center armrest does creak a little. I plan to take the armrest apart, and apply paraffin lube to the plastic joints in an attempt to quiet that down. The difference with this armrest is that it will creak a little as you first lay your arm on it, but it's quiet after that.
As far as the window and feature controls, the E36 really had the best of the lot. The center mounted push-only swtches were heavy-duty and positive feeling, and the pushbuttons and knobs throughout the rest of the cabin were equally solid feeling.
The E46's push-pull window switches are notoriously weak, and I replaced three units in the console (two driver and one passenger) in the two years I owned the car. I was not happy, overall with the switches and such in the E46 steering wheel, and did not appreciate the move of cruise control from a stalk on the lower right of the E36 wheel to the wheel spoke-mounted buttons on the E46. I thought that the stalk was virtually perfect for its task, and required exactly zero in terms of looking at the control to use (I did spend three years driving 120 mile round trips to work, so the cruise was, indeed, an important feature for me).
The S4 has its cruise on a stalk, as well, but on the left side, so it's slightly harder to use. And what the hell's with putting the markings on that stalk such that you can't read them from the driver's position if you were to need to do such a thing? The window push- pulls are much beefier in the Audi than the E46, and I expect them to outlast my ownership of the car. I am not as confident in the top-row buttons that make up the small number of controls in the center console.
And as for the six buttons in teh instrument cluster? Well, let's just say that reaching them while driving might be a dangerous exercise, and thus, they will probably neer be used.
Seats -
The S4 has pretty damned good seats. The recaros are forgiving, but very laterally supportive. And the Alcantara is gorgeous both to the touch and to the eyes. HOWEVER...
Both the E36 and E46 had better seats, overall. The E36 Vaders were very supportive with huge bolsters, and were at that time the best seats I'd ever sat in. The E46 was even better. despite all the electric controls, the E46 M3 seats have to be the most body-hugging, comfortable, confidence inspiring factory seats in any car. At least that's my personal experience. Man, I miss those seats. (AND I miss the bolster-width adjustment!)
Audio -
People talk about how unimpressive the Bose(tm) audio setup in the A4/ S4 is, and maybe it's not the Levinson system. I encourage THOSE people to try spending an extra grand on the Harmon/Kardon from BMW, and THEN tell me how much better they feel about the Audi.

be kind, worthless. MB Quart makes a ton of money selling upgrade drivers to these systems, and for good reason. It REALLY pissed me off when I got in my girlfriend's Accord ( V6 with the 6sp manual... if it's going to be an Accord, might as well be one with some juice! ) only to find that its audio system was so much better as to be noticeable even by my lousy ears.
Yes, I know, the M3 is a performance car, and the focus should be there. Fine. But, at this price point, it's really a LUXURY performance car, and any creature comforts BMW has gone to the trouble to add should reflect that.
Misc-
Do you know how pissed I was when I found out first hand what a useless piece of work the M-mobility "System" was on the E46 M3? My E36 had a full-size spare and so does the S4. BMW, what gives? Gimme a damn wheel!
Along those lines, I'll tell you this... I loved the look of the staggered wheels on the M3's, but I'm really kind of looking forward to a real tire rotation for the first time in 9 years :)
And let's just talk exhaust note here... I know it's a little quiet for all of your tastes, but I zip through my parking garage at work and I roll down the windows EVERY time just to hear the car. It's really truly a gorgeous sounding engine.
Now, on to the performance...
This is the part the Audi guys are not necessarily wanting to hear... I place the overall performance of the B7 S4 on par with the E36 M3, and marginally better, but not as confidence inspiring (from the inside) as the E46, but the car FEELS more modern and mature than either of the two at speed.
The acceleration of the E46 was simply brutal when you wanted that (Not Z06 quick, mind you, but as quick or quicker than 99% of cars out there). The S4 is strong and silky smooth, but lacks the neck snapping response that I really loved about that E46. The E36 was the same way... Not to say there is no power - quite the opposite. Just the delivery is different. In the S4 and the E36 both, it feels as if at any point, in any gear, you could step into it and it would pull you strongly right up to the red line. And, if you hit a downshift right, they will always push you squarely into your seat.
But the E36 and the S4 both have a rev-response delay that the E46 never had. I don't know if that is due to a heavy flywheel in the Audi, or what, but it takes (relatively) FOREVER to spool that V8 up. The E46, on the other hand, would bump its redline way before you were ready, if you weren't paying attention... I mean it would spin up Right... Freakin... Now.
Of course, each of these cars is artificially limited in top speed, but I don't actually care about that, since I rarely bump that territory. Oh, I have definitely pegged both M3's (several times for significant lengths of time) but I have yet to have the S4 above 125.
The M3's both had better bodyroll characteristics than the S4 does, and both were essentially flat in 95% of turns, whereas there is limited bodyroll in the S4 in all sharper-than-sweeping turns. (the roll is always there, but it's always of very limited magnitude) BUT the S4 holds a line in a turn better than either of the BMWs. This is probably a direct result of the Quattro system. Both the E36 and E46 tended to push in a turn, and I think that the S4 will, as well, when pushed harder, but the front wheel pull on the S4 helps keep that in check by providing that correcting force vector.
All that said, I think that I would rather be driving the M3s on smooth mountain roads. They just seem slightly more telepathic in the turns than does the S4. The S4 has an overly light steering touch that keeps the driver a little too out of the loop, feedback-wise. Note I said "light", not "inexact." The car does *exactly* what you tell it to. (I expect I will get used to it after a while... And if not, maybe I'll just sand my fingertips)
The E46, like the E36, was very comfortable as a smooth-surface car. If you were on any sort of rough pavement, though, you could essentially read it with your butt like braille. Both the E36 and the S4 are somewhat more compliant, with the S4 being much closer to a standard sedan ride. In almost any other environment, I would say this puts the S4 at a disadvantage, but *I* live in New Orleans. These roads are the worst in what can still be called the civilized world, and I am somewhat crazy for driving any sort of tightly-sprung vehicle on them. For this reason, I like the S4's ride here better than the M3s.
Now having said that, the M3's track over road irregularities with disturbing aplomb. They made a lot of racket when you inadvertently hit a bump or crack, but contact with the road was seemingly never lost. The S4 behaves a little less predictably under these conditions. There are a couple of spots of light washboard on my way to work every day, and the M3's tended to get real loud and would essentially shake your fillings loose over them, but the car never lost its vector. The S4, in the same territory, gets a little "squirrely" instead, and floats a little over the irregular surface, despite being somewhat more comfortable and quieter in that situation.
In the end, it may sound like I prefer the M3 over the S4... That's simply not the case. I absolutely LOVE the S4, and I have no regrets about making the change. I sometimes wish the S4 had the Camaro- crushing quickness, or the incredible seating of the E46 M3, but not often enough to make me want to go back. And, I LOVE THE QUATTRO! (Did I mention it rains more here than in Seattle?) But, conversely, I wish the M3 had the quattro system, creature comforts, and the fit and finish of my S4.
Oh, did I mention... I also happen to like the way my Audi looks a good bit more than either M3.
Will I wait and see about the E92 M3? Sure. Am I ready to switch back? Not really.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

And someone should trust your judgment because?
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wrote:

Because he's cross posted this to BMW and Audi groups, and he's obviously sincere in his desire for a calm and rational discussion on the subject.
--
Dan.

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"Mike Scheer"

He never asked you to trust his judgment. He wrote his experiences with the cars he owned...

You don't have to agree with it.
Pete
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Nice report. Thanks.

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Do you not feel a little guilty? Mike.
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Not you. eBob.com. I go along with others. I think it was a balanced, well expressed owners comparison of both cars. Mike.
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Excellent report that is sure to tweak lots of people for various reasons. The most 'challenging' street car I've ever driven is a recent M3. It was lots of fun, and if I were to take a car to the track it would be my first choice. For everyday driving pleasure, and various other reasons, I'll have the S4.
Alan
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Can't find the delete button?
Do we really have to have all the crap as well?

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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Nice report. I hope you as happy a few years from now, when the Audi has had more time to show it's reliability (or not).
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You mean like the detonating M3 engines? ;-)
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daytripper wrote:

I was thinking more along the lines of electrical issues, which I have the impression is an issue for both brands.
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Well, to be honest, the only electrical problem I've had in any of these cars is a failed resistor pack for the climate control in the E36 M3, which was a known problem (imho, this means it should always be taken care of by BMW, which it wasn't). It was a relatively simple fix, and the part was relatively cheap. Only issue was it died in... anyone? Right... July in New Orleans. which means the swap was a sweaty, sweaty affair.
On second thought, that's not entirely true... The passenger mirror on the E46 lost the pitch (up-down) axis movement around 40000 miles, which was very annoying. I attribute this to the feature where putting the car in reverse causes the mirror to look down. I think the mirror motors are actually only specified for very minimal duty cycle since most folks only rarely adjust their mirrors, but this many- times-a-day operation is far in excess of that spec. Needless to say, the motor for the mirror cannot be had without the rest of the assembly, which requires paint. Overall, had I actually fixed it, the repair would have cost around 500. About 260-275 for the part, about 100 for the paint, and about 100 for labor. I probably would have opted to install it myself, so maybe 400 is closer to reality. Either way, it should have never died. The "look-at-the-curb" feature of these cars' mirrors should be factored in when choosing a motor assembly in the design phase.

problems I had were non-engine related and relatively minor. Just they were more than I expected.
The sole MAJOR issue I had was the driver's rear shock tower tearing out in the E36. Twice. This was also a known problem, and many many E36 owners got pretty pissed at BMW for underspec'ing the rear tower structure, then not owning up to the fix when the failure happened. The only real upside to this failure was that it did not present a life-threatening handling change at normal speeds. And, the fix was on the order of $300, because there was no finish paint work required.
Do you all know if the Audis have any similar recurring issues that I should look out for or can prevent?
mjc
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I have both of these cars. They are a bit old (-00) so minor errors are not any suprices. Both are very hard driven compared to average of this kinds of cars due to speed, average 100 mph or more, not much on autobahn in Germany but this is on small and winding roads with a lot of the milage on gravel surface roads. Both my BMW and AUDI have needed some replacement parts but nothing unusual compared to how I use the cars. But my AUDI needs new front pads twice a year and once a year new front discs and bearings. I have tested several brands of pads but harder pads seems only to reduce lifetime of the disc. For the BMW do I mount new pads every year and have newer replaced the discs or bearings. Shock absobers have I destroyed severals on both cars but it is mainly due to bad roads.
Regarding electrical problem, here is my view: A typical electrical fault in AUDI causes engine in limp mode, you need vag-com to get 5 errors, all hard to understand, and every error costs 100$ at least and even after that you are not sure what the original problem was. A typical electrical problem in BMW is a faulty switch for rear defroster. Can be bought at any junkyard for ~ 2$.
AUDI is in my mind a more complex car overall and specially the engine and transmission. I agree that it is a nice car on rainy/snowy roads as long as you drive straight forward at a highway, even at high speeds. High speed on snowy winding roads, with that I mean such speed that you need all four wheels to give tracktion in prefered direction before and through the bends, then is my S4 at best useless and even dangerous if I have forgot to inactivate the electronic stabilty system. BMW is as good as the driver is able to handle. I general do I have shorter time between work and home with the BMW but I am also perspiring more compared when I arrive compared to when I drive the a lot more comfortable AUDI. The few times I have been sweaty in the AUDI, have been caused by that the ride not have been under good control. I have heard that RS4 is much better to handle on slippery roads but it is too expensive for me.
/Alf
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On Mon, 9 Jul 2007, Alf.F wrote:

One thing that has surprised me is that my 2002 A4 3.0Q, now with 95,000 miles, is still on the original pads.
Steev
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Given the exhuberant driving style (100mph on rural roads!?!), I can understand rapid turnover on pads. And new rotors every other pad change seems reasonable. But new front wheel bearings annually? Hawthorne vice Fangio?

More in line with most drivers' experience.
R / John
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Clutch and pads on the M3's: E36 had a total of 3 sets of pads, one of which was brand new when she was prematurely killed, and at 110,000 I replaced the clutch. But I only did that because the throw-out bearing was gone, and I wasn't about to drop the tranny twice. When I got the disc back, it still had a good bit of the friction material still left on it.
The E46 was running on the first set of pads AFAIK at almost 60K, and definitiely the first clutch.
I am hearing rumblings that I cannot expect the same life out of the Audi clutch.
Mark
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On Fri, 06 Jul 2007 20:08:57 -0000, snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Don't race a tortoise......................
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So to summarize, you like the Audi better because it has a nicer radio, cruise control on a stalk vice a steering wheel button, a full-size spare, and more durable armrests and interior trim.
R / John
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