In a perfect world, Jennifer Thorp-Overton would rather have a red, two-door convertible. But the world isn't perfect. She really needs a station wagon. Jennifer, a reader, regularly chauffeurs a big dog. She also transports friends and
colleagues. Also, there's cargo -- work materials, groceries and canine accouterments. She needs a station wagon to replace her 1986 Honda Accord hatchback, but . . . "I don't see myself in a station wagon. I want something
relatively sporty, sexy . . .," something like a "red, two-door convertible." Ah, Jennifer. You are not alone. You are one of legions of women in full rebellion against automotive wedding rings and mom-mobiles, of which minivans and station
wagons are prime examples. But that's not all station wagons. There is, for example, this week's test-mobile, the 2001 Audi S4 Avant. Work with me, Jennifer. I think you'll like this. You said you want a stick shift. It gives
you a sense of control. It also "makes driving a bit more fun," you said. I understand. Do you read poetry? E.E. Cummings wrote a beautiful poem on shifting gears in a manual-transmission car, "She being brand new. . . ." You must read it.
In the interim, you must experience the pleasure of the S4 Avant's six-speed manual transmission. Shifting that one is like dancing, jazz. It's wonderfully smooth, and the clutch is responsive. You'll smile. Handling will bring joy, too.
The S4 Avant wagon melts into curves, becomes a part of them. Credit the suspension system. Up front, there's a four-link suspension with a tubular anti-roll bar, twin-tube gas-filled shocks and coil springs. The rear is equipped with a double-wishbone
and anti-roll bar. It runs on wide tires and 17-inch-diameter Avus alloy wheels, which also contribute to perfect balance. I chuckled over your requirement for a "fairly powerful engine." It reminded me of my time in religious schools,
where we habitually veiled passion in the language of modesty. Truth is, a person who wants power wants power. There's nothing "fairly" about it. The S4 Avant wagon offers power -- a 2.7-liter, 30-valve, bi-turbo V-6 that
develops 250 horsepower at 5,800 revolutions per minute and 258 pound-feet of torque at engine speeds ranging from 1,850 rpm to 4,500 rpm. That's a truly elastic torque band. The bottom line is that you can scoot from zero to 60 mph in 5.9
seconds, which, I know, is irrelevant to many people. That's because many of them have never experienced that kind of seductive, addictive oomph. I know that you're concerned about appearance, which is why many men and women dumped family
sedans, minivans and station wagons in favor of sport-utility vehicles and pickups. Image is important. Everybody loves Middle America, but nobody, psychologic
ally, wants to live there. That's why Hollywood does so well. We wear our vehicles the way we wear our clothes, and that includes people who swear that they don't give a pahooty about appearance. (Those aggressive utilitarians work just as
hard at looking shabby as many of us work at looking good.) Anyway, you'll look good in the S4 Avant wagon. It's sedate yet sensuous, largely thanks to its gently muscular front fenders. The interior is a work of leather-bound conservatism.
But the two-toned leather is supple -- feels rich, looks rich. The dashboard and analog instrument panel -- the latter with its red back lights and glow-white indicators -- are ergonomically sensible. Aluminum door-sill trim and roof rails
and brightwork on the housing of the side-view mirrors add the right amount of sparkle. But, yes, Jennifer, the S4 Avant wagon has four doors, which hold little aesthetic appeal for you. It also has a rear hatch. But it d
come in red.