Are you in the market for a luxurious four-door family car with a usable trunk and decent fuel mileage but are unwilling to sacrifice sporty driving dynamics at the altar of practicality? Audi may have the ideal vehicle for you with its entertaining yet functional S4.
|Engine: 3.0L supercharged V6 with 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed S tronic automatic.
Fuel Economy: 17/26/20 City/Highway/Combined with the manual.
Pricing: $48,995 including $895 for shipping. $54,945 as tested.
As you might imagine this sedan is a performance-enhanced version of the brand’s A4 model, an impressive car on its own that I was surprisingly effusive about in a review that posted not long ago. It wowed me with its refined interior, beautiful body work and precision construction. The car’s downsides were few and centered on steering feel and tepid acceleration. With a list of virtues like this it’s easy to understand why the A4 is the best-selling nameplate in Audi’s lineup.
But the S4 builds on this solid foundation and offers drivers more of everything, more power, more grip and lots more smiles. Accordingly it’s designed to compete with other fun-focused sedans like the BMW 335i, Infiniti Q50 and Cadillac ATS.
The S4’s list of standard features is long and appealing. It includes things like xenon headlamps, keyless entry with push-button start, three-zone automatic climate control a flotilla of airbags and much more.
The car rides on stylish 18-inch wheels wrapped in summer rubber, not all-season, all-suck tires, though if you opt for the $1,300 Black Optic package, a feature our test car was equipped with, you get 19s as well as various gloss black exterior trimmings.
The S4 features essentially the same great cabin found in the more mass-market A4. This means you’re treated to the same high-quality materials, the same faultless fit and finish and the same MMI infotainment system, which is pretty easy to get the hang of.
The S4’s meaty, flat-bottom steering wheel is easier to grab than a fistful of cashews. The front seats are adjustable in a dozen different directions and trimmed is supple Nappa leather. They’re also nicely bolstered to keep you from flopping around during aggressive maneuvers.
Unfortunately the back seats are less hospitable. They’re a little tight on legroom and the middle spot is essentially useless because of a gigantic hump in the floor, likely a design trade off because of the all-wheel-drive system.
One interesting feature is the S4’s push-button start. You can keep the key in your pocket and use the console-mounted switch to ignite and kill the engine. But if you prefer you can also stick the fob directly into a slot on the dashboard to start and stop the vehicle. Different strokes for different folks and it’s kind of cool that Audi gives you that option.
Whine >>> Whoosh
At a time when most automakers are running to downsized, turbocharged engines as a solution to delivering adequate driving performance with improved fuel economy Audi has taken a slightly different approach with the S4.
Instead of using an exhaust gas-powered torque-multiplier the car’s 3.0-liter V6 features a belt-driven supercharger. This configuration may not be quite as efficient but it has its own benefits. Mechanical blowers kick in at low engine speed giving you lots of torque just off idle.
Sure, the previous-generation S4 was powered by a lusty 4.2-liter V8 engine that made wonderful noises and ample power but this force-fed six is pretty wonderful in its own right and it’s kind or retro. If you remember back about a decade and a half the car featured a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6.
Anyway, today’s S4 has tons of torque and pulls strongly throughout the rev-range. Maxed out it delivers 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. But perhaps best of all Audi’s 3.0-liter V6 is silky smooth; scarcely any vibration can be felt, even through the shifter.
If anything the engine is too quiet. You really can’t hear the supercharger as it goes about its business. A little whine would be greatly appreciated, because the nasty noises a mechanical blower makes trump the whooshing and hissing of a turbo any day.
Two transmissions are available; there’s a standard six-speed manual and an available seven-gear S tronic automatic. But truth be told, the former option is the one you want. Audi’s stick is simply a work of genius. The shifter is light through the gears and slicker than a bucket of greased marbles; its precision is unmatched ensuring you never miss a shift.
Overall the S4 weighs less than 3,900 pounds with the stick shift, slightly more with the automatic. Manual-equipped S4s may have a mass advantage but cars equipped with a self-shifting transmission are more fuel efficient. With a six-speed the S4 stickers at 17 miles per gallon city and 26 on the interstate. Combined it should average 20 MPG. The automatic ought to hit 18 in urban conditions and 28 on the highway; these scores result in an average of 21 MPG.
The S4’s brilliant engine imbues the car with brisk acceleration. In fact when all 333 ponies are pounding the pavement it can accelerate from zero to 60 miles an hour in just 4.9 seconds, a figure that’s identical with either transmission.
The engine responds with vigor in practically every situation. Bury the accelerator in the carpet’s pile at 25 miles an hour in sixth gear and the supercharged-six will pull you right along. It’s even more vigorous at highway speed. Downshifting is not often required for passing slower-moving vehicles, just roll on the throttle and the S4 responds.
But there’s more to the way this vehicle behaves than just rapid straight-line speed; the S4 is perfectly balanced like a senior citizen’s checking account. It’s a true driver’s car; it’s the whole package, the quintessential sports sedan. The S4’s steering is beautifully weighted, the brake pedal wonderfully responsive and its body control so refined. The whole car is just a masterpiece of automotive engineering. Believe it or not, I enjoyed this sedan more – far more in fact – than the massively fast RS 7 I evaluated a week prior, that’s how good it is.
Audi’s Drive Select system allows you to adjust various vehicle attributes to suit your taste. You can tweak the S4’s steering feel, throttle input and other variables.
Also, with a slick gearbox, forgiving clutch and ample low-RPM torque the S4 is a piece of cake to drive smoothly. Perfectly executed shifts are a snap. This would be a great car to learn the three-pedal dance in.
Can You Afford It?
An option-less S4 dressed in premium plus trim, the most affordable version of this car, can be had for $48,995 including $895 for shipping and handling. Our fairly basic test model stickered for a totally reasonable out-the-door price of $54,945. Extras included Misano Red pearl effect paint ($500), Audi’s MMI Navigation plus package ($3,050), the Black Optic package ($1,300) and the available sports differential ($1,100).
The Audi’s base price is within spitting distance of a bare-bones BMW 335i xDrive. The Bimmer is about $645 cheaper than its rival from Ingolstadt, though we happen to think the S4 is considerably more attractive and quite possible a better driver’s car.
The 2014 Audi S4 is a wonderfully balanced sports sedan. It’s luxurious, speedy and more fun to drive than should be legally allowed. In fact, with a slick six-speed manual, smooth-running supercharged engine and quattro all-wheel drive it just may be the perfect all-around car.