I’m adding the S4 to my informal list of “Cars I’d Buy if I Won the Lotto.” Admittedly, there are snazzier choices on which to spend jackpot winnings, but the Audi S4 is unbelievably satisfying to drive. It all starts with the engine, a fantastic supercharged V-6 that provides truly energetic throttle response. It always has enough power, pulling steadfastly in every gear. The sound — just a tiny hint of supercharger whine — is exactly what you expect from a sports car, ranging from a growl when slipping the clutch to a bark if you rev-match downshifts. The clutch travel is quite long, but the engagement point is firm and easy to modulate. Like most Volkswagen/Audi products, the six-speed manual is very precise and easy to use but feels a little rubbery at times.
I love that the S4 keeps its high-performance aspirations somewhat hidden, with only the big wheels and subtle body kit betraying the “S” treatment. Our test car’s Imola Yellow paint is a bit obnoxious, but probably befitting of the car’s brash personality. It contrasts smartly with the all-black leather-and-Alcantara interior, which looks fantastic. The S4 is neither the glitziest luxury car nor the most aggressive sports car, but it’s tremendous fun and everything works well together.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The Audi S4 is more in the sweet spot of what a German sport sedan should be than the somewhat overwrought, too-expensive BMW M3 with its V-8 engine has become. The Audi S4 is fast, rewarding, and crisp, and it has a great set of front sport seats. The supercharged 3.0-liter engine is sweet and tractable and, as Mr. Holmes points out, capable of really pouring on the power. The six-speed manual provides lovely gear changes and a fluid clutch engagement. The engine’s 333 hp is exactly the same figure that the last-generation, six-cylinder M3 had, as I recall. Really, now, who needs more than that?
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Over the weekend I was asked what new car I would buy for a daily driver if cost were no object. Normally this type of question would be difficult to answer, but I had recently driven an S4 and instantly knew the S4 would make a perfect daily driver. The S4 splits the difference between a more pedestrian A4 and the racy RS4 (which hasn’t been sold in the U.S. for several years), with most of the performance of a supersedan and the stealthy looks of an A4. Choose a color less exotic than our tester’s Imola Yellow and you’ll never need to worry about standing out in traffic.
But the lack of racy looks doesn’t mean the S4 can’t perform on a back road. There’s an impressive 333 hp on tap from the supercharged V-6, and Audi’s signature Quattro all-wheel drive system ensures the fun continues when rain or snow starts falling. Audi also offers a choice of an excellent seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with 18/28 mpg ratings or a six-speed manual with 18/27 mpg ratings. For a daily driver I’d probably opt for the DSG transmission, but the six-speed manual isn’t tiring in slow traffic.
I find Audi’s interiors to be among the best in the business, and the S4 keeps up with that reputation. I never feel like Audi is forcing technology on customers, and every control is easy to use and understand. The S4 is exactly the sort of car I’d like to live with on a daily basis.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Chalk me up as another one who wants an Audi S4. If this car weren’t arrest-me-yellow, I’d be thrilled to park it in my garage for the next several decades. The BMW 335i is probably a better car by a small margin (see our photo-finish comparison test from 2009), but this Audi S4 just feels like home to me. The driving position is super comfortable, and with the exception of the under-the-radio MMI controller wheel, the cabin feels just right. Acceleration is highly addictive, the steering feels more lively and responsive than a 335i’s, and the S4 is a nice cruiser even at 75 mph with the sunroof open.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Acura TL, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS, Volvo S60. I thought I’d list the cars in this segment so you can keep in mind that it’s no small thing when I say the S4 is likely the best of the bunch (although I reserve the right to completely go back on this statement when I drive any of the others). What’s great about it? First and foremost, it has the best overall powertrain. Audi’s supercharged V-6 impresses me more each time I drive it, providing torque a plenty, instant throttle response, and a level of refinement we normally associate with inline configurations. The torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system similarly strikes a perfect balance — it’s fast-acting enough to impart impressive handling capabilities, but doesn’t dominate the driving experience as such setups tend to do on other all-wheel-drive performance cars. The result is a fun-to-drive, refined, and very quick sports sedan whose talents are reasonably accessible to the average driver.
The S4 also has the best overall interior in the business. Drive any car after some time in an Audi, and you will invariably notice little flaws and cut corners that never bothered you before.
Complaints? The brakes are a bit grabby. Combined with a touchy clutch pedal, it makes for occasional unintended lurching in so-and-go traffic. That, of course, makes you look like an idiot, something you can ill afford when attracting all the attention that comes with a bright yellow paint job.
Ultimately, I’m not kidding when I say I’ll probably crown the next premium mid-size sport sedan I drive the best in the segment. The BMW remains the purist’s choice, the Cadillac still looks the sharpest (to my eyes, at least), the Volvo rides the best, and any of the Japanese trio will likely provide superior long-term reliability. And yet, I am confident in saying the Audi is probably the best choice for the greatest number of people.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Audi S4 Quattro MT6 Sedan
Base price (with destination): $47,475
Price as tested: $49,625
3.0L TFSI DOHC supercharged V-6 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Quattro all-wheel drive system
S4 enhanced brakes w/automatic brake wiping
S4 sport suspension
Dynamic five-link front suspension
Dynamic trapezoidal link, fully independent, rear suspension
Servotronic speed sensitive power steering
Audi xenon headlamps w/LED daytime running lights
Three-zone automatic climate control
S4 sports seats w/leather upholstery and Alcantara inserts
Power driver and passenger seat adjustment w/lumbar support
Heated front seats
60/40 split-folding rear seats
3-spoke leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel
Audi concert AM/FM radio w/in-dash CD player, SD card slot
SIRIUS satellite radio
Audi music interface w/iPod integration
Auto-dimming interior mirror w/compass
Electrically adjustable heated outside mirrors
Options on this vehicle:
Sports rear differential package –$1100
Titanium package — $1050
19-in. titanium-optic wheels, high-performance tires
Black exterior design elements
Key options not on vehicle:
MMI navigation plus package — $2550
Band & Olufsen sound system — $850
Silk Nappa leather upholstery — $1000
Rear side airbags — $350
Carbon atlas decorative inlays — $500
Gray birch wood decorative inlays — $500
Stainless steel texture inlays — $750
Size: 3.0L supercharged V-6
Horsepower: 333 hp @ 5500-7000 rpm
Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2900-5300 rpm
Curb weight: 3637 lb
Wheels/tires: 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
255/35R19 Michelin Pilot Sport performance tires