The S4, meanwhile, is intuitive from the get-go. The uncluttered dash and Multi Media Interface system are both easy to use, and the Audi's seats are just as comfortable and supportive as the Acura's (which is to say, very), but the German seat heaters are far more powerful. Unfortunately, Audi's base stereo isn't. For enjoying anything other than AM radio, you'll need to budget an additional $850 for the 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The TL SH-AWD comes standard with a 440-watt premium surround system that is nothing short of phenomenal. You can't, however, get three-blink turn signals, rain-sensing wipers, or swiveling bixenon headlights in the Acura, all curious omissions at this price point. Acura also doesn't offer an equivalent of Audi's Drive Select, the S4's user-selectable chassis system that customizes steering boost, suspension damping, and throttle response. We're still not fans of Audi's particular setup, as it seems to never offer the right combination of modes. The steering vacillates between being overly boosted or artificially heavy, sometimes in the middle of a corner. And maddeningly, the system defaults to the auto setting at each restart. At least the S4's ride quality is superb in any setting, and its electronic adjustability allows it to combine a more supple ride than the TL's with far better body control, two typically contradictory assignments.
The Acura's steering is lightning quick, with an overall ratio nearly as fast as a Mitsubishi Evo's, and its thick rim communicates more feedback to the driver, especially at the limit, where the Audi's steering goes numb. If there's one place where the Acura could use driver-adjustability, it's in the throttle mapping. Several factors conspire to make the TL frustratingly difficult to drive smoothly around town: First, the computer seems to interpret one quarter of the accelerator pedal's travel as a request for full throttle. And it's slow to close the throttle as you back off the gas. Further complicating matters is a clutch pedal that engages high in its travel and over considerable distance, making it a challenge to locate a consistent engagement point. What's more, since the V-6 is so surprisingly responsive, you wind up leaving traffic lights like an amateur with way too many revs on the tach. Or worse, too few, resulting in an embarrassing stall.