I come from an Audi family, and spent the better part of a year driving a previous-generation 2007 S4 sedan with a six-speed manual. My mother also looked at the current S4 before ultimately buying a 2012 A4 2.0T, so I was elated when I was handed the keys to a six-speed S4 for the weekend. Unfortunately, the elation quickly faded after slipping behind the wheel. It was the same steering wheel from our old S4, but the car was nearly unrecognizable as an S4. Yes, it is still deceptively quick and can be a luxurious tourer when asked to be. But the new 3.0T supercharged engine (yes, it's supercharged not turbocharged, ignore what you think that "T" means) is too quiet and doesn't give the same kind of aural thrill that the old 4.2-liter V-8 gave even on normal acceleration. I've heard the 3.0T make good noises, but it was under full throttle in an S5 Cabriolet with the top down and equipped with the quick-shifting DSG gearbox. The S4 has lost its heart -- not just in the literal sense of Audi replacing the 4.2 with the 3.0T, but also in the sense that it is now just a cool and mechanical machine.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Disappointing? Audi S4? Blasphemy! Audi's powertrain lineup and naming strategy might lead you to think of the S4 as something more sporty or more special than your typical luxury sport sedan, but this is really the Audi equivalent of a BMW 335i. And by equivalent, I mean superior alternative.
On the track, a talented driver would unlock the BMW's handling finesse and turn a lap faster than in an S4. In every other situation, I'd want the Audi. It looks better, has a nicer interior, offers more engaging transmissions, and comes with all-wheel-drive to handle snowy winters. The S4's six-speed manual shifter has shorter, more direct throws and the supercharged V-6 has instant off-the-line response. The new 335i leaves the door further open for Audi because it has diluted the steering feel and cheapened the cockpit compared to the car it replaces.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
There's a lot wrong with the Audi S4. Its engine is in the wrong place (completely in front of the front axle). It's also the wrong shape (a 90-degree V-6, not a smoother 60-degree V-6 or, even better, an in-line six). The driving position is incorrect (the steering wheel isn't centered in the seat, which isn't centered between the door and the center console). But somehow Audi has made the S4 so much better than the sum of its parts. The 3.0T is a perfect reminder of why turbo lag stinks. After driving so many recent turbocharged engines, getting into the supercharged S4 is like a flashback to better days. Throttle response is instant, just like it used to be. The clutch and shifter have the perfect amount of weighting (though the brake pedal, like so many in Audis, is really grabby). From the driver's seat, on Michigan's straight roads, the Audi's only non-passing grade is the steering: you can customize the boost level using Audi Drive Select, but it's never the right amount of assistance and it changes way too much with speed.
Is that the end of the world? Of course not, although it is a deal-breaker for me, personally. Then again, now that the BMW 3-series has become a bit too distant and too refined, it leaves the S4 as a real contender in the enjoyment department. Sure, it all falls apart on a race track (you can't hide that weight distribution), but as a luxurious, very fast daily driver, the S4 has a lot going for it.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
The S4 may not be for everyone, but it hits the right buttons for me. I'm far more likely to take my personal vehicle on a long trip than I am to a track day, but I still enjoy blitzing through winding country roads on a daily basis. The S4 seems to offer the best of both worlds: around town, it's benign and comfortable, something I can't bring myself to say of a 3 Series equipped with the sport suspension package. Once traffic opens up, it's intoxicating to dip into the throttle: though the supercharged 3.0-liter six is a little muted for some tastes, it's happy to respond to throttle input, and it pulls as if there's no tomorrow. The six-speed manual transmission is also a delight: shift throws are crisp and smooth, and the clutch's feel and weighting leave little room for improvement. There's also the extra bonus of Quattro coming as standard equipment - not only does it help keep the nose-heavy S4 neutral in corners (as does the optional torque-vectoring rear differential), but it's a boon come winter time, considering my commute incorporates steep, dirt-surfaced roads that regularly grow quite slick.
Really, the only thing I find disappointing are the control arrangements. Audi cleverly packages HVAC functions - notably fan speed, position, and if equipped, heated seat elements -- into the climate control knobs. It's an innovative and streamlined approach, but I found myself frequently hitting the wrong function button while driving, and cranking up fan speed instead of directing airflow from my torso to the floor -- admittedly a minor gripe, and one that could potentially disappear if I were driving the S4 day-in, day-out. If only I were so fortunate.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor