The Audi S4 is a strange beast, indeed. Compared to the other “sport” lines offered by its competitors, such as the 425-horsepower BMW M3 or the 451-horsepower Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the S4 falls short with “only” 333 horsepower. It is, in fact, more in line with the BMW 335i and Mercedes-Benz’s C400 4Matic, yet it has a much more aggressive stance and style. Audi decided there is a market — a middle ground — for drivers who want fantastic performance machines without the weapons-grade engine under the hood. That combination of style and performance, as well as relative affordability, makes driving the 2014 Audi S4 ($48,100) an exciting prospect.
OTHER GREAT CARS: Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG | | Want This, Get This: Audi A8 L TDI or BMW 328d xDrive
There are drivers who love flash — cars that tip you off to their tire-melting performance just by their ribbon-thin sidewalls, big air intakes and aggressive cut lines — and there are those who prefer subtle sleeper hits that mask their badness until it’s too late for the competition. With the S4, Audi seeks to appease the latter party: the exterior looks only slightly different from the run-of-the mill $35,500 A4, with a more aggressive fascia, S4 badging and an optional “Black Optics” package. Our model showed off the package, a worthwhile $1,300 upgrade, with some of the best 19-inch wheels on the market, a signature Black Optics grille with high-gloss single frame, glossy black window treatment and mirror housing to match the body paint rather than Audi’s S-line traditional silver coloring.
By The Numbers:
17/26/20 MPG City/Highway/Combined
333/325 horsepower/lb-ft torque
4.9 seconds: 0-60 time
Like slick city boots with a lean lug sole, the interior is the perfect blend of refinement and brawn: 12-way-power, single-piece sport seats in front, covered in suede and Napa leather with S4 embossing, and a three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel. With the MMI upgrade package, you get a backup camera and navigation with Google Street View. The control buttons on the center console are ergonomically placed near the driver’s fingers, making adjustments easy while remaining focused on the road. One note on the “connected” side of things: phone syncing is still executed with a tethered cable rather than the multiple USB inputs other automakers use, which turned out to be a point of frustration.
The interior is just right for convincing a driver to put the supercharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder to proper use. Cycling through drive settings to Sport mode tightens the steering, though suspension adjustments are only available with the adaptive suspension option; nonetheless, the S4 storms through gears with noticeable speed. It red-lined around 6,000 rpm — which felt low, until the supercharger pushed through to the next gear in no time at all, with a subtle rumble from the four exhaust pipes and a slight whine from the supercharger. This was fitting for an undercover sports car.
Road feel in Audis tends to be a bit numb because of electromechanical speed-sensitive steering. This was the case here: steering at low speeds in parking lots and driveways was a breeze, but in fast turns, which the optional sport differential and standard Quattro all-wheel-drive handled with ease, the steering effort doesn’t seem to be up to par, with a feel that doesn’t inspire confidence.
The S4 is brilliant because it’s equal parts commuter and track car. The engine has enough oomph to thrill you on the freeway but won’t get you in trouble with the authorities. The interior is certainly sporty, but it is also comfortable for long drives. The trunk has enough room for a few large bags or a stroller and some overnight gear; even the base stereo system is impressive. It’s tailored for drivers who want a little bit of everything without too much of anything, and it’s nearly perfect in that regard.
That said, we’d gladly throw caution and subtlety to the wind for this RS4 wagon.