What is it?
The S4 is a sportier version of Audi’s A4 sedan. It’s currently in its sixth generation since its 1991 debut. Depending on the year (and the market), the S4 slots in below the even racier RS4. (If you want a coupe, convertible or hatchback version, check out the S5.)
Is it new?
Superficially. The current S4 generation arrived in 2017, but Audi gave the S4 a mid-cycle refresh for 2020. The primary changes were visual — most notably a broader (and, in my opinion, more modern and attractive) honeycomb grille. Audi also upgraded the S4 to its newest infotainment system, including a larger 10.3-inch display.
What makes it special?
The sport sedan is arguably the quintessential German car, and the Audi S4 is perennially one of the best of the bunch. The visual differences between the S4 and the cheaper A4 aren’t striking (which us great for those who prefer a more low key look); the real difference is power. The S4 upgrades to a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine putting out 349 horsepower, a 100-hp bump over the turbo four-cylinder A4.
How does it drive?
The S4 does everything you want it to do with relentless precision. It’s quick, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds, and it gets there smoothly thanks to Audi’s eight-speed automatic transmission (though I’d still prefer a solid Audi six-speed stick). It’s nimble and planted going around corners; with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive and grippy summer tires, the S4 could not be ruffled during my time with it.
Unlike some sporty cars, the S4 transitions from sporty driving to luxurious cruising with ease. Put the S4 into Comfort mode, and it’s a forgiving ride. My tester also included Audi’s dynamic steering, a $1,150 option, which adjusts the wheel travel depending on requirements — making low-speed maneuvering like parking easier.
It’s hard to find faults with this car, but I had a couple. There’s a learning curve with the abrupt brakes, which led to some commentary from my significant other on a first-day drive. And the exhaust note leaves you cold; a few more snaps, crackles and farts could have enhanced the experience.
What’s it like inside?
Premium. Audi does interiors very well; you get the restraining and simplicity of a VW, without the flagrant cost-cutting that has plagued Volkswagen's regular cars as of late. Everything was soft-touch materials and carbon-fiber trim. The diamond-stitched Nappa leather seats — a $1,000 option — felt both comfortable and supportive. I would have appreciated ventilated seats on the 90º days I was driving, but the S4’s lower back massager more than made up for their absence.
What does it cost?
The Audi S4 starts at $49,900, which undercuts rivals like the BMW M340i and the Mercedes-AMG C43. However, those two competitors counter with about 30 more hp. My tarted up Prestige trim tester was priced at $66,490.
2020 Audi S4 Prestige
Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Torque: 369 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
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