The S4 is the performance version of Audi's A4. As such, the midsize sedan is more stealthy than flashy; at first glance there appears to be little to distinguish it from its more staid cousin. But once behind the wheel, it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't a normal A4 when you step on the gas.
Appearance: The low-slung sedan, which is Audi's entry-level model in its A4 guise, has a familiar look. As such, it has the trapezoidal singleframe grille — chrome-trimmed with the interlocking Audi rings in the center — that dominates the front end. The grille is flanked by new Xenon-plus headlights, which are bordered with LED running lights. On the body, character lines on the lower panels sweep slightly upward toward the back and provide definition. The taillights also get LEDs and there's a slight trunk lip. The S4's look is set off by 18-inch, five-spoke wheels and dual twin-exhaust tips. Our tester came in premium Glacier White metallic ($475 extra).
Performance: We all know what they say about first impressions, and the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 (333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque) makes one that plasters you in the seat. That's our way of saying that acceleration is instant and without any lag (0-60 in 4.9 seconds). The V-6 produces a throaty growl with only a slight turbocharger whine. We were pleased that our tester came with the 6-speed manual transmission, which is precise and shifts easily. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is also available. The S4's sport-tuned suspension combined with Audi's standard Quattro all-wheel drive keep the car firmly planted. (Our tester had the optional sports differential.) The electromechanical speed-sensitive steering has just the right amount of feedback and assist.
Interior: Ours was outfitted in a sexy black and magma red with brushed aluminum inlays. The two-tone leather sport seats, which come with 12-way adjustments and are heated, offer both comfort and bolstered support. Because this is a midsize sedan, the rear seats are a bit tight, especially for taller passengers. The trunk is adequate (12 cubic feet, 34 cubic feet with rear seatbacks folded down) for a midsize car and has a built-in tie-down cargo net, which seems prudent. Our tester had the MMI Navigation plus package ($3,050). We both found Audi's interface cumbersome. The MMI dial and buttons sit between the seats and are easy to reach. But you'll have to look at the screen to see which button goes to which function.
Our 3 favorites
Steering wheel: Race-inspired, flat-bottomed and grippy.
Power sunroof: It comes standard and lets you choose how far it opens.
More room: The rear seatbacks fold 60/40 and increase cargo space.
Wow factor: The acceleration and cornering are exhilarating.
Subdued exterior: It doesn't scream "performance." Even the few S4 badges are subtle.
Sharp interior: Black with bright red seat inserts. Sporty.
The bottom line: At a little over $50K, we thought the S4 hit the sweet spot between performance and comfort. It's perfect for someone with kids who wants an upscale daily driver that also brings some driving thrills.