2013 Audi A4/S4

BEAVER CREEK, Col. — My, how the family has grown! The Audi A4 family has been Audi’s best-selling product line for the past four decades and if history means anything the new 2013 version, the eighth-generation A4, will proudly carry on the family tradition. Often referred to as the “entry-level Audi,” as if such a moniker would apply, the new A4 brings a lot to the table in the way of performance, luxury, comfort and just plain driving fun.

It, and its “evil twin,” the venerable Audi S4, showed a group of us journalists a good time as we road-tested the two vehicles on the highways between Denver and Beaver Creek near Aspen. The Colorado Rockies may not be the Bavarian Alps but driving both vehicles on western highways was akin to driving them on the famed Autobahn.

Audiphiles (not a typo) will instantly notice the exterior changes that include a powerful new grille with angled upper corners, dynamic new hood lines and reconfigured bumpers with angular air inlets. Further changes include redesigned, sleek headlamps and new LED daytime running light design. No other car company does LED like Audi.

Even Mr. Magoo would recognize an Audi coming towards him. There are optional static halogen cornering lamps that enhance its segment-leading adaptive front lighting system to make it even more illuminating, rectangular fog lights and redesigned optional LED taillights. Other changes to the 2013 model are more subtle.

If you want to use your car to go to the grocery store on Sundays then the Audi A4 is not for you. However, if you want to go to the grocery store QUICKLY on Sundays then you’ve come to the right place.

The 2013 model is powered by a 2.0L TFSI four-cylinder engine that produces 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The A4 quattro (AWD) is available with a fuel-efficient eight-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission or a six-speed manual. Purists will love the smooth shifting of the manual. The front-wheel drive A4 is available with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It is speed regulated at 130 mph.

The ride and handling is just what one would expect in a German road car. A new electromechanical steering column removes weight from the front of the car versus the previous hydraulic steering system. Dynamic steering is also available to adjust steering input based on the vehicle’s speed.

Available Audi drive select allows the driver to adjust dynamic steering, throttle response, transmission shift points and suspension settings. Speaking of settings, four are available: auto, comfort, dynamic and individual (that allows the driver to adjust each setting individually). Driving flat out on mountain roads was a real hoot, especially when using dynamic setting. There’s minimal body sway and maximum control.

Among driving technologies, either standard or available, are: adaptive cruise control, Audi drive select controls, Audi parking system plus, Audi side assist, extended-range radio frequency remote locking system, driver information display, rain/light sensors for automatic windshield wipers and headlights and windshield wipers with four-position adjustable rain sensor rate.

Before I get into the interior description of the A4/S4 let me introduce you to the performance sibling of the A4 — the Audi S4.

To say the S4 is not for the faint of heart is an understatement. First of all it’s powered by a 3.0L six-cylinder DOHC engine that generates 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The S4 has standard quattro all-wheel. It’s either mated to a six-speed manual or a seven-speed S tronic automatic.

The renowned Hoosier Tribe from Indiana has a word for the S4…Swift. Exterior dimensions are the same as the A4 but it has unique S4 badging located at various positions. It, too, has an electronically-limited speed of 130 although sometimes that’s not always set in stone.

For instance, several years ago a colleague and I were driving an S4 Cabriolet on the wide-open highways of the Nevada desert. I decided to push the vehicle until I didn’t feel comfortable. True story: I buried the speedometer at a documented (fortunately, not by the Nevada Highway Patrol) speed of 170 mph and I STILL felt as if I had complete control of the vehicle.

The interior is pure Audi. There are several varieties of leather seating, both standard or available. The fit and finish looks almost hand-crafted and there are power, technology and luxury appointments galore. There are enough audio and infotainment systems to rival the Las Vegas strip. Plus, there are three trim levels with the A4 (Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige) and two with the S4 (Premium Plus and Prestige).

If you think you’re going to pay a lot for this vehicle you probably will. But if you couldn’t afford it you wouldn’t be looking at a car in this segment. MSRP of the A4 runs from $32,500-$34,600. Destination charges add $895. The S4’s two models have an MSRP of $47,600-$49,000 (plus the $895 destination charge. There are a ton of options and packages that can really jack up the price.

No matter what the bottom line of a desired Audi A4/S4 is I have never felt like the potential purchaser was being taken in by the hype of “fine German engineering." Some legends are fables; but others, like the 2013 Audi A4/S4 are real. I tried to be objective as I wrote this review and believe it or not I succeeded.

Test drive one and see if I’m over-reacting.

— Al Vinikour