2018 Audi S4

PHOENIX — Last year, Audi updated its fifth-generation A4 sedan. Audi didn’t do anything radical, with the basic dimensions staying the same, but Audi aficionados certainly recognized some significant changes. So, understandably, for 2018 the A4 is almost exclusively a carryover from last year, and a much stronger performance-oriented S4 has joined the lineup.

It is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged six that produces 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, connected to a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission, and is equipped with the all-wheel-drive “Quattro” system. A manual shifting transmission is not offered.

Like Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance models and BMW’s M performance vehicles, Audi has offered S cars for more than 25 years. S trims offer a higher level of performance than A4 sedans, but are far from the all-out extreme performance Audi RS, last offered in the U.S a few years ago.

Outside, there’s little difference between the S4 and A4. Still, are the telltale aluminum-optic exterior side mirror housings, platinum gray single frame grille with aluminum-optic double blade bars, S model-specific quad exhaust outlets, and a rear trunk lid lip spoiler. There are also 19-inch double-spoke-star design wheels, and available red brake calipers with the S sport package.

Inside, our S4 was upholstered in optional red leather with a diamond-stitching pattern on the massaging sport seats and power operated side bolsters. A $500 option added attractive carbon atlas inlays about the instrument panel, center console and door trim. The attractive and flat-bottom steering wheel is nicely accented with matching red stitching.

Most vehicle operating functions are handled via the center console handwriting-recognition technology and standard Audi smartphone interface compatible with mobile devices. Redundant operating buttons and scrolling knobs are located on the steering wheel, climate control buttons on the center dash and driving performance function buttons on the lower dash just above the center console. The overall appearance is functionally simple, attractive and clean and fresh.

There’s also an attractive ambient light strip across the instrument panel just above the HVAC vents, and lights for operational buttons, cup holders, exterior door handles, and interior accenting.

On the road, our zero-to 60 time was just 4.4 seconds with top speed limited to 155 mph. We did notice just the slightest amount of turbo lag under heavy acceleration from a dead stop. Handling is confident and agile, brakes superb, steering spot on.

Although artificially enhanced, the engine’s soundtrack seemed too fake to be convincing. Adjusting the drive-mode selector with the button on the lower dash to Auto or Comfort significantly quiets the S4 to an ordinary sedan level. Fake sound or not, the 354 horsepower pulls strong both in a straight line and on corners. Enough so to forcefully push you back in the seat. It won’t deliver the all-out performance of a Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 or BMW M3 but it’s enough to easily please most performance sedan owners.

With an MSRP of over $65,000 including $15,000 in options, it could be a tough sell especially against vehicles like the M3 with 425 horsepower which starts at $65,000, or the AMG C43 with 361 horsepower starting at $53,400. There are just so many great choices in this price range and category of vehicle.

Overall, the new S4 is a blast to drive and a thoroughly satisfying touring sedan. It’s comfortable enough to drive hundreds of miles with minimal driver stress or fatigue. For those who prefer a coupe, Audi offers the same engine, transmission and basic package in the S5 two-door.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $51,775
Price as Tested: $65,625
Powertrain: 3.0-Liter 354-horsepower turbocharged V6 and 8-speed Tiptronic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 21-MPG City – 30-MPG Highway
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: Overall 5-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400
Mercedes-Benz AMG C43

Fab Features
Dynamic handling
Eager turbocharged engines
Luxurious, comfortable interior

— Jim Prueter