The fully redesigned 2018 Audi S4 is a high-performance five-passenger luxury sport sedan with more-refined and subtle styling, with a well-thought-out interior, and exhilarating performance.
S4 is available in Premium Plus or Prestige trim levels, both with a powerful new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6, mated to an eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic with permanent all-wheel drive, Drive Select, and an energy recuperation system with start/stop technology.
The new V-6 produces 354 horsepower, 21 more than the previous V-6, while the eight-speed replaces the previous seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Customers in the U.S. prefer the eight-speed’s smooth takeoff from a standstill, which the dual-clutch seven-speed could not deliver.
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The previously standard six-speed manual has been dropped because many of S4’s advanced driver-assistance features require the vehicle to have control of the transmission to function properly. Steering wheel-mounted paddles allow for clutchless manual shifting, if desired.
Standard Drive Select allows the driver to choose from five modes to change the driving personality of their vehicle with the touch of a button: Comfort, Dynamic, Individual, Auto and Efficiency. Comfort is softer, smoothes the bumps; Dynamic is stiffer, with a few bumps; Individual allows the driver to adjust individual components; Auto adjusts according to driving style; and Efficiency improves fuel consumption at the expense of power.
S4’s Quattro permanent all-wheel drive sends most of the power to the rear, especially when equipped with the Rear Sports Differential, included in an S Sport Package along with Sport Adaptive Damping Suspension and Red Brake Calipers ($2,500).
With Sport Adaptive Damping, Comfort mode smooths rough and broken road surfaces, while Dynamic mode helps maintain body control during spirited driving.
For this review, I drove an S4 Prestige, base price $50,900. The face of my Audi was a Platinum Gray Singleframe grille with six uneven aluminum sides, and seven aluminum-trimmed bars with a red S4 badge.
Aluminum-optic front and rear trim and exterior side mirror housings added a little understated flair, and outlined the side windows. The powered/heated/auto-dimming mirrors had jewel-like LED turn signals integrated into the housing, and LED front fog lights nestled into deep air vents in the bumper.
The exterior redesign includes a lower nose and raised LED headlights, and slightly sharper lines along the sides. The sharper line shows up really well in sunlight, and pronounced boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights accent the front fascia,
In the rear, S model quad exhaust outlets are housed in a gray air diffuser, a red S4 badge sits at the edge of the trunk lip, and LED taillights with dynamic turn signals wrap around the rear quarters – from a point on the trunk to a wide flare on the fender, very visually dramatic when activated.
My Navarra Blue Metallic ($575) S4 had the Prestige package ($4,900) which added dual-pane acoustic glass for the front side windows, full color Head Up Display with navi and assistance systems information, LED interior Lighting Plus, top view camera, Audi MMI navigation plus with MMI touch, Audi connect PRIME & PLUS (6 month trial), Audi virtual cockpit, Audi side assist and pre-sense rear.
A Wheel Package ($800) brought 19-inch five-spoke V-design wheels in two-tone gray, wearing summer tires. Red brake calipers, included in an S Sport package ($2,500) peeked through.
The Sport package also included Sport Adaptive Damping Suspension and Sport Rear Differential. A Driver Assistance Package ($1,800) included Adaptive Cruise Control, Active Lane Assist, High-beam Assistant, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
Lighting Plus adds more color choices, a color wheel on the center display, and a motion sensing LED light in the bottle holders. MMI Touch recognizes handwriting for navigation input. Audi connect PRIME & PLUS brings Google Earth, Over-the-Air Map Data Updates, Audi Semi-Dynamic Route Guidance with INRIX XD traffic; fuel prices, parking information, Internet Radio, Twitter; Geofencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, Car Finder, and much more.
INRIX XD provides up-to-the-minute traffic information for best routes, travel times and alerts to road incidents for over 2 million miles of roads, ramps, interchanges, and city and secondary roads, and offers drivers the ability to update incorrect information such as longer delays than stated, which is then relayed to other INRIX users.
Connect PLUS allows owners to stay connected to the Wi-Fi hotspot after the six-month trial with a PRIME subscription.
The Virtual Cockpit has a 12.3-inch LCD fully digital high-resolution instrument cluster and two visual modes: Classic (large) and Infotainment (small). With everything directly in the driver’s line of sight, the screen can be programmed to show navigation, cellphone, radio and media, Google Earth 3-D graphics or traffic data, in addition to speed, revolutions, outside temperature and fuel level. Simplicity is the objective, with as few steps as possible, allowing access to items with a single click of buttons on the steering wheel.
Side Assist and Pre-sense Rear help avoid or mitigate collisions by alerting the driver via flashing LED if he/she attempts to change lanes while a vehicle is in the adjacent lane or approaching rapidly from the rear. Pre-sense Rear detects an impending rear-end collision and pretensions the front seat belts, closes the windows and sunroof, activates the hazard warning lights.
Standard Audi connect CARE assistance and security services include SOS calling, Online Roadside Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, and more. Standard Audi pre-sense basic also provides protective measures for passengers in case of potential collision.
For example, if the Electronic Stabilization Control sensors detect skidding or hard braking, the system pretensions front seatbelts, closes windows and sliding sunroof, and turns on hazard warning lights. The power central locking system also has a safety unlock feature if air bags deploy.
Pre-sense city uses data from radar sensors and/or the front camera to detect a possible rear-end collision with either a vehicle or pedestrian, warns the driver of the threat visually, acoustically, and hapticly, and begins braking to reduce speed, or, if necessary, stop completely. Hazard lights are activated, seat belts pretensioned, seat position optimized and windows and sunroof closed.
The Nappa leather interior ($1,250) was Rotor Gray with diamond quilted seat and back inserts, Carbon Atlas inlays ($500) on the doors, dash, and center console, and suede fabric on the door panels.
My S4 was easy to enter and exit, even with well-bolstered S Sport front seats. Audi advanced key allowed locking/unlocking with the key in my purse, and had a hands-free trunk release feature. The ergonomic, highly adjustable steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position easy and also helped reduce fatigue on a long trip, along with power bolsters, lumbar support, heat and massage features. Taller rear passengers had to duck slightly, then had plenty of room and comfortable seating. The heated steering wheel and rear seats were included in a Cold Weather Package ($500).
Controls were clear and logically arranged, though the instrument panel, with its wide array of configurable information, required some time to learn. Audi MMI also took a few uses to become intuitive. The three-zone piano-style climate control buttons on the center stack were touch sensitive and very easy to use and quick to respond. Rear passengers had a digital temperature readout, vents and control buttons, along with a 12-volt outlet on the floor console. My S4 had a total of four 12-volt outlets.
A Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3-D sound and 19 speakers, 16-channel amplifier and 755 watts produced phenomenal sound clarity, and included standard HD radio technology, dual SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) card slots with 64GB operating capacity, and satellite radio (90-day trial), an 8.3-inch MMI infotainment/navigation display, Audi music interface with two USB ports for data and charging, Bluetooth technology for phone and audio, and smartphone interface including Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.
Personal storage in the cabin was limited – door pockets, four cupholders, and a couple of bins – while the 13-cubic foot trunk was adequate, with a manageable load height and no intrusions inside.
Split-folding 40/20/40 rear seatbacks allowed for hauling longer items. A storage package included four tie-downs, two side nets, and two bag hooks.
Thanks to the lower trunk and beltline, visibility was good with minimal blind spots. LATCH anchors in the rear were easily accessible under plastic protective covers, and the wide rear doors made loading easy.
Nine air bags protected passengers, including front knee air bags, head-curtain bags and rear side bags ($350).
Electronic Stability Control with secondary collision assist and traction with sport mode added another level of safety. Secondary Collision Assist applies the brakes to prevent or mitigate a second impact if the vehicle has been involved in a collision. Auto braking can be overridden by the driver if that action would be hazardous, such as being struck by following traffic.
Audi S4 is comfortable enough for long road trips, the cabin is relatively quiet except under hard acceleration when the V-6 snarl comes through, and acceleration is adequate for everyday driving – although a little leisurely from a standstill. Drive Select allows some tinkering with responses for different conditions and moods.
The S4 is EPA rated for 21 mpg city/30 highway/24 combined. I managed 26 mpg with mostly highway driving.
Options totaling $13,175 and destination charges of $975 brought the total delivered sticker price of my tester to $65,050.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.