Monday, October 20, 2014

What happens when you drive a car purpose built for speed?


Sporty performance and luxury hardly ever combine in vehicles as well as they do in the 2013 Audi S4. Based on the A4, the S4 is a more aggressive and enthusiast-aimed variant of one of Audi's bread and butter cars. The supercharged 3.0 liter V6 sends 333 horsepower to all 4 corners of the car, combining a highly pleasing exhaust note, and a bit of screaming tires to make for one addictive sound track. With a suspension that is more sporty in nature and stronger brakes, the S4 will paint a permanent smile on the faces of all but the Porsche-obbsesed car fans.

     That fun comes without sacrificing comfort makes the S4 one of the best bargains shy of other German machines that have 6 figure price tags. The cabin is tasteful, calm, quiet, and feels like an upscale modern hotel. The ride is for the most part compliant, and brushes off all but the very worst of road conditions. Plus, you have room for 4 of your friends, and trunk space for most of their stuff for a weekend jaunt to where ever.

     The 2013 Audi S4 is the high performance version of the bread and butter A4. It is offered with a single trim level, Premium Plus, and comes with an optional Prestige package.

     Standard features for the Premium Plus include 18-inch wheels, summer performance tires, a sunroof, automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights, automatic wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated eight-way power front sport seats (with four-way lumbar adjustment), driver memory settings, leather and simulated suede upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a dash-mounted MMI electronics controller and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, iPod interface and satellite radio.

     The Prestige package adds adaptive xenon headlights, a rearview camera, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, voice controls, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, blind-spot monitoring, an MMI controller mounted on the center console, Bluetooth audio connectivity, Audi Connect smartphone integration, a navigation system and HD radio. If you don't want to pay for this entire package, the nav system and Bang & Olufsen stereo can be purchased separately.

Options exclusive to Audi S4s with the Prestige package include the Driver Assist package, which adds adaptive cruise control, an enhanced steering system and adjustable settings for engine, transmission, steering and response (known as Audi Drive Select). A power rear sunshade and manual side shades are also optional.

     Options available on all S4s include 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, a sport rear differential (essentially a sophisticated limited-slip differential), full leather upholstery and rear-seat side airbags. Both the adaptive suspension and sport differential must be purchased in combination with Audi Drive Select, and doing so adds adjustable settings for the suspension to that menu.

 The 2013 S4 is powered by a 3.0 liter supercharged V6, that thumps out a very respectable 333 horsepower, and 325 lb.-ft of torque. All-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission are standard, and is this reviewers preferred setup, however a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual, aka S tronic, is an option and serves as the automatic transmission option for this car. Audi even offers what they call a sport differential which is more or less a limited slip diff that helps portion out the torque between the rear wheels to help handling performance, which is very excellent. This is a car that is certainly worth buying if you travel and twisty roads often.

     In performance testing the S4 reached 60 mph from a standsill in about 5 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are at 17 city/26 highway for the manual transmission equipped vehicle, and 18 city/28 highway when equipped with the S tronic transmission.

     Standard safety features for the 2013 Audi S4 include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are optional, and the Prestige package adds a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and a blind-spot warning system. This package also allows you to add adaptive cruise control (at additional cost), and it includes a collision warning and mitigation feature that primes the brakes if it detects a possible frontal crash.

     During brake testing, the S4 averaged a respectable 109 feet 60-0 mph stopping distance, which is average for this class of vehicle.

     Government crash test ratings were not out at the time of writing, but the related A4 scored a perfect 5 stars for overall side-impact protection. The A4 earned the highest rating of Good from the IIHS for the moderate over-lap, side impact, and roof strength tests. However, the A4 did earn a poor rating for the IIHS' new small over lap frontal-impact test, but only a small number of vehicles have been subjected to this testing, and the vast majority have received the same rating.

     All new Audis get high remarks for interior quality, and the S4 is certainly no exception. Seats, doors, panels, and consoles are dressed with top shelf materials in a swanky, modern style. The front seats both comfort and cuddle you for long drives, or short trips, but also hug you when you desire more spirtied driving.

     Infotainment functions are controlled by Audi's MMI. This consists of a small knob surrounded by buttons that work in conjunction to control menus on a central screen mounted up on the dash. Overall, it is a very usable interface if you are no stranger to Audi/VW vehicles, as it will feel very familiar to you. When equipped with navigation, the controls for MMI are mounted on the center console. However, if you don't have navigation equipped, they are mounted next to the screen on the dash, which is a slight hassle/ergonomics nightmare. On the plus side, the S4's other controls are generally well laid out. Like the A4, the S4 has a roomy cabin for 4 adults to be seated in comfort, even for longer periods of time. The trunk space, rated at 12.4 cubic feet, is average for its class.

     Clearly, the S4 is the performance minded driver's choice. Handling is certainly impressive, with an aggressive AWD traction, and virtually 0 body roll. Consider it a huge plus that this well handling machine doesn't make you sacrifice comfort when you want to take that corner at the limits. Ride quality is also impressive, given the performance orriented nature of the vehicle.

     The supercharged V6 under the hood is a rather smooth, strong engine that delights with instant throttle response, giving you a 0-oh “£$% factor of about 2 seconds. Aside from a subdued supercharger whine, you would more than likely never guess what is going on under the hood to put that huge “£$% eating grin on your face. The manual transmission shifts smooth, although clutch travel and shift throws are a tad on the long side. It is still without a doubt one of the best powertrain combos this reviewer has ever driven.

     The 2013 Audi S4 can seem a little pricey, but if you factor in its standard all-wheel drive and comprehensive standard features, it compares very well to the BMW 335i, a sedan long considered the benchmark in the segment. Playing loose with the options list, however, puts the S4 in range of the Cadillac CTS-V,and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, models that some might say surpass the S4 in terms of performance and prestige. But even among such lofty rivals, the S4's all-wheel drive, refined surroundings and balanced nature make it a compelling choice.

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