This is the car you buy to give off the image that you appreciate conservative elegance.
When the Audi A4 was redesigned for the 2017 model year, its sister the S4 lost its delicious supercharged six-cylinder. This was a cause for mourning for those of us who were addicted to the seamless power delivery and confident exhaust note of the supercharged 3.0T, but it also went away to make room for something equally special. We are huge fans of the new A4 (reviewed here), as it’s one of the best year-round cars at its price point. However, rivals like the BMW 340i and Mercedes-AMG C 43 offer a bit more power for a little more money, and it was only a matter of time before Audi introduced their player within this segment.
The 2018 Audi S4 quattro is one of the best cars available for sale right now, period. The introduction of the S3 for the 2015 model year matched the S4 in many ways, despite being a slightly smaller car. This new S4, codenamed “B9” and sharing the same MLB chassis as the A4, capitalizes on the dynamic abilities of the A4 and adds horsepower, suspension bits, subtle styling tweaks and a lot more. This is the one to have, and we’ll explain the reasons why.
At first glance, it’s not easy to differentiate the S4 from its A4 sibling. The body is essentially unchanged, though the wheel designs, front and rear lips, aluminum side view mirrors and quad exhaust tips are what give off the discrete statement that you opted for the faster one. On the inside, the S4 gets unique seats (red sport seats, in our test vehicle) that offer standard massage and heating. Other than the seats, “S4” graphics in the displays and the classy Carbon Atlas dashboard inlays, there isn’t much else going on.
Under the hood though, oh my, that’s a different story. Upon first hearing about the replacement of the supercharged TFSI motor, I was genuinely concerned and curious about just how Audi would keep alive the passion of the S4. This is an all-new motor, a turbocharged 3.0L V6, which pushes 354 horsepower between 5,400 and 6,400RPM, and 369 lb-ft. of torque between 1,370 and 4,500RPM. The power delivery on this engine is silky smooth, and while there are instances where the turbo lag makes itself evident, this engine almost feels, well, supercharged.
The S4 pulls hard and strong, with no hesitation, and would lead you to believe that it’s a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch setup like the old car. Wrong – the new model gets the ZF eight-speed automatic, which conveniently is the best gearbox this side of a dual-clutch. It imitates a DCT in the way it blips the throttle when downshifting, and makes delightful popping noises from the exhaust. The “engine sound” is slightly artificial unfortunately, and can be toggled using the Audi Drive Select, but for all intents and purposes, it sounds great in all settings. We experienced some drone on the highway in eighth gear in “Dynamic”, but this wasn’t the case in “Comfort”.
As with almost everything Audi sells in Canada, quattro all-wheel-drive is standard issue here. By default, in this application the system has a 60/40 split between the rear and the front, and sends more torque to the rear wheels. It feels good and the car handles like it’s on rails, especially thanks to the new variable ratio steering (Dynamic Steering; $1,500 extra). Response is quick and crisp, and the steering weight is also adjustable using the drive mode selector. We opted to leave the vehicle in “Individual” with the steering configured in its most athletic setting (read: heaviest weight) for all normal commuting.
Magnetic Ride suspension is standard issue on the S4, but our test car was also equipped with the S Adaptive suspension, which costs an extra $1,000. Ride quality on this car with the big wheels is remarkably good in the “Comfort” setting, though firms up to a point of harsh when left in “Dynamic”. This is the point of a sporty sedan of course, and while the firmness is a bit much for Toronto’s pothole-ridden streets, the S4 does a good job of staying balanced and minimizing body roll around corners.
The turbo-six is a lot more efficient than the outgoing car, and with tech like idle start/stop technology, this is the most frugal S4 ever made. Rated at 11.5L/100km city and 8.0L/100km highway, we averaged 11.2L/100km over a week of heavily city-biased commuting. Driving with a conservative foot over long highway hauls returned a generous 8.3L/100km with use of the air conditioner, so we see no reason to dispute the 8.0L/100km claim. The S4 will only accept 91-octane premium fuel or better.
There isn’t much to talk about with regards to the interior of the new S4, as it’s so similar to the setup in the A4 (reviewed here). Virtual Cockpit is excellent and has set a new benchmark for in-car connectivity and overall convenience. We’ve heard of some having trouble using the handwriting function atop the MMI controller. These sentiments aren’t shared by anyone on our team; the system was flawless throughout our testing. Audio quality from the Bang & Olufsen stereo is very good, and sits just below Volvo’s Bowers & Wilkins application for overall acoustics and clarity.
At the “Progressiv” trim level, Audi Canada prices the S4 at $58,000. Stepping up to the higher-trim Technik grade will set you back $62,100. This vehicle had Daytona Grey Paint ($890), Carbon Atlas Inlays ($900), red brake calipers ($500), quattro Sport Differential ($1,900), Driver Assistance Package ($2,100), and a heads-up display ($1,100). Also on board are the aforementioned S Adaptive Suspension and Dynamic Steering. The total sticker on this S4 crests $74,000, though a well-equipped car can be had in the mid-$60,000 range.
The S4 bests the power numbers of the BMW 340i (reviewed here) handily, though on paper falls short of the Mercedes-AMG C 43. The C-Class (reviewed here) also has an arguably nicer interior, and in C 43 form delivers just as good an exhaust note and similar appeal. It boils down to preference, but given the age of the BMW’s platform and its focus on comfort over sportiness, the Audi and the Mercedes are on a similar level, sitting slightly higher on the want-scale.
The 2018 Audi S4 quattro is an engaging sport sedan that flies under the radar. Aside from the prominent four ringed logo sitting on the fascia, there isn’t much to it that will have the neighbours or passerby ogling with envy. This is the car you buy to give off the image that you appreciate conservative elegance, while delivering a driving experience that sits right up there with the best of the pack. The new S4 is an easy nominee for our Best Sports Sedan pedestal for this year’s award season – check back in the winter to see how it fares!