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2018 Audi S4: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Colin Ryan April 2017

The 2018 Audi S4 comes hot on the rear bumper of the new generation of A4 -- with "hot" being the operative word. New for 2018, this is the sport sedan variant of Audi's highly praised premium compact sedan, a new version of which debuted for the 2017 model year.

What a Difference an S Makes

Naturally, there's a well-defined sporty element, but the S4 doesn't go to uncomfortable or unusable extremes. As well as a more powerful engine (see below), Audi has added an adaptive suspension adjusted with selectable drive modes that also change the responses of the steering system, throttle and transmission. The ride height is lowered by about an inch (compared to that of the regular A4), the front air intakes are bigger, aerodynamic body pieces and sport seats have been installed and the amount of standard equipment in general is higher. For example, even the "entry level" S4 comes with a 755-watt/19-speaker audio system from Bang & Olufsen.

The Heart of the Matter

A turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 pushes the S4 with 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Maximum thrust comes in at a super-low 1,370 rpm and stays there for some time, so keeping the engine above 1,500 rpm and below 4,500 rpm is a broad-yet-sweet spot, where power delivery is at its smoothest and most responsive.

The transmission is an 8-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Several other Audi cars have dual-clutch automated manuals (called S tronic), but this unit was deemed to be the best fit for several reasons -- such as quick reactions, almost imperceptible gear shifts and an ability to take that much torque in its stride. The extra eighth gear ratio also brings a benefit in fuel consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving.

Audi claims a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds (quick enough for all but the most adrenaline-addicted), while top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. Drive goes to all four wheels in that usual Audi quattro way, but the system has been tuned here to send most of the muscle to the rear wheels: 60 percent. That's in normal driving circumstances. Should conditions demand, up to 85 percent can go to either axle within the blink of an eye.

Audi also offers a sport rear differential that makes cornering even more effective, turning the outside rear wheel a little faster. It feels like an invisible hand pushing the car around the turns. It's well worth having.

The Heat of the Moment

On the subject of going around turns, the S4 has much more than speed and stability going for it. The all-wheel-drive system provides plenty of traction, the steering is precise and swift (though not particularly tactile), and the body stays virtually flat -- no leaning through the curves. The whole experience is one of total control and the confidence that comes with it, accompanied by a ready supply of power whenever the right foot calls for it.

When that foot has to go over to the other pedal, the brakes have 6-piston calipers up front and 4-piston calipers clamping on the rear discs. These make for strong deceleration that isn't too sudden; the initial bite is decisive yet never nervous.

The cabin seems eternally tranquil, but rev the engine and the quad exhaust pipes produce a more assertive note that gently tingles the spine. The front sport seats, meanwhile, keep their occupants snugly in place despite g-forces trying to exert a lateral influence.

The Cost of Living Fast

Available right now, the 2018 Audi S4 comes in the Premium Plus trim, starting at $51,875, or the Prestige trim, from $56,775.

The Premium Plus includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, full LED lighting, rain-sensing wipers, leather/Alcantara (faux suede) upholstery, heated/massaging front seats with self-inflating bolster cushions, and an infotainment system with a 7-in display. The Prestige has ambient LED cabin lighting, navigation, handwriting recognition for controlling the infotainment system, a head-up display, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the Virtual Cockpit.

The Virtual Cockpit is an Audi specialty, a 12.3-in screen replacing the driver's instrument cluster, which can be configured to show the usual information or navigation. It's easy to get to grips with and can be adjusted quickly using the buttons on the (flat-bottom) steering wheel.

Working off the premise that budget is not a big concern, it's worth going for the Prestige trim, since it has more equipment as standard.

Some assets of the A4 also apply to the S4, such as decent rear passenger space, trunk volume of 13 cu ft. (sufficient for three golf bags) and styling where every millimeter is honed to minimalist perfection. The S4 is a superb, well-executed package balancing muscle with agility and equipment levels with clarity of purpose.

 To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Audi S4: First Drive Review - Autotrader