Amid the horsepower arms race that has gripped Germany's automakers, the 2014 Audi S4 represents a compelling call for moderation. Of course, the fact that we're referring to a 333-horsepower sport sedan as "moderate" speaks volumes about the current state of affairs. But here's the deal: Not everyone needs an uber-sedan such as the C63 AMG, with over 450 hp. For some driving enthusiasts, it's more about the overall package than the potential for drag-strip heroics. And the S4's overall package, from its world-class performance to its lovely interior, is one of the most appealing in the business. 

Sure, we could pick nits with the supercharged V6's uninspiring exhaust note. If you're going to boast the exact same horsepower rating as BMW's iconic E46 M3, it'd be nice if the soundtracks matched up, too. Moreover, thanks to the front-wheel-drive-based platform, you won't see any S4s in burnout or drifting competitions, rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system notwithstanding. 

But some sport-sedan buyers would rather blend in with the crowd than draw unwanted attention with a screaming race-style engine. And seriously, how many shoppers in this segment actually intend to go drifting? The S4 isn't about making tire smoke for action shots; rather, it's about the performance that real drivers on real roads will actually appreciate. If bragging rights are less important to you than all-around excellence, consider casting your vote for the moderate 2014 S4. 

What's New for 2014?

The Drive Select system is now standard, and a sinister Black Optic appearance package debuts. 

What We Like

Exemplary ride/handling balance; strong supercharged V6; upscale cabin with plenty of available technology; surprisingly adult-friendly back seat 

What We Don't

Engine doesn't sound that special; unnecessary options can inflate the already hefty price 

How Much?

$48,995-$54,895 

Fuel Economy

The S4 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The model's quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a 6-speed manual transmission; a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual with paddle shifters is also available. 

The S4's Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings stand at a healthy 18 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy for the automated manual and a slightly less laudable 17 mpg city/26 mpg hwy for the stick shift. 

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Audi S4 sedan is offered in two trim levels: Premium Plus and Prestige. 

The Premium Plus ($48,995) comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED accents, fog lights, quad tailpipes, a sunroof, the Drive Select system (including a sport rear differential, adaptive suspension dampers and electronic adjustments for steering, suspension, throttle response and automatic transmission shift programming), power heated front sport seats, leather/Alcantara upholstery, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control (including separate rear temperature controls), Bluetooth and iPod integration, the Multi-Media Interface system with a dash-mounted control knob and a 10-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and satellite radio. 

The Prestige ($54,895) upgrades to 19-in alloys with wider low-profile tires, adaptive xenon headlamps, parking sensors, a blind spot warning system, keyless entry with push-button ignition, MMI Plus with navigation and a console-mounted control knob, and a 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system. 

MMI Plus can be added to the Premium Plus as an option, ditto the Bang & Olufsen stereo and the 19-in alloys with more serious rubber. Silk Nappa leather upholstery and the Black Optic appearance package (including black-out exterior trim and unique 19-in wheels) are available on both trim levels. Exclusive Prestige extras include adaptive cruise control and a power rear sunshade. 

The S4's back seat is much more accommodating now than in previous generations, providing plenty of room for two adults to ride comfortably. Also, the outboard rear seating positions feature unusual seat-back-mounted side bolsters that emphasize the car's sporty theme. The standard separate temperature controls for rear passengers is another nice touch. 

Trunk capacity is about average for a compact sport sedan at 12.4 cu ft.

Safety

The 2014 Audi S4 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain). Rear side airbags are optional. 

The S4 has not been crash-tested, but the regular A4 received a perfect five stars from the government in all crash-test categories. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meanwhile, gave the A4 its highest rating of Good in every category except the new small front overlap test, in which the A4 was deemed Poor. 

Behind the Wheel

The S4's interior is largely shared with the regular A4, which is just fine, as the A4 has one of the nicest cabins in its class. Happily, the front sport seats mostly address our criticisms of the A4's standard seats. In particular, lateral torso support is much improved, though we'd like to see electric adjustability for those side bolsters for a snugger fit. The tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability, so most drivers should have no trouble getting situated. However, drivers with long legs may find their left elbows hanging off the back of the door armrest. 

As with the regular A4, the S4's ergonomics are hit-or-miss. Try to adjust the climate control's fan speed and you'll see what we mean -- it's a 2-step process. A dedicated fan knob that does what it's told would make on-the-fly adjustments much easier. 

The supercharged V6 is seriously strong across the rev range, besting even the mighty turbocharged inline 6-cylinder in the BMW 335i. It's also highly refined -- maybe too refined, in fact, as there's not much bark to go with this motor's bite, quad tailpipes notwithstanding. 

You can't go wrong with either transmission. We're partial to the conventional manual for its satisfyingly precise throws and forgiving clutch, but the dual-clutch automatic is a superstar, executing quick upshifts and perfectly rev-matched downshifts on demand. 

The S4 may be based on a front-wheel-drive platform, but it's more capable on a winding road or racetrack than the rear-wheel-drive 335i. The S4's steering feels artificial to our palms, but it's remarkably precise, and the supercharged engine's instantaneous throttle response is a driving aid in its own right, giving you absolute confidence when you squeeze the throttle. But despite the S4's world-class athleticism, it has a reasonably supple ride in ordinary driving, and road noise is rarely an issue. 

Other Cars to Consider 

BMW 335i -- The current 335i isn't quite as sharp as the previous model, but it's still a very capable sport sedan. This is really the S4's principal competitor. 

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG -- The ridiculously powerful C63 is much more expensive than the S4 if you look at base prices, but it's easy for a well-optioned S4 to creep up toward AMG territory. 

Infiniti Q50 -- Although Infiniti's new sport sedan lacks the S4's refinement, it makes almost the same horsepower without the aid of forced induction -- and it looks good, too. 

AutoTrader's Advice

We suggest springing for MMI Plus with Audi connect, because who wouldn't want to have Google along for the ride? But we'd otherwise be happy with the Premium Plus's standard equipment, and that would keep our S4's price around $50,000 -- a very reasonable sum for this level of performance and luxury.

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