New Car Review

2012 Audi S4: New Car Review

See all Audi S4 articles
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs

author photo by Josh Sadlier May 2012

Pros: Superstar ride/handling balance, satisfying supercharged V6, beautiful cabin with plenty of available technology, adult-friendly back seat.

Cons: Unnecessary options can inflate the already hefty price.


It's not often that we struggle to come up with a single "con" for a car, but the 2012 Audi S4 put us squarely on the horns of this dilemma. Here's the problem: for an aspect to be a con, it has to be a reason not to buy the car-a potential deal-breaker. And we're just not sure what could break a deal for the fantastic S4.

Oh, we came up with a couple kvetches when we really tried. For one thing, as capable as the supercharged V6 is, it doesn't sound very inspiring. We still miss the previous S4's mellifluous V8. Also, the S4's steering has a distinctly synthetic feel that's only exacerbated by the optional Drive Select system with its adjustable settings.

But let's be honest-with the rapid ascendance of electric power steering over the past few years, funny-feeling steering is basically the norm, at least until engineers figure out how to make EPS feel normal. And if you want a sport-sedan engine that really sounds special, you'll have to stretch for a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG or find a used M3 (BMW doesn't even make the M3 sedan for 2012). In other words, there's nothing in the S4's class that's dramatically better on either count.

So we're left with just the S4's price, which we do find a bit dear. The S4's closest rival, the BMW 335i, is about five grand cheaper to start, and any S4 you find on a dealer lot is likely to carry a pile of expensive options that you don't need. If you can find an S4 that fits your budget, though, we can't think of a single good reason why you shouldn't snap it up on the spot. All things considered, the S4 isn't merely short on cons; it's one of the best all-around cars in the world.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Audi S4 sedan is offered in two trim levels: Premium Plus and Prestige.

The Premium Plus comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED running lights, foglamps, quad tailpipes, a sunroof, power heated front sport seats, leather/Alcantara upholstery, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control (including separate rear temperature control), Bluetooth and iPod integration, the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system with a dash-mounted control knob and a ten-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and satellite radio.

The Prestige upgrades to 19-inch 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-inch alloys with more serious rubber. Silk Nappa leather upholstery and a "sports rear differential" with side-to-side power distribution are available on both trim levels. Exclusive Prestige extras include adaptive cruise control, power rear sunshades and the Drive Select system, which adds the sports differential, adaptive suspension dampers and electronic adjustments for steering, suspension, transmission (automatic models only) and throttle response.

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. I-n 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 two-step process. A dedicated fan knob that does what it's told would make on-the-fly adjustments much easier. On the bright side, we think Audi has made great strides with the MMI system's intuitiveness (see "Technology," below).

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

Trunk capacity is about average for a compact sport sedan at 12.4 cubic feet.


The S4 comes standard with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as an SD-card reader. Some may be troubled by the absence of a USB port, as the S4 won't accept flash drives or USB-connected mp3 players. In any case, the star of the show is the MMI system, which comes in two forms. In standard spec without navigation, MMI is controlled via a knob on the center stack that requires an uncomfortable reach from the driver's seat. If your budget can handle it, we recommend stepping up to the MMI Plus system, which includes navigation, a more sophisticated display screen and a control knob that's conveniently mounted precisely where your right hand rests on the center console. Audi has greatly improved the intuitiveness of MMI's menu structure, and the console-mounted knob now features a nifty joystick-like top section that aids operation.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The S4 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a six-speed manual transmission. A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual with paddle shifters is also available.

If you've read our A4 review, you know that we're not too high on that car's modest power output, but the S4 obviously has no such issues. The supercharged V6 is seriously strong across the rev range, besting even the mighty turbocharged inline-6 in the BMW 335i. It's also highly refined-maybe too refined, 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.

Fuel economy is more than respectable at 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway with the manual and 18/28 mpg with the automatic.


The 2012 Audi S4 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock 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 four stars out of five overall in government crash-testing, including four stars for frontal impacts and five in all other categories. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the A4 its highest rating of "Good" in every category.

Driving Impressions

The S4 may be based on a front-wheel-drive platform, but it's more capable on a winding road or racetrack than the rival rear-drive BMW 335i, especially if you get the optional torque-vectoring sports rear differential. The S4's steering feels synthetic 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. Despite the S4's world-class athleticism, it's got a reasonably supple ride in ordinary driving, and road noise is rarely an issue. Notably, we prefer the S4's standard suspension and steering calibrations to the artificial-feeling (and expensive) Drive Select setup.

Other Cars to Consider

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

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG: The 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. If you ask us, the base C63 is more appealing than a fully loaded S4.

Infiniti G37: Although the burly Infiniti lacks the S4's refinement, it makes almost the same horsepower without the aid of forced induction. Worth considering if the price differential is significant.

AutoTrader Recommends

Skip the Drive Select package, we say, but do spring for MMI Plus-which means you'll be looking at either a Premium Plus with the MMI Plus option, or a standard S4 Prestige. We also recommend the sports rear differential It's not that expensive as a standalone option, and driving enthusiasts will notice a real improvement.

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.
2012 Audi S4: New Car Review - Autotrader