2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Introduction
Rarely do I pull to the shoulder of the mountain roads I travel, whip out my smartphone, and take notes right in the middle of a test drive. The 2013 Audi S4’s sheer brilliance, however, had so many superlatives whizzing about in my head that I had to take a break from the action to stab mercilessly at my touchscreen so that I wouldn’t forget to share all of them with you. (Why use QWERTY on a smartphone? I find voice dictation to be almost as unreliable as my big, fat, stubby fingers.)
It might be easy to look at the Audi S4 and assume it to be just another overpriced and undersized sedan that justifies its window sticker with a set of four shiny chrome rings in the grille. For people who love to drive but require more practicality than a sports car can deliver, and who desire a sedan constructed of premium materials and wearing a premium brand, that would be a huge mistake. The S4 sits atop the current Audi A4 hierarchy, and its position is well deserved. I’ll cut right to the chase: If I were spending my own $50,000 on a luxury sport sedan, this S4 would be parked in my garage.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
A broad view of the 2013 Audi A4 family includes the standard A4 Sedan ($33,395 including the $895 destination charge) with front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive, the performance-tuned S4 Sedan ($48,495) with Quattro, and the Allroad wagon-based crossover suv ($40,495) with Quattro.
The 2013 Audi S4 comes standard with Premium Plus trim, which is a $4,200 upgrade for the standard A4. That means every S4 is equipped with Xenon Plus headlights, LED running lights, LED taillights, auto-dimming side mirrors, and aluminum exterior trim. Inside, the S4’s Premium Plus package provides standard Bluetooth connectivity, triple-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, memory for the driver’s seat, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a universal garage door opener, and an iPod connection.
For an extra $6,250, buyers can upgrade to the S4 Prestige model ($54,795), which adds Audi MMI Navigation Plus (navigation system with voice recognition technology and Google Earth photographic map imagery, HD Radio, Bluetooth audio streaming capability, Audi Connect with online services that turns the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot), an Audi Parking System Plus with a reversing camera, Audi Side Assist blind spot monitoring, Audi Adaptive Light with static cornering lights and pivoting headlights, and a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system.
My S4 Premium Plus test car added plenty of extras, and wore a window sticker reading $58,620. It had an S-tronic automated manual transmission, extra-cost Silver Ice metallic paint, 19-inch aluminum wheels with 255/35 summer performance tires, a sports differential for the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and the Audi Parking System Plus with a reversing camera. Inside, premium Fine Nappa leather, a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, Audi Advanced Key keyless entry and push-button start, and Carbon Atlas dashboard inlays were added, as well as the Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Design
- Freshened grille and bumper designs
- Redesigned front and rear lighting
- Updated hood detailing
- Redesigned wheels
- Flat-bottom steering wheel
- Upgraded cabin trim
- Optional Fine Nappa leather
- New color combinations
To make sure nobody mistakes the S4 for the A4, Audi restyles the front and rear bumpers, bolts on a set of unique 18-inch aluminum wheels, and adds a matte-finish Platinum Gray grille treatment, Alu-Optic side mirror caps and front and rear splitter blades, a rear lip spoiler, and a quad-outlet exhaust system. Inside, the S4 gains a thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, a set of leather and Alcantara sport seats, and a black cloth headliner. As is expected of an Audi, the cabin drips with class, elegance, and sophistication, every surface covered with quality materials.
The end result is a serious, no-nonsense car, cold, technical, and undeniably attractive in a class where competing models often resort to outlandish, and frequently unappealing, design attributes in an effort to stand apart from the crowd. Slipping into an Audi S4 is like donning a well-tailored suit after six months of working out and dropping 20 pounds. It feels rewarding, and terrific.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- No changes for 2013
While wearing an Audi S4 feels great, getting into and out of this car isn’t necessarily easy, especially if you’ve got long legs. The door apertures are fairly small, the front sport seats have bolstering that must be cleared, taller people need to get themselves around an intrusive B-pillar, and rear seat leg space is at a premium.
Once you’re seated up front, the S4 delivers excellent comfort and support. The sport seats aren’t as confining as they look, and my test car had the optional Fine Nappa premium leather, stretched tautly around firm cushions and featuring embossed “S4” logos on the integrated head restraints. One of my favorite things about Audi models is the sliding and ratcheting center armrest, which can be positioned for optimum comfort regardless of seat position. One of my least favorite things about the A4/S4/Allroad trifecta is how the door-mounted power window control panel digs into my left kneecap when bracing my left leg for right-hand corners taken with gusto.
Rear seat accommodations are best reserved for people of shorter stature, as the hard front seatbacks with their integrated storage nets are unkind to the knees and shins of taller folks. The 60/40-split folding seat offers decent height and thigh support, and occupants enjoy a good view out of the side glass. Passengers with larger feet will find good foot room under the front chairs.
Installing child safety seats is a breeze, thanks to exposed LATCH anchors that make it simple to cinch the seats down nice and tight. However, that same lack of legroom that impacts adult riders also means that preschoolers spend plenty of time kicking the front seatbacks.
Though sized on the small side at 12.4 cu.-ft., the Audi S4’s beautifully finished trunk is narrow but deep, and usefully shaped like a giant cube, making it easy to stack and stow luggage to make use of all of the available space. Two hooks deploy from the trunk’s roof, designed to hold plastic shopping bags without spilling the contents – as long as you’re not exploring the car’s handling limits, that is. Folding the rear seatbacks is easy, and Audi provides a ski pass-through allowing the car to carry four people and four sets of skis.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Audi Connect technology
- Bluetooth streaming audio capability
- Simplified MMI and climate controls
Despite changes for 2013 that are designed to simplify its operation, the Audi Multi-Media Interface (MMI) remains my biggest complaint about the S4, and most other Audi models. The MMI consists of multiple buttons and a couple of knobs, arrayed on the center console next to the gear selector, and aimed up at the ceiling. These controls, located completely out of the driver’s line of sight while the car is underway, are distracting and dangerous.
The assumption is that the driver learns how to use these functions by touch, but I never get used to it, and need to visually reference the buttons on a regular basis. When doing so, I cannot see the road ahead. Plus, the MMI hard keys are paired with actions taking place on the in-dash screen, adding an additional layer of complexity. Furthermore, these controls are located in the same neighborhood as the cupholders, and all it takes is one spilled caramel latte to render them close to inoperable.
One of two things needs to happen for the next generation of MMI:
1.) Audi needs to move the controls to the dashboard where they belong.
2.) Audi needs to adopt touchscreen technology with voice-activated control.
Gratefully, most of the S4’s remaining controls are located in logical positions and are fairly easy to operate. My test car had Audi Advanced Key, and I like that there is a slot in which to store the key and start the car, in addition to a button that works if the key is anywhere inside the vehicle. Since I dislike stuffing my pants pockets and I don’t carry a purse, Audi’s solution makes it easy to keep track of where the key is at any given time.
This particular S4 also had the optional Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. Though not quite as impressive as the setup offered in higher-end Audi models, the S4’s B&O components keep me convinced that, one day, maybe when I don’t need to worry about offspring ruining it, I would like to have a Bang & Olufsen audio system in my home.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Adaptive cruise control is now offered for S4 Prestige models
Is it a little bit insulting that Audi expects buyers of a $48,000 automobile to pay extra for such items as rear parking assist sensors, a reversing camera, and a blind-spot information system? Yes, it is, especially because the blind-spot information system is offered only on the S4’s Prestige trim level. Paying extra for Prestige is also necessary to partake of the new adaptive cruise control system, and the adaptive headlights that pivot up to 15 degrees to help the driver to see around dark corners. However, any S4 can be optioned with rear-seat side-impact airbags.
2013 Audi S4 Crash-Test Ratings:
If it seems like the Audi S4 is a little bit light in terms of safety features, rest assured that it is a safe car in the eyes of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In NHTSA crash tests, the S4 receives a 5-star overall rating, the best possible. In fact, it gets 5-star ratings in each individual crash-test assessment including the rollover test, with a single exception. Side-impact protection for the driver is rated 4 stars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does not offer ratings for the Audi S4. However, the A4 upon which it is based is considered to be a “Top Safety Pick” for 2013. Note, though, that in the new small overlap frontal impact test, which is designed to measure protection when a car strikes a pole, a tree, or an oncoming car on the front left corner, the A4 receives a “Poor” rating, indicating a need for improvement if Audi wants the A4 to continue to receive a “Top Safety Pick” designation.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Electric steering swaps in for previous hydraulic steering
- New crown-gear center differential
- Optional dynamic steering system
To create an Audi S4, the automaker starts by replacing the A4’s standard turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine – an impressive powerplant in its own right – with a remarkably satisfying supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine. Offering 333 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 325 lb.-ft. of torque starting at just 2,900 rpm, it is not at all surprising that Audi estimates acceleration to 60 mph takes just 4.9 seconds.
A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard equipment for both the Premium Plus and the Prestige models. Audi’s 7-speed S-tronic automated manual transmission is an option, and includes shift paddles on the steering wheel. Depending on vehicle configuration and how the car is driven, the S4 “burps” when upshifting hard and rev matches when downshifting in advance of a turn. The driver can also manually select gears using the gorgeously trimmed shift lever by choosing Sport mode and moving the lever up for an upshift and down for a downshift. Quite intuitive, that pattern.
The S4’s standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system is recalibrated for use in the S4, and can send up to 85% of motive force to the rear wheels. Quattro systems paired with the S-tronic transmission include a crown-gear center differential for greater response, and an optional sports differential varies torque distribution between the rear wheels for a torque vectoring effect similar to Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Additionally, when compared to the Audi A4, the Audi S4 is equipped with revised manual transmission gear ratios, larger 4-wheel ventilated-disc brakes, and a lowered, sport-tuned suspension. The S4’s speed-sensitive electric steering is the same equipment offered for the A4.
According to the EPA, the 2013 Audi S4 is rated to get 20 mpg in combined driving with the manual transmission and 21 mpg in combined driving with the S-tronic transmission. The latter was installed in my test car, which returned 23.7 mpg over the course of more than 600 miles spent primarily on the highway.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Before driving it on my standard test loop, I had already fallen in love with the S4. While running local errands and zooming from one end of the Los Angeles freeway network to the other, this Audi exuded panache, power, and performance. My wife, also an automotive journalist with more than a decade of experience evaluating vehicles, felt exactly the same way – except for a gripe about the suspension feeling a little too stiff even with the Audi Drive Select system set to “Comfort.”
It was on a cold winter morning with temperatures averaging about 40 degrees that I became certain that the S4 is a car I would purchase with my own money. Over the course of a 55-mile loop including city streets, multi-lane freeway, twisty two-lane, coastal highway, and arrow straight farm roads, the S4 and I bonded like few vehicles I’ve driven in recent memory. And in the middle of it all, I stopped several times to take notes. Here are some excerpts, verbatim:
- Explosive acceleration
- Unstoppable force of mechanical excellence
- Transmission is a model of perfection
- Effortlessly straightens the twistiest of roads
- Graceful, balletic handling
- Indefatigable brakes
- Outstanding body control
- Sheer and utter confidence builder exhibiting zero false performance pretense
There is just one weak link, and that’s the new electric steering, which replaces the hydraulic unit used last year. Off-center, and depending on both the Audi Drive Select setting and vehicle speed, it occasionally reveals its artificial nature, almost fighting the driver’s attempts to rip around a freeway flyover ramp.
But I could live with that.
There is a belief, a false one if you ask me, that a rear-wheel-drive platform is a prerequisite to genuine luxury sport sedan credentials. The Audi S4 serves notice that the days of judging a proper performance sedan by its ability to drift around corners with the rear wheels spinning (who does that, anyway?) are officially over. The S4 is a brilliant automobile, easily my pick at this price point.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The Audi S4 doesn’t compete head-to-head with performance-tuned variants of other compact luxury sport sedans, though it sure feels like it could, which makes it seem like an absolute value. Rather, the S4 is lined up against an Acura TL SH-AWD, a BMW 335i, a Cadillac ATS 3.6, a Mercedes C350, an Infiniti G37, and a Lexus IS350, each equipped with a Sport Package at a minimum. But the Audi has something extra in terms of class, competence and composure that allows it to rise above these direct competitors, and to command a premium. Based on my glorious week behind the S4’s fat-rimmed steering wheel, that premium is demonstrably worthwhile.
2013 Audi S4 Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Pretty much everything, except as detailed below
- “Poor” rating in new IIHS crash test
- Audi MMI control layout and operation
- Cramped rear seat legroom
- Tight front and rear entry and exit
- A few creaks, a few rattles on coarse pavement
- Bracing one’s knee on the power window control panel is uncomfortable
- Brake dust. Lots of brake dust
Audi supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Audi S4 photos by Christian Wardlaw