How can a car that loses two cylinders stay relevant when all-wheel drive cars are coming from all shores? The 2014 Audi S4 hangs on by betting on quality.
In 2003, when the Audi S4 hit the streets in the United States, it was the single most exciting sports sedan on the market. BMW had its wildly popular M3, but the S4 made a lot of waves with a V-8 that topped BMW’s inline-6 in both horsepower and torque. It also had all-wheel drive, making it the go-to sports sedan for anyone who planned on driving the car year-round in places where the weather was lousy.
Eleven years later, the Audi S4 is a completely different car. Gone is the BMW-beating V-8, and gone is any semblance of competition with BMW’s four-door sports car. Simultaneously, the entire automotive industry seems to be building cars that compete with the S4 in one way or another. Here’s a short list of all-wheel drive sports sedans now fighting for shelf space with Audi:
BMW 335i xDrive
Cadillac ATS4 3.6
Jaguar XF AWD
Lexus IS 350 AWD
Volvo S60 T6
With all this competition and all these options, how does Audi stay relevant with the S4?
Whatever it’s doing, it’s working. Since 2006, Audi has increased its worldwide sales by about 600,000 units. Performance might be what a lot of internet jockeys say they want, but when it comes time to lay out cash for a car, actual customers are singing a very different tune.
Part of that success story has to do with overall quality. Between 2001 and 2003, I drove just about every product Volkswagen and Audi had to sell. They were all new model year press loaners with very few miles on the odometer, and reliably, every single one of them had some kind of problem. The issues ranged from blown fuses in a Golf, to a heated seat switch melted in the ON position in an Audi A8 that roasted my back seat passenger all the way to Valley Forge, to a disabled transmission in an S6 Avant.
So this is how Audi remains relevant with the S4: Build a nice car with more performance than the average sports sedan, and make sure it doesn’t break. It’s a strategy that seems to be taking hold. Whether you put any faith in J.D. Power rankings, Audi scored extremely well in last month’s APEAL study with a top 3 result behind Porsche and Jaguar.
The performance is there, especially when you select the Dynamic mode of the Drive Select system: Shifts get quicker, the exhaust barks a little louder and the suspension firms up to teeth-rattling level. Ease it back to Comfort and the S4 becomes a quiet, sedate cruiser in a hurry to shift up to the seventh gear of the S tronic transmission.
333hp out of the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 feels…adequate really isn’t the word, but breathtaking isn’t either. Somewhere in between. You certainly won’t come away shocked, in either the positive or the negative direction.
The passenger cabin is remarkably quiet for something that claims to be a performance car. The S Sport seats in leather and Alcantra suede were part of the base S4 package. They do a remarkable job at keeping you in place without discomfort, even on longer drives.
What does cost extra money is the wheel and tire package on this car. The Black Optic 19-inch wheels are gorgeous, but come at a $1,300 premium, which include tires that are appropriate between Easter and Halloween in the colder regions of the country.
Beyond that, you’ll want winter tires, even with the S4’s all-wheel drive. That runs into a whole other dilemma, because the wheels hide 13.6-inch brake rotors, over which only a handful of wheel options are going to fit. Tire Rack only lists four manufacturers for winter tires in that size, ranging between $1,000 and $1,400 a set.
I had a couple of minor complaints about convenience features, including a thumbwheel that’s supposed to scroll through media, but won’t via Bluetooth, and a center knob that scrolls through radio stations in the wrong direction, but neither of those are deal breakers.
The other thing I was a little surprised at was the fuel economy. A 21 mpg combined fuel economy rating isn’t great. I had a hard time reaching that average in real-world driving. It also isn’t far off from the fuel economy of the old V-8-powered 2004 Audi S4, which had a combined rating of 18. Ten years, two fewer cylinders and three fewer horsepower should add up to better fuel economy than that.
The 2014 Audi S4 is much less of a high-strung performer, and much more of a mature, quality automobile. What that means to people who argue about cars on the internet is a lot different than what it means for people who work to make a lease payment every month.
2014 Audi S4 quattro S tronic
Base Price: $49,500
Price As Tested: $58,295
Spirited, not bleeding-edge, performance
Didn’t need to be towed away
Minor ergonomic issues
Not-so-great fuel economy