New & Used Audi S4: In Depth
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The Audi S4 is a spin-off of the A4 line of luxury compact vehicles. A higher-performance model, the S4 has been joined at times, over its 15-year history, by an even higher-performance RS 4 sedan.
The S4 is one of Audi's family of "S" sport vehicles—S3, S5, S6, S7, and S8 included. As such, it's a rival for the BMW M3 and M4, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Lexus RC F, and Cadillac ATS-V.
MORE: Read our 2016 Audi S4 review
Though Audi offered an earlier model named S4 that was based on the former Audi 100 sedan, the modern-day S4 is something different. It arrived shortly after the entire Audi lineup changed its nomenclature, and after the brand's compact sedan became the A4. The name change in 1996 turned the 80/90 sedans into the A4; the S4 came to U.S. showrooms in 1999 as a 2000 model. The first edition lasted through the 2002 model year and was equipped with a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 engine rated at 250 hp. With a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive, this S4 was capable of 0-60 mph times of less than 6 seconds and a top speed that was limited to 155 mph. This generation of the sedan was much smaller than today's car—about the size of a contemporary Toyota Corolla—but with a much more lavish interior, offered in either sedan or Avant wagon models.
While a redesigned A4 arrived for 2002, the S4 carried over the previous body style until 2004. The replacement made use of a 340-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8. Quattro all-wheel drive was standard again, and there was a choice of either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The added power and suspension revisions helped improve the S4's performance. This generation was offered here first as a sedan and wagon, with a Cabriolet (convertible) model added late in its life cycle.
The Audi A4 was completely redesigned for 2009, and the Cabriolet was shifted over to a new A5 / S5 designation along with a coupe model. The S4 would not return until the 2010 model year, this time fitted with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 333 hp and 325 pound-feet of torque. The standard gearbox was a dual-clutch automatic, and along with all-wheel drive, the S4 was offered with Drive Select, a new system which allowed drivers to change settings for transmission shift speed, steering feel, and throttle quickness--all through Normal, Comfort, and Sport modes. Only the sedan body style is offered in its current form, although Audi has added a row-your-own six-speed manual transmission to the S4 since.
This generation of A4 / S4 has grown substantially. The S4 is now about 10 inches longer and a few inches wider than at its birth—all to provide a more spacious interior. In this generation, the S4 has added a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors, as well as Audi's latest infotainment and telematics services, including Audi Connect, which turns the car into a mobile hotspot. Also available: an optional navigation system that incorporates Google Earth and Google Street View data, displayed on a gorgeous LCD screen.
The S4, as a part of the A4 family, has remained one of the safer choices for those who are safety concerned, especially the most recent models, which have earned top five-star federal results and have been Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Picks. Rear-seat side bags have been optional for many model years.
A new A4 lineup will arrive for the 2017 model year. An S4 will appear shortly after, though an on-sale date for the U.S. market has yet to be confirmed.