New & Used Audi S4: In Depth
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The Audi S4 is the higher-performance version of Audi's entry-level luxury sedan--at least until a new A3 sedan and its inevitable S3 upgrade arrive in the U.S., sometime in 2015. It competes with the likes of the Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and the BMW M3. The Audi S4 has, at times, throughout its long history, been accompanied by a higher-performance RS 4 edition.
Though an early "S4" model had been based on the former Audi 100 sedan, the modern-day S4 arrived shortly after the entire Audi lineup changed its nomenclature, and after its 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; it was equipped with a twin-turbocharged, 2.7-liter V-6 engine rated at 250 horsepower. 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 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, and a choice of a racy Avant station wagon model.
A redesign in the 2002 model year brought a new A4, but the S4 would carry over in its old body style until the 2004 model year, when it returned with a 340-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 engine. With a choice of six-speed manual or automatic and standard all-wheel drive, performance improved slightly; this S4 was offered first in sedan and wagon forms, and later as a Cabriolet convertible.
The Audi A4 was completely redesigned for 2009, and the Cabriolet was shifted over to a new A5 / S5 designation. The S4 would not return until the 2010 model year, now fitted with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 333 horsepower. 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.
This generation of A4 / S4 has grown substantially. The S4 is now about ten inches longer and a few inches wider than at its birth--all to provide a wider, 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 on offer: an optional navigation system that incorporates Google Earth and Google Street View data, displayed on a gorgeous LCD screen, for one of the best GPS experiences available today.
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 IIHS Top Safety Picks. Rear-seat side bags have been optional for many model years.