- Handling is sharp on sport models
- Shift quality (except CVT)
- Still an attractive design
- Supportive front seats
- Luscious Google Earth maps
- CVT is the weakest link
- Rearview camera option on some models
- Drive select can be skipped
- Back seat isn't especially comfortable
- ATS, 3-Series are quicker, more nimble
The 2015 Audi A4 and S4 sedans are tech-laden, trim, handsome alternatives to the other expected German cars, as well as one very good American one.
The 2015 Audi A4 stands as a strong entry in its segment, and that's a testament to its trend-setting design -even with a redesigned version waiting in the wings. With the A4, you can take your pick from its tasteful palette of exterior and interior trims, high-tech features, and various driving flavors from mild to intense.
Just like BMW's 3-Series, with which it competes, the A4 encompasses a vast swath of compact luxury, ranging from four-cylinder CVTs to the S4's supercharged six-cylinder and all-wheel drive. But it's definitely more limited than in the past, going by what's under the hood. A4 models all now come with a 220-hp turbo-4 with very little turbo lag and a zesty midrange feel. Audi couples it to one in a trio of transmissions, the worst of which is a continuously variable transmission. It's only offered on front-drive models and it gets good fuel economy, but it's slow to respond to driver inputs.
With all-wheel-drive A4 sedans, Audi gives a choice between an 8-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual. The automatic doesn't have paddle controls for shifting, but does get a sport-shift slot on the console. The manual has a more direct feel in its linkage than in Audis past. In either, fuel economy is as good as 31 mpg highway, and acceleration is vivid.
In the S4 sedan, Audi installs a 333-hp supercharged V-6 and all-wheel drive, with a choice between a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. With the dual-clutch, the S4 hits 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and guns to a 155-mph top speed. Torque erupts quickly and so does the snarl that envelops the S4 when it's wound up to redline. It's a tick slower than a C63 AMG or M3, but gas mileage is an unexpected plus, at up to 28 highway.
Crisp and rakish and flush with details stamped into it for the 2013 model year, the A4 wears a trim set of LED-infused lights and a slightly pared-back grille. New fog lamps give it a beefy look at ground level, and the cabin's been updated with reconfigured controls that work well among its leather, wood, and metal trim.
The S4 wears its own body kit and metallic trim, but it's largely a lookalike to the standard four-door. The cabin of the S4 gets a new piano-black and steel trim option that coordinates in a hot way with red-stitched sport seats.
No matter which one you choose, Audi's entry-level sedan has good front seats, excellent sport seats available as an option (they're standard on the S4) and good room for those passengers. The rear bench sits low to the ground, though, and space is snug in back, particularly in knee room for taller passengers. The trunk's on the small side compared to the likes of the 3-Series.
Ride and handling have always been an A4 strength, and the latest generation is no different. The electric power steering has decent feedback, and the ride is supple enough to be forgiving on poorly maintained roads, though we'd still opt into the sport package's 18-inch summer tires and stiffer shocks. We'd opt out of Drive Select and dynamic steering, which apply too many electronic and algorithmic formulas to steering and ride quality. The sport setup is good enough to skip Drive Select, and it's cheaper.
The IIHS's tough new crash tests haven't been kind to the aging A4, and Audi still hasn't figured out how to include a standard rearview camera. Blind-spot monitors are available, and the optional adaptive cruise control system can pull the car to a halt from speeds of up to 19 mph.
Every A4 has power features, satellite radio, Bluetooth with music streaming, and leather. The S4 has its own body kit, suspension tuning-and a rearview camera.
All cars have an infotainment interface that can be upgraded with navigation, in-car data service, and Google Earth mapping. The ritziest feature? A stunning Bang & Olufsen sound system, one of the best factory-issue systems we've heard.