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The 2012 Audi S4 may look to those who aren't motoring enthusiasts like a particularly good looking A4. But this compact sport sedan is more than that; compared to the A4, it gets a lot more power, a host of additional equipment to take advantage of it, and a long roster of additional features and details that are bound to make you happier if you are a driving enthusiast.
One of the key points is that the S4 gets a big engine upgrade—to a 3.0-liter six-cylinder, using supercharging, intercooling, and direct injection to boost its output to 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It delivers loads of torque almost evenly up the rev band, with a somewhat snarling soundtrack to match an otherwise smooth personality, and it's hooked up to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters. The latter is our favorite, as it clicks off quick, precise, clutch-pedal-free gearchanges. Altogether, the S4 shoots past 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, with a limited 155-mph top speed. It's as fast as a BMW M3 or a Benz C63. And surprisingly, gas mileage is rather good for such a high-performance car—up to 18 mpg city, 28 highway.
Audi's quattro all-wheel drive is included in the S4, just as in many A4 models; it has a power split weighted to the rear wheels, and an optional Sports Rear Differential vectors power from side to side, giving the S4 awesome road-holding potential and grippy feel. It's entertaining to press to its tire limits, but the S4's optional Drive Select system dials in lots of artificial heft to the electronic power steering, while giving the driver some usable flexibility in ride comfort and transmission response. Audi's base configuration works well enough to avoid the expensive option.
Back to the point of styling, the S4 shares most of its body with the Audi A4 sedan, but gets a number of more aggressive and distinctive details, including LED daytime running lights, LED tail lamps, deeper front and rear bumpers, a revised grille, special side moldings, a small spoiler on the trunk lid, bright mirror housings and bright trim on the air diffusers in the bumpers, and 18-inch wheels. Inside, S4 additions include a black headliner, a new steering wheel, aluminum trim, and a choice of console and door trim: walnut, aluminum, gray birch, or woven stainless steel.
As with the A4, quality materials are incorporated throughout, and this sport sedan is nicely trimmed though not the breakthrough that the A4 family was in its segment a decade ago. Backseat space remains very tight, due to restricted legroom, while the front sport seats are supportive and long-distance comfortable.
The S4 has been an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and with available rear-thorax airbags, the S4 doesn't miss any major marks for safety. Feature-wise, nothing major is missing, and if you're willing to check some more option boxes you'll have an extraordinarily well-equipped sport sedan. Leather is standard, along with Bluetooth, a music interface for audio players, keyless entry and ignition, xenon headlamps, and Audi's MMI controller, which operates audio, climate, and navigation functions. A navigation system is an option on the S4, along with adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
See our full review pages on the 2012 Audi A4 family for even more details regarding the 2012 S4.