- 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.
2015 Audi A4
With its tasteful lines and neatly organized cabin, the A4 is still one of our favorite luxury sedans.
The 2015 Audi A4 goes mostly unchanged this year. It remains sleek, handsome and understated, thanks to its optional Black Optic, S Line Style and S Line exterior packages.
The current-gen A4 has been around since 2009, but a few tasteful updates in 2013 have kept it fresh, and it continues to look at home in the luxury sedan segment.
The interior swims in dark plastic these days, but Audi does offer wood and metal trim to warm the place up. It's still a well-finished, handsome workplace. The steering wheel has the right thickness, the starter button has a satisfying click, and the brushed-aluminum trim the right sheen.
From the front, the A4 has retreated a bit. The grille still is huge, but thinner LED running lights and softer corners tone down its look. Bigger, wider fog lamps do a better job of balancing it out. That said, the front end is fine, and it's arguably the only trouble spot on a relaxed, handsome car.
On the S4, Audi drops in a flat-bottom, three-spoke steering wheel, applies some piano-black trim and some mesh and oak accents. S4 sedans also get their own wheel styles, a different grille, and bigger diffusers and air intakes.
That's not to be confused with the S line cosmetic package, which goes on cars that don't have the big supercharged six. S line cars get new front and rear treatments, side and door sills, more badges, and 10-spoke, 18-inch wheels.
2015 Audi A4
The uprated S4 is a driver's gem, while four-cylinder CVT versions of the A4 are more pedestrian.
The 2015 Audi A4 goes mechanically unchanged this year. The base model feels a little underwhelming compared to its competitors, but the supercharged S4 remains a joy to drive.
Enthusiasts will hone in on the S4. It's upgraded to a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 333 hp, up 113 hp over the standard edition. It'll run to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and up to a 155-mph top speed. The S4 has quick throttle response, and it's especially lively with the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, though a conventional 6-speed manual is offered. The exhaust note can't hope to measure up to past versions and their V-8 burble, but it's a resonant step above the stock turbo-4.
Handling is a magnitude better, too. The S4 is a spirited and satisfying machine to drive. Its variable-effort steering and driver-selectable modes are things we'd leave behind on the options list, they're not needed with the S4's street fluency. All-wheel drive is standard equipment, and Audi splits its torque 40:60 front to rear, which gives the S4 a little relief from what could be mind-numbing understeer.
Other S4s come with a 220-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4, which suffers when it's paired with the sluggish reflexes of the base CVT. Better are the 6-speed manual and 8-speed automatic; they tap into the A4's innately flexible, fun driving demeanor, while still delivering 0-60 mph times in the 7-second range.
These lower-powered A4 sedans still have enjoyable handling, if not the ultimate dynamic limits of the S4. Front-drive comes only with the CVT, so skip it in favor of all-wheel drive, which can be outfitted with a Sport package of 18-inch summer tires and stiffer shocks. As with the S4, we'd pass on the variable steering and Drive Select modes, in favor of the least intrusive setup. Even there, the A4's electric power steering doesn't deliver a lot of feedback, though its ride is supple and tuned well for U.S. roads.
We're no fans of the A4's brakes, which grab too early. Parking-lot maneuvers feel jerky, though the stoppers work very well once the speeds rise to interstate levels.
2015 Audi A4
Comfort & Quality
The back seat isn't long on comfort, but front passengers will love the A4's accommodations.
Interior space isn't entirely in the A4's favor, though its tight fit and finish is.
The A4 doles out ample space to its passengers, especially those in front. it rides on a 110.6-inch wheelbase, and sits 185.1 inches long, so it's not at the far ends of the compact-luxury spectrum. The Cadillac ATS is noticeably smaller, while BMW's 3-Series has a larger rear-seat area.
In front, Audi's typically well-shaped seats could use more sculpting on the seat bottoms. That's cured easily by opting for the thickly bolstered sport seats. With either, the tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps give most drivers a relaxed driving position.
In back, the bench seats will carry a couple of adults. They'll notice the seat cushion is low, knee room is slim, and headroom still isn't as good as it could be, given the A4's size.
The A4 has a usefully shaped trunk, on the small end at 12.4 cubic feet. It's bigger than the trunk on the ATS, but is shy of the BMW's storage space by more than four cubic feet. A pass-through accepts skis through the back seat, but the rear seatback folds down for even more storage.
The highlight of the A4's cabin is its tight assembly. Audi puts more black plastic in this A4 than it's ever done in this segment, but it still seems of a high grade, with faultlessly small gaps between the pieces. Wood and metal panels can be fitted for a price, and they restore the ambiance we're used to from Audi.
Road and wind noise are controlled well, as is engine noise.
2015 Audi A4
The A4 earns five stars from the NHTSA, but the IIHS has downgraded it in its newest crash test.
A couple of years ago, the Audi A4 was considered an excellent performer in all safety tests, but it's been demoted because of its performance in the newest crash test.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) scores the A4 at five stars across the board. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had rated it a Top Safety Pick.
Now, however, the IIHS requires at least "acceptable" performance in its new small-overlap impact test. The A4 is rated at "poor," so it's lost the higher status. This is based on the A4's scores for 2014, but we don't expect it to be retested for 2015.
In addition to its safety scores, the 2015 A4 and S4 have the usual standard safety gear and options including blind-spot monitors and a lane-departure warning system. Adaptive cruise control and rear-seat side air bags can be fitted, too.
So can a rearview camera, which should be standard equipment in this class, at this price.
2015 Audi A4
Technology is an Audi A4 calling card, from Google Earth maps to in-car wireless connectivity.
The 2015 Audi A4 and S4 offer features that aren't found on other vehicles in the segment-save maybe the all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class-but you'll have to layer up the options and price to get them.
For the sportier S4 sedan, the equipment level is upgraded from the outset: all S4 models get Bluetooth, a sport steering wheel with shift paddles, sport seats with Alcantara inserts, three-zone climate control, and a range of aesthetic upgrades inside and out. Only one option package is available, bundling the Bang & Olufsen sound system, blind-spot monitors, navigation, pushbutton start with passive unlocking, and adaptive lighting. Several standalone options are also available for the S4, including adaptive cruise, Drive Select, dynamic steering, a sport differential, adaptive damping suspension, Nappa leather, 19-inch wheels with summer tires, rear side airbags, and a choice of carbon fiber-look or stainless steel-look trim.
The A4 Premium adds Bluetooth, a garage door opener, and heated seats. Navigation is an option; it's tucked in a set of gear that includes a rearview camera and Audi Connect (more on that below). The Sport package brings with it a three-spoke steering wheel, shift paddles, sport seats, and a stiffer suspension.
Prestige A4s get navigation, Bang & Olufsen audio, and blind-spot monitors. Drivers can opt for the Sport package as well as an S line package, which takes the sport tuning and adds 19-inch wheels and Alcantara seats.
Prestige cars are the only A4s that offer adaptive cruise control, Drive Select, and variable-ratio steering.
Standard on all A4 sedans are leather, power features, a CD player, a sunroof, cruise control, and satellite radio.
The MMI system uses a rotary controller to access audio, climate, and phone functions. Being a menu-driven system, there are many nested layers to delve through, but it has grown into a fairly user-friendly and logical system over the years--even more so than BMW's iDrive. iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, and garage door opener features are available as part of a package, while Xenon lighting can be added in another.
Audi Connect requires a monthly subscription, but grants access to in-car data from AT&T. Eight users can connect to it simultaneously. Audi is gradually introducing 4G LTE connectivity, too. The Audi Connect system also enables Google local searches via the MMI console, real-time traffic and weather information, and more.
2015 Audi A4
The S4 isn't so bad on gas; the four-cylinder CVT models earn the A4's highest fuel-economy ratings.
The 2015 Audi A4 is one of the most efficient vehicles in its class, even in its high-performance S4 version.
The 333-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 quattro Audi S4 gets, predictably, poorer gas mileage than the base model due to its higher power output, but is still fair at 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined when equipped with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission; the manual S4 rates 17/26/20 mpg.Â
The A4 sedan's single four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter engine can be paired with three different transmissions. The best gas mileage comes with the CVT-equipped, front-wheel-drive base model, at 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined.
Upgrading to quattro all-wheel drive and the eight-speed automatic transmission, the A4 rates 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. With the manual, the A4 quattro scores gas mileage of 22/32/26 mpg per the EPA.