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 plenty of grip in cornering. Audi offers a Drive Select system that can configure the steering, suspension, throttle, and transmission for sportier drives, but we're not convinced of its value. We've found that the base setup in the S4 is entertaining all on its own.
Back to the point of styling, the S4 looks similar to the A4, but gets its own special treatment. A unique grille, front and rear bumpers, side moldings, decklid spoiler, and LED lights help set the S4 apart. Inside, the performance sedan boasts a choice of trims for the console and doors: walnut, aluminum, gray birch, or woven stainless steel. A new steering wheel, aluminum trim accents, and a black headliner round out the changes.
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.
- 2012 BMW 3-Series
- 2012 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2012 Acura TL
- 2012 Subaru Legacy
The 2012 Audi S4 don't aim to rival top-performance models like the BMW M3 or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG; instead it takes on the likes of the BMW 335i and Benz C350 and provides a high-powered alternative for those who want a step up from the basic A4 sport sedan. Compared to either of those models, the S4 is very competitive. Obviously, it's quicker and sportier than the C350, as well as better-appointed inside; compared to BMW's almost lagless turbo six in the 335i, Audi's supercharged V-6 has a similar personality, with gobs of torque down low, though it isn't quite as perfectly smooth. The Acura TL, with all-wheel drive, is a surprisingly athletic sport sedan, with a roomier interior that's a refreshing departure from the European sedans in style. As a wild-car possibility, at a fraction of the cost of the S4, consider the Subaru Legacy GT. Yet another alternative would be the new 2012 Buick Regal GS. Before you laugh too hard, we know the Buick doesn't have a reputation approaching that of the S4, but the new GS is a product that stands out from the rest of the lineup and, with its strong turbocharged four, well-tuned suspension, and track-ready Brembo brakes, deserves a drive if you're not too brand-conscious.