Test Drive: 2015 Audi S4

Frankly, winter just doesn’t seem long enough. I’ve had a few weeks behind the wheels of various Audi products this winter, and each of them have made me wish only for more snow, ice and for people to just get the heck off the roads. This one is the 2015 Audi S4, not Audi’s freshest product, but one that is familiar to use here at autoTRADER.ca, and familiarity has only garnered deeper and greater affection.

What seems like only last year but is in fact almost two years ago, we spent three glorious months behind the wheel of a Monsoon Grey (a colour now replaced by Daytona Grey) S4, but there was one essential element missing from that test: winter.

Audi’s familiar S4 needs to be very, very good in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Long before almost every other luxury manufacturer was trotting out all-wheel drive systems to cater to cold and high altitude markets, Audi was selling sporty all-wheel-drive passenger cars and building the Quattro brand as a leader in all-wheel drive technology and capability. Facing the onslaught of SUVs, all-wheel drive sedans and all-wheel drive performance cars from every corner means Audi’s familiar S4 needs to be very, very good in order to stay ahead of the competition. That part Audi has covered, proving itself against fresh (at the time) competition from Lexus and their new IS 350.

Our purpose this time around with the S4 was to see if it could hold its own against the newfound luxury of the C 450, but it seems a Mercedes customer with actual money trumped our test. However, it would have been an odd couple comparison to say the least, with the luxury-first (and -second and -third) Benz against the sporty, manual-transmission S4 we were provided with by Audi. Our conclusion would have gone something like this: “The Audi is more sporty, the Mercedes is more luxurious.” And so on and so on for about 3,000 words.

Anyhow, this is a car review of the S4, so let’s get into it, starting again with that delightful manual transmission. It was a joy then and it was unadulterated pleasure again, snickety-snicking its way into our hearts and loins. Clutch action is precise and weighty while the shifter notches home like all the parts fit perfectly, with quick, short throws of its artfully sculpted aluminum and leather shifter.

Once in gear, the S4 pilot has access to an undiluted 333 hp at 5,500 rpm and an early wave of 325 lb-ft of torque at 2,900 rpm from a supercharged 3.0L V6, more than a match for its 1,750 kg. This is no lightweight sedan, and for better or worse, it shows. Despite the power, momentum takes a fraction longer to build, mass shifts and pulls at directional changes, and only the extensive mastery of all-wheel drive (slightly rear-biased) combined with a torque-vectoring sport differential neutralize the S4’s natural front-heavy tendencies. But in the end, they do, at least as far as sporty driving on public roads will allow.

The benefit of this weight is a reassuring heft and solidity. This car is planted, the contact patches 8.5 x 19-inch Cast Aluminum 5-arm Rotor Design with 255/35 R 19 tires, for this season Dunlop SP Winter Sports that were absolutely stellar in the shallow snow we had during this week. The S4 never set a foot wrong, staying on course despite pushing it hard even in foul weather. Only if the snow had been significantly deeper (say, over 10 cm) would it have challenged this Quattro and winter tire setup, but also would have freed up some traction for parking lot, er, testing.

As poised as the S4 is on the road in any weather, there is the firm ride that can be jarring over washboard roads or hard-packed, rutted snow or frost heaves. It’s a compromise I’d be willing to pay, but if comfort and isolation are your top priorities, others in the segment deliver those qualities better. Beyond the manual shifter, the driving experience is full of feedback, the firm chassis reporting road surface, the tension in the steering responding quickly and accurately to inputs allowing precise control, and the throttle and brakes linear and responsive. Everything is just so.

And then there is the impeccable interior. The infotainment is a generation behind those in the larger A6 and smaller A3, lacking the touchpad puck controller, but it is still the same menu structure that is easily mastered. After countless gripes about the orientation of the menu scrolling, I am kind of used to it. Almost. Maybe after a few more months in another long-term Audi (hint, hint). The graphics are crisp and the maps full of detail, with 3-D renderings of landmark buildings and capable of delivering traffic information.

Technology alone isn’t what separate Audi interiors from the pack, it is the quality and richness of the materials, this tester graced with my favourite pinstripe Beaufort black oak with aluminum inlay trim around the shifter, dash and doors. Then again, this is a pricey trim option at $1,100, and carbon fibre is available at $500 over the standard aluminum trim, but the pinstripes work perfectly against these two-tone black and grey seats. Seats can be had in solid black, red/black or brown/black at no additional charge on the top Technik trim, which is required to even entertain the notion of the pinstripe-wood-inlay treatment. Among other things, the $58,100 Technik trim includes the adaptive version of the bi-xenon headlights, those 19-inch wheels over the base 18-inchers, rear seat heating, navigation, back-up camera and proximity sensors and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

While all the options are nice if you’re springing for top trim, the base Progressiv is still a nice place to be, and the S4 offers reasonable basic practicality with a 352 L trunk featuring a cargo net, 60/40 split-folding rear seat with ski pass-through and competitive front and rear head and legroom for the class. Audi even thinks of the children, with easily accessible child seat anchors and sunshades on the rear doors.

Transport Canada estimates the S4 manual at 9.0 L/100 km in highway driving, 13.8 in city use, which should average out to 11.7 in typical driving. I was close to but under the city rating, in the mid-13s by the end of my winter week, with heavy traffic during commuting. In my previous long-term test in summer, I finished at 11.5 L/100 km over 4,000+ km, so reasonable efficiency can be achieved, though nothing like BMW’s shockingly efficient turbo straight-six in the 335i xDrive, which is estimated at an even 10.0 L/100 km in combined driving with a manual transmission.

The S4 and A4 upon which it is based are far from the newest entrants in the compact (almost mid-size) luxury category, but they remain highly relevant, demand remaining strong and steady thanks to a good foundation and known qualities. The styling is conservative and ageless, the technology smartly and seamlessly integrated, and the expected practicality suitable to a variety of lifestyles. In the S4, there is a quiet sportiness and unrelenting capability from a trusted all-wheel-drive system that has evolved and stayed at the forefront of the luxury segment.

Price is an issue though, and despite the A4/S4 staying relevant thanks to a leap ahead when it first debuted, the Lexus IS has seen a leap in sales thanks to an aggressive new design and tantalizing dynamics as well as great value, while newer models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz keep its German compatriots ahead in the sales charts. The time is ripe for an update and we should see the A4 refreshed next year with an S4 soon to follow. In its current form, the S4 is everything a luxury sport sedan should be, powerful, capable, flexible and inviting, but most of all, it has a gem of a manual transmission that should be cherished and embraced by anyone in the market for an engaging and luxurious vehicle. Now about that Avant….

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD
BMW 335i xDrive
Cadillac ATS 3.6L V6
Lexus IS 350 F Sport
Infiniti Q50S AWD
Jaguar XF 3.0 AWD
Mercedes-Benz C 350 4Matic
Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

2015 Audi S4 Technik
2015 Audi S4 Technik
Base Price $58,100
Optional Equipment $4,990 (Black Optic package – $700; Glacier White Metallic Paint – $890; Audi quattro Sport Differential – $1,400; Aluminum/Black Beaufort Inlay – $1,100; Suspension with Damping Control – $900)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,995
Price as Tested $65,285
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
9 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy