What's New for 2011
HD radio and a rearview camera are now included in the Navigation package; blind-spot assist is offered as a stand-alone option; the Titanium Sport Package includes 19-inch wheels with interior and exterior trim pieces.
We thought we'd miss the V8 that powered the last-generation Audi S4. Thought we'd pine for its 4.2-liter song, its substrata rumble summoning visions of Saturday night drag racing in Bavaria. But it turns out that the supercharged V6 in the 2011 Audi S4 is every bit as good as its predecessor, and even better in some regards. It accelerates the S4 from zero to 60 faster. It releases prodigious torque in the humblest parts of the power band. With two fewer cylinders, it sits farther back of the front axle and helps the S4 achieve a weight distribution of 55 percent front/45 percent rear. And it delivers the best fuel economy in its class.
Sorry, V8: out of sight, out of mind.
The V6's sublime response is matched to the S4's equally obedient transmission and chassis. The standard six-speed manual offers the purest driver's experience, but the optional seven-speed automated manual is just as sweet and even returns better mileage. All-wheel drive comes standard and sends 60 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels. Hard-core tarmac attackers can opt for the Driver Select package, a system that includes adjustable suspension damping, steering assist and an active rear differential.
Derived from the regular A4 sedan, the S4 boasts a high-quality cabin with leather seating and clear, attractive gauges. An excellent navigation system and optional Bang & Olufsen premium audio system make the journey to your destination a multisensory affair. But controls for simple functions like fan adjustment, for example, are needlessly complex, and Audi's MMI (Multi Media Interface) only ranks about average for its ease of use.
For most enthusiast drivers, the S4's combination of performance and all-wheel-drive practicality should be just about perfect. Of course, there are other choices to consider. Price-wise, the 2011 Audi S4 competes most closely with sedans like the BMW 335i and Lexus IS 350. The BMW is normally the standard-bearer in this segment, but the S4 edged it out in our last comparison test. Just be careful with adding options; a loaded S4 can shoot past $60,000, at which point you're in league with the BMW M3, Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Still, with its class-leading fuel economy, Olympian balance and flowing rivers of supercharged V6 torque, the S4 is a great pick.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Audi S4 is a high-performance sedan available with either the Premium Plus or Prestige option packages.
Standard equipment for the Premium Plus includes 18-inch wheels with summer tires, a sunroof, automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, foglights, automatic wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power sport seats, leather and faux-suede upholstery, heated front seats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, a dash-mounted MMI electronics controller and a 10-speaker stereo with single-CD player, iPod interface, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
The S4 Prestige adds 19-inch wheels, a rearview camera, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, driver memory functions, keyless ignition/entry, voice controls, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, an MMI controller mounted on the center console and a hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage, real-time traffic and HD radio.
The navigation system with rearview camera is optional for the Premium Plus package, as is the upgraded audio system. The Audi Drive Select Package, available for Prestige models, adds adaptive suspension dampers, an enhanced steering system, a sport rear differential that can distribute torque individually to each rear wheel, and selectable driving settings. Stand-alone options include 19-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, full leather seats and a power rear sunshade with manual rear side shades.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Audi S4 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that produces 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through Audi's AWD system, which features a torque split of 40 percent front/60 percent rear. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual (S tronic) is optional. A sport rear differential (which varies torque between the rear wheels) is also available.
In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped S4 sprinted from zero to 60 in a quick 4.9 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is above average for this class of car, with 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined with the manual. The S tronic returns 1 mpg more on the highway.
The 2011 Audi S4 comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill-hold for the manual transmission. Rear side airbags are optional. Also optional is "Active Braking Guard," an element of the adaptive cruise control. If it detects an imminent collision, it alerts the driver and primes the brakes for full stopping power. In Edmunds brake testing, the S4 stopped from 60 mph in a short 109 feet.
In government crash testing, using revised guidelines for 2011, the S4 earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not tested the S4, although the related Audi A4 earned a top "Good" rating in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Audi S4's cabin is one of the nicest in this class. The control layout is attractive, if button-happy, and the seats are both supportive and comfortable. Available two-tone color schemes add a bit of flair.
The MMI controls are conveniently arrayed around the console-mounted shifter on models equipped with the navigation system. However, in S4s without navigation, the controls are mounted on the center stack and reaching forward to operate them is a hassle. This MMI is also an older design, with inferior graphics, more confusing menus and no joystick-like knob that makes certain inputs easier.
Other controls are generally intuitive and well laid-out, though accessing certain features can be frustrating. Adjusting fan speed, for example, is a two-step process. Like the A4, the S4 features a roomy cabin that can accommodate four adults for an extended drive. Trunk space is average for this class of car, with 12 cubic feet.
The 2011 Audi S4 is a sharp-handling car, with tenacious AWD traction and little body roll to speak of. Although it corners extraordinarily well, it also provides a reasonably comfortable ride. The optional Audi Drive Select system pushes the S4 into full-tilt mode at the press of a button. As a nearly $4,000 option however, we'd skip it; the S4's standard suspension, throttle and steering calibrations will suffice for most. The only downside to the S4's handling is its steering, which feels artificial with sometimes unpredictable weighting.
The supercharged V6 is a smooth, strong engine with instantaneous throttle response. Aside from the subdued supercharger whine, you'd probably never guess there's forced induction going on under the hood. The standard manual transmission shifts smoothly, though its clutch travel and shifter throws are a bit long. An excellent alternative is the dual-clutch automated manual transmission. It snaps off rapid shifts either by itself or through your own inputs via wheel-mounted shifters. Even if you're a serious driver, there's no shame in ordering this automatic option.