What's New for 2012
The 2012 Audi S4 is essentially unchanged from last year, although a few previously optional features are now standard equipment.
In the automotive world, sporting athleticism and practical luxury rarely coexist in harmony. But one notable exception to the rule is the 2012 Audi S4.
Based on the Audi A4 sedan, the S4 represents a more raucous and enthusiast-focused interpretation. With a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 churning out 333 horsepower to all four wheels and a sport-tuned suspension, the S4 can definitely bring a smile to your typical sports car fanatic. Fortunately, all of this fun doesn't compromise comfort, either.
Inside, the S4's tastefully appointed cabin remains calm and quiet despite the increase in performance. Even better, a lengthy list of upmarket features is available, your budget permitting. Convenience is also unaffected by the increase in performance, with comfortable accommodations for four and a decent-sized trunk. There are, of course, some drawbacks, but not significant enough to dissuade us from recommending the 2012 Audi S4.
If you can do without some extras, the 2012 Audi S4 is right in the same price category as the BMW 335i. The BMW 3 Series is generally regarded as the standard-bearer for this segment, but in a recent comparison test, the Audi just edged it out. Checking off all of the available options will put the S4 in the price range of the BMW M3, Cadillac CTS-V Sedan and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, models that surpass the S4 in terms of performance and prestige. But even among such lofty rivals, the 2012 Audi S4's well-balanced nature makes it a compelling choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Audi S4 is a high-performance luxury sedan available in either Premium Plus or Prestige trim levels.
Standard features for the Premium Plus include 18-inch wheels with summer tires, a sunroof, automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, foglamps, automatic wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated 12-way power sport seats with driver memory, leather and faux-suede upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, auto-dimming mirrors, 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, adaptive headlights, a rearview camera, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, voice controls, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, blind-spot assist, 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. Most of these features are available on the Premium Plus as options.
Some options are offered on the Prestige trim only and include the Audi Drive Select Package, which 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 (the sport differential and drive select are offered as an option for the Premium Plus). The Titanium package adds different 19-inch wheels and dark exterior trim.
Other Prestige-only add-ons include adaptive cruise control and a power rear sunshade with manual rear side shades. Options available to both S4 trims include full leather upholstery, rear-seat side airbags and carbon-fiber or stainless-steel mesh interior inlays.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Audi S4 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that produces 333 hp and 325 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via Audi's Quattro system. 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.
Standard safety features for the 2012 Audi S4 include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill-hold for the manual transmission. Rear side airbags are optional. Included in the optional adaptive cruise control is Active Braking Guard, which detects an imminent collision and alerts the driver, then primes the brakes for optimum stopping power. In Edmunds brake testing, the S4 stopped from 60 mph in a short 109 feet.
In government crash testing, the 2012 S4 earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side and rollover 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
As is typical with the Audi lineup, the S4's interior design follows an understated design language and then incorporates top-notch materials and excellent build quality. Most controls are intuitive to use, though the abundance of buttons and knobs can sometimes be overwhelming. The cabin itself almost seems austere, especially for a high-performance vehicle, but buyers can spice things up with available two-tone color schemes. The seats are both supportive and comfortable.
On S4 models equipped with the navigation system, the MMI controls are conveniently arrayed around the console-mounted shift lever. On S4s without navigation, the controls are mounted on the center stack, and reaching forward to operate them is a bit awkward. This MMI is also an older design, with inferior graphics, more confusing menus and no joystick-like knob that makes certain inputs easier.
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.
As the hopped-up version of the already sporty A4 sedan, the 2012 Audi S4 is clearly the choice for the performance-minded driver. Handling is impressive, with tenacious AWD traction and little body roll to speak of. Surprisingly, this cornering prowess does not come at the expense of comfort, as the ride quality is still reasonably luxurious.
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.