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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Audi S4 offers performance power and ample agility in a package that can still do a full day on the freeway.The Bad
Options are pricey and the steering is wonky, but the real disappointment is a poorly performing 6-speed in the 2012 Audi S4.
The CarGurus View
The S4 is a GT super saloon and will likely be ignored by those who have eyes for the more economical A4 or the more insane RS4. You know better, and can smell quality when it belches supercharged V6 power out of quad exhaust tips. Audi's 2012 S4 offers performance, comfort and safe utility in one of the most attractive packages on the market.
At a Glance
The S4 is easy to dismiss. It’s slated in an odd place between the A4 and the RS4—not entry level and not ultimate performance either. It’s sporty, just not the sportiest. Look quick, and you might mistake it for another A4, but fire up the direct-injected, supercharged, intercooled V6 and the difference shouts at you from under the hood.
The S4 is not simply a sportier version of the A4, nor a cheaper version of the RS4. It’s a livable, luxury sport sedan. For 2012 little changes for the S4, but the driver’s seat gets a newly standard memory system, and exterior mirrors now auto-dim. Additionally, the Prestige Package adds adaptive headlights to its goodies list.
One of the main complaints about the A4 centers around the rough nature of its inherently imbalanced 4-cylinder engine, which can send vibrations through the steering wheel at idle. The S4 suffers from none of this, with its aluminum V6 fitted with an Eaton Twin-Vortices Roots-type supercharger. Make the turbines whine and you’ll be greeted by 325 lb-ft of torque at 2,900 rpm and 333 hp join at 5,500.
Actually, Audi claims the twin vortices in the supercharger eliminate the familiar whine, but listen close and it’s definitely there. With AWD and a bit of lag, the S4 doesn’t leap off the line, but things don’t stay sluggish for long, and once under way you’ll get steady power up to 7,000 rpm.
You have the choice of a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch S-tronic automated manual. While the 6-speed has been criticized for its long throw and longer pedal travel, the 7-speed has its own drawbacks, as it’s less familiar and less engaging than the traditional 3-pedal and suffers from its own reluctance to shift on occasion. Premium fuel is required, and you’ll see a return of 18 mpg city/27 highway with the 6-speed and 1 additional mpg on the highway with the S-tronic.
Many people moaned about the loss of the big V8, but the fact is that the V6 is lighter, more powerful and more efficient, and because it’s smaller it can be mounted further aft in the car’s layout, making for a more balanced structure.
Ride & Handling
A fully independent multi-link suspension and rear-biased AWD system couple with front and rear limited-slip differentials for some serious cornering chops. The 2012 S4 comes with a sport-tuned suspension that should out-perform your skill level on the road, but if you think you've got the blood of a champion, there are ways to calm the fire.
Unfortunately, the options come with drawbacks. First is the cost. An adaptive suspension and active electro-mechanical limited-slip are easy to add as long as you’ve got the substantial scratch. Sadly, the adaptive suspension comes coupled with active steering, which provides a variable ratio that simply feels unnatural. Best to stick with the stock setup.
Be wary in adding larger 19-inch wheels here, as things start off slightly stiff. Bumping up will move the ride over to the “harsh” arena. Surprisingly, the S4 will even perform in the snow when equipped with proper tires—another benefit of its inherently balanced nature.
Cabin & Comfort
Whereas from the outside the differences are subtle, inside the S4 screams its individuality, with S4 logos stitched into the seats and steering wheel and faux carbon fiber sprinkled throughout. Slink into the seats and you’ll find support and comfort that allow for spirited rides as well as long-distance treks. Rear seats are best left to children, though, as adults won’t like to occupy them long-term. The armrest has been another point of ergonomic contention for a while now, as it prevents use of the handbrake or cupholders and cramps right knee space, too.
Tri-zone automatic climate controls, leather/alcantara upholstery, an iPod interface and bi-xenon headlights are all standard, and a Premium Package will add a navigation system, rear-obstacle detection with rear-view camera, keyless access and start. You’ll also have to jump up to the 19-inch wheels and a Bang & Olufsen stereo with hi-def radio, but that means you'll get Audi’s MMI operating system, which is a significant upgrade over the standard interface. This will set you back another $6,000, however.
The S4 has previously been a Top Safety Pick for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, thanks to standard traction and stability control, front and rear limited-slip differentials, 4-wheel antilock discs with assist and 6 standard airbags.
What Owners Think
Given its sport-oriented character, the weak operation of the 6-speed manual is a major complaint with the S4. The dual-clutch automated manual is a nice alternative, but even it shows some reluctance at times. Otherwise there’s little to complain about with the S4, thanks to a class-leading interior, powerful and efficient engine and one of the best suspension setups in the industry.
by Michael Perkins
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