Ah, the Audi S4. I don't think I've ever met one that I haven't liked. Sure, I'm still mourning the loss of the manual transmission option in this latest generation, but the current model retains all the other important S4 hallmarks. With a bigger helping of power, better handling and smidge more style than the standard A4, today's S4 remains a beautifully sorted and highly capable sport sedan. And for 2020, mild updates sweeten the package just a little more.
Like the entire 2020 A4 family, the S4 benefits from a wider single-frame grille, but with a honeycomb insert specific to the S vehicles. The lower front air dams are more aggressively shaped than the standard A4's, and my Glacier White metallic test car features even more attitude with an optional Black Optic Package that throws in black exterior trim along with wicked-looking 19-inch V-spoke star wheels. It's clean and attractive.
What's also clean and attractive? The S4's cabin. It's your typical Audi interior: simply laid out, intuitive to work through and built from a variety of quality materials. Major portions of the dash and door panels are wrapped in leather, Alcantara is scattered throughout, and even the hard-plastic surfaces look and feel substantial. This S4 gets some other sporty touches such as a flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon fiber trim and stainless-steel pedals, but the sport seats are the most noteworthy. They look fancy with diamond stitching and are supremely comfortable with generous support. They also offer a massage function, which I'm always glad to take advantage of.
The S4 is also functional, with a variety of nooks and crannies up front to stash smaller objects in. There's plenty of space in the front for adults and there's serviceable real estate in rear, though if you roll three people deep in back, the poor schmuck in the center will have to straddle a large center transmission hump. Then when you need to move stuff, there's 12 cubic feet of space in the trunk, capable of swallowing the goods from all but the most out-of-control grocery shopping trips.
The other major prong to the 2020 S4's update is housed within the dash. Audi's MIB 3 system controls infotainment functions through a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Compared with the outgoing system, it's 10 times faster, which is noticeable in how quickly it responds to inputs, completes destination searches and calculates navigation routes. It's easy to work through, visuals are crisp and the system is packed full of features, such as a gnarly 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio setup, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Audi's trick Virtual Cockpit is also in the S4 with the 12.3-inch gauge cluster offering multiple displays. You can choose between large Google Earth imagery with 3D city maps or an S Performance mode with a tach and speedo placed front and center, flanked by a boost gauge and lap timer.
The S4 is also set up to prevent any portable devices that come aboard from ever going dead. Passengers up front have USB-A and USB-C outlets, a wireless charging pad and a 12-volt socket within arm's reach. Riders in back have two USB-A ports and a 12-volt plug on the back of the center console. Heck, there's even a 12-volt outlet in the trunk.
On the safety technology front, this S4 is flush with equipment. It's got adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, a 360-degree camera, rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.
Nothing about the S4's performance credentials change for the 2020 model year update, which I'm not really bummed about. The 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 with 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque is still its smooth, punchy self, working with a fluid-shifting eight-speed automatic. Use the Audi Drive Select system to select the Dynamic setting for lag-free launches, getting the 3,847-pound sedan to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Healthy thrust is readily available throughout the entirety of the rev band to zip away from stoplights and effortlessly merge onto expressways.
How do the Audi's numbers stack up against the competition? Fairly well, except for horsepower. The BMW M340i xDrive and Mercedes-AMG C43 outgun it with 382 hp and 385 hp, respectively. In the torque department, the S4 is in the middle of the mix, slightly edging past the Bimmer's 368 pound-feet of twist, but behind the Benz's 384. As for 0-to-60-mph times, they're all in the low-to-mid 4-second range with M340i the quickest at 4.1 seconds and C43 occupying the rear at 4.5 seconds.
Fuel economy in the S4 is acceptable, all things considered, returning an EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Throughout a week of mostly city motoring, I observed 21 mpg with my admittedly heavy right foot. The only small drivetrain nitpick I have is that I wish the adjustable exhaust system had a slightly louder and throatier setting. As is, the Present setting is the most boisterous with only a low-key gurgle.
Dynamically, the S4 still offers drivers a near-perfect middle ground between performance and ride comfort. When you're in the mood to toss it hard through corners, put the adaptive suspension and the available Dynamic Steering system into Sport for brisk turn-in and controlled body motions. I never push it really hard, but the S4 shines during spirited drives, tracking through bends with little body lean, and it hangs on tight with the Bridgestone Potenza summer tires. No doubt the optional torque-vectoring rear differential is earning its keep hustling the rear around, too. If you leave everything in Sport for normal driving, impact harness is far from jarring, and the steering isn't overly hefty. In fact, I wish Audi would dial in a little more steering weight.
When you just want to cruise, putting the S4's chassis in the Comfortable setting is the ticket. There's more body roll and the steering lightens and isn't as quick to respond off center, but damping for bumps increases for a supple and quiet ride around town or buzzing down the interstate. The only thing you'll have to get acclimated to before having a completely comfy motoring experience is the grabby brakes. The initial bite is strong and requires a little feeling-out period before you can brake smoothly.
At $66,490 including $995 for destination, my range-topping S4 Prestige is packed to the gills with styling, infotainment and safety tech goodies. Of course, that means it comes with a bottom line that's a far cry from its $50,895 base price.
When building my S4, I'd opt for the midrange Premium Plus that gets me must-haves such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a wireless charger along with the Virtual Cockpit tech. I love the look of the $595 Glacier White metallic paint and $1,400 Black Optic Package. Toss in the $2,500 S Sport Package for the adaptive dampers and torque-vectoring diff and $1,150 for the Dynamic Steering to up handling prowess. Tack on $950 so I can rock out to the Bang & Olufsen sound system and that brings my Audi to a cool $59,990 out the door.
With the BMW M340i xDrive starting at $57,690 and the Mercedes-AMG C43 beginning at $55,950, the S4's more affordable pricing is another positive going in its favor. The 3 Series is a sharper-handling specimen and the C-Class possesses a more stylish cabin than the S4, but neither is as well-rounded. With peppy power, impressive ride and handling mix, clean and more aggressive looks and cabin tech improvements, the Audi remains the most complete and compelling car of the bunch.