2020 Audi S4 Flies Under the Radar

2020 Audi S4 Flies Under the Radar

The updated 2020 Audi S4 is hot. It may not be hot like the eye-popping gorgeous Alfa Romeo Giulia, but hot in a subtle, slow-burning way that isn't obvious at first. The more time you spend with the latest S4, however, the more you notice its design elegance, the more you pick up on its eager—but not too eager—personality. Some performance car lovers might say that a sports sedan should announce itself. Audi has the S5 Sportback for those attention seekers. The S4 sizzles under the radar.


Audi made a lot of changes to the S4 for the 2020 model year. With the exception of the roof, all of its sheet metal is new. The fenders are wider, bumped out in a quiet salute to the original Quattro. Its predecessor's dull, horizontally barred grille is replaced with a large honeycomb design that has the same sort of sparkle as the nude mesh of an ice skater's costume. It's not easy for a small sedan to stand out in a parking lot, but the S4 has just enough glitter to catch the eyes of enthusiasts. Approach it from the rear and, along with a red-slashed S4 badge, there are four exhaust tips under a band of brushed silver trim. If you're not into silver, you can black it out for $1400. Red brake calipers peer out behind the optional 19-inch wheels (18s are standard.)

 Understated Sportiness

Under the re-skin is a familiar 349-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission. At the test track, the combination hustled the S4 to 60 mph in a brisk 4.2 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 108 mph. Around the skidpad, the S4 stuck with 0.95 g of grip, which is a respectable number but not much of a threat to sports cars. Even some workaday SUVs and family sedans approach that level of adhesion. For comparison, our long-term BMW M340i when new did the 60-mph dash in 3.8 seconds and orbited the skidpad at 0.96 g. It's not the performance of the S4 that sets it apart, though, but the ease with which it performs.

The S4 doesn't float through turns in the vein of a 1970s Cadillac, but it does glide. Standard all-wheel drive ensures strong straight-line acceleration in all but the worst conditions. Dynamic steering adds effort and weight to the helm as vehicle speed increases. A torque-vectoring rear differential helps the rear end rotate and mitigate understeer. The net effect of the hardware and tuning is that the S4 breezes along the road, unperturbed by pavement imperfections yet responsive to inputs.

Modern, if Compact, Trappings

Once settled in, the driver has a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with a number of configurable views. In the center stack, there's a 10.1-inch touchscreen that has that stuck-on tablet look. It works well, and Audi's responsive system provides haptic vibration and audible clicks to assure you it has heard and processed your requests. There are still some hard buttons beneath the screen to control climate settings, the sound system, and to toggle through the drive modes. The S4 isn't as packed with in-car tech to start as some vehicles, and several of the technologies you might expect as standard, such as rear USB ports, a 360-camera view, and adaptive cruise, are only available in higher trim levels.

Inside, the S4's upholstery boasts a mix of leather and synthetic materials in a diamond-stitched pattern that may inspire online shopping for vintage motorcycle jackets. So soft. So fashionable. And in our test car, the seats were as red as a tiger's yawn. The S4 isn't a huge car, and larger drivers may find themselves lacking headroom and filling the seat from bolster to bolster. On the other end of the scale, shorter pilots will enjoy the seat's multiway adjustability and support, but discover that moving to a comfortable seating position means the armrests are too far back. Audi's test drivers must be short and thin with long elbows. Even if the seating position isn't perfect, the standard massaging seats will put you in a forgiving mood.

Folks in the back seat will have to suck it up and deal with uncharged phones and small-car leg- and headroom. The S4's ideal road trip would have you leave the kids at home, pack all your best outfits and your favorite friend, and take the two of you over mountain roads to a stylish getaway town.

Yeah, the Audi S4 is dramatically undramatic. Even in Sport mode, the most the S4 will give you is the burbly grumble of a hungry stomach. No roars from this tiger. Whether you think that's a mark in favor or against it probably depends on your age, hearing, and your desired relationship with your neighbors. This is a hot little car; it's just not hot in an immature way. It's a grown-up sports sedan that performs without a lot of fanfare. It has the joy of a Gene Krupa snare drum solo, only it's played quietly on a practice pad.



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