2018 Audi S4 first drive review: whip, without lash

The 2018 Audi S4 carves the desert better than a blistering sandstorm. Turn after turn, the S4 knifes ribbons of pavement like a scalpel in bread dough.

The looks of Audi’s new sport sedan were hewn in the same way too. Audi’s newest S4—now firmly planted in the middle of the automaker’s luxury and sports cars—occupies a ground it shaped for itself. Once the cult car of the 1990s, the S4 has grown and evolved to shirk relative speed in favor of balanced performance now—less enthusiast, but still with plenty of enthusiasm.

The new S4’s shape too has grown from a bulbous, Skittles-colored fiasco in the 1990s to this example we had in Palm Springs, California. Grown up colors adorn the mature frame.

Lead designer Frank Lamberty has taken the A4’s already serious shape and made it even more stern with this S4. A body line, stropped by Lamberty’s experience with the first-gen R8, draws down the S4’s body wholly uninterrupted despite hiding the hood’s shunt line. Its nose is lower now and its grille has been tamed to a faceted trapezoid—auf wiedersehen massive waterfall.

2018 Audi S4/S5 First Drive

2018 Audi S4/S5 First Drive

The S4’s honed exterior is only rivaled in its newly sharpened engine. A 3.0-liter V-6 with a single turbocharger stuffed between its cylinder banks sits under the sculpted hood. With 354 horsepower on tap and 369 pound-feet of torque, the prodigious engine is the most powerful ever found in an S4 and it doesn’t draw on historical knowledge from a long list of bi-turbos, V-8s, or superchargers that have been planted under previous S4 hoods. The overall weight of this turbo-6 is down 31 pounds from the last-generation Eaton-boosted V-6.

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Audi engineers have tuned the turbo to force feed its left bank first to escape any discernible lag with success. Most of the engine’s thrust comes on early—at 1,350 rpm—and propels the car forward to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds—more than 2 seconds faster than the candy-colored B5. The new S4 doesn’t charge up to 60 mph like a sprinter, driving from the blocks at the start. Audi’s approach to speed is wholly undramatic like an Olympic backstroke: The S4’s modest tone and a fluid shape run toward the horizon with alacrity.

2018 Audi S4/S5 First Drive

2018 Audi S4/S5 First Drive

Audi pushes that power down the S4’s driveline in some predictable ways. Like every S4 before it, the 2018 Audi S4 uses the company’s all-wheel-drive system, called Quattro, in a 40/60-split, front-to-rear.

This year, Audi has coupled an available sport differential planted between the rear wheels to shuffle power left to right in addition to the center differential that handles fore-and-aft duty. Similarly, new adaptive dampers lower the ride height by almost an inch from the standard setup, and can dictate ride quality between Comfort, Individual, Dynamic, and Auto settings. Those modes also control steering heft and throttle response, but all live in the neighborhood of comfort-focused rather than track-sharp—even the sportiest Dynamic setting.

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