That should help explain why the S4 is available only this time with an 8-speed automatic. And before we go further: No manual. Don’t even ask. Just, don’t.
The ZF automatic—loosely related to the 8-speed in the RS 7—is a traditional torque-converter autobox. Audi’s reasoning for the slip-sliding 8-speed instead of a dual-clutch? Too much torque for a DCT and smoother takeoffs. Uh huh. We’ll get back to this in a second.
The rest of the vitals are important and fill out the S4’s impressive undercard. Five-link setups at the front and rear corners are more efficient with aluminum control arms mounted directly to the towers to shed unsprung weight at the wheels. Six-piston, fixed front calipers bind 13.8-inch front rotors for maximum stopping power with 13-inch rotors in back.
Behind the wheel the engine rumbles to life with a muted note, and only a quiet burble from the quad-tipped exhausts makes its way into the cabin. It’s a more modest note than others, Audi’s approach here is subtlety.
That theme carries out in the way it drives, too. Even with the S4’s stability control set to sport, the car is hesitant to give up grip from its factory-fitted Hankook summer tires. When it does let loose, it’s more polite than a muffled debutante’s burp. Cute.
The S4’s optional rear differential and adaptive dampers are a must; it sharpens the S4 into a better machine that’s willing to take on the Mercedes-AMG C43, which is more dramatic even if the Audi is a hair slower. Opting for the package that brings both the dampers and the differential on the S4 adds a variable sport steering ratio that earns our side-eye. A generous on-center area doubles down with an impossibly quick and nearly unpredictable wheel from 45 degrees to 90 degrees and beyond. Canyon sprints take endless little wheel corrections.
The S4 loves to pile on speed and scrub it just as quickly with oversized brakes, but how it handles that speed requires an understanding.
If we consider that this S4 comes with an automatic only, with no noise pumped through the cabin or a crackling exhaust, plenty of interior tech via Audi’s new wall ‘o screens called “Virtual Cockpit,” and standard seat massagers, its worldview comes into picture.
Repeatedly, the S4’s soft approach to handling belies its newly found hardline appearance. When the weight piles up in the front in hard braking, the rear end nervously wavers under stress. Corner after corner the S4 takes its orders from the steering wheel and throttle, but seemingly has a tough time coming to an understanding with each input. It’s hard not to feel like the S4 has been damped for daily duty, not track duty.
Like that, the S4 has become a balanced weapon for dancing through corners—not brawling with them. That may feel anathema to the sports-car roots of previous versions, but like the C43 and 340i with which the S4 competes, the inevitable march toward performance badges and more expensive hard-edged cars is in the mail. Hoping for anything different is like fighting the wind.
Audi provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.