Let me first state that the 2013 Audi S4 is excellent. Amazing. Fantastic. Better than the BMW E90 335i in every possible way. (I still haven't driven the F30 335i.) But I'd still take an E90 335i for the long-term over the S4. And I had trouble figuring out why since February this year.
Back in February, I went to the local Audi dealer to look at some cars. After the usual license copying, the saleswoman, pulled out a brand-new Monsoon gray S4, had me sit in the driver's seat, and said I have the car for the next 15 minutes. I'm not allowed to go fast or be reckless, basic test drive stuff. And then she says "Go ahead."
So I get onto the road to get to the freeway on-ramp. While on the ramp to merge onto the highway, "Trouble" starts playing on the radio. If there was ever a perfect moment for that song, that was it. (This was before I'd seen the music video.)
I then take it up to unmentionable speeds. It's fun throughout the ride for the first ten minutes. Especially on the highway. But slowly, the range has gone down from 11 miles to 4, and I know I should find a gas station quickly since I don't want to return the car on fumes.
With that immediate circumstance, I simulated true ownership of an S4 by attempting to find a gas station in an unfamiliar place. I spent a good 5-10 minutes looking for that gas station, while the screen said I had only a mile left. Two gallons of premium later, the nav system was set on the way back to the dealer. (I also had some dealer brownie points for some alone time with an S5 two months later.) On the way back, I was also stuck in traffic, which simulated the ownership experience even more. In between stoplights, I pushed the car a little bit and it did everything well (and made me look like a tool).
Auto journalists have written that some cars (usually a 911 or any pre-F30 3-Series) have that something that you "can't put your finger on," but you cherish it very much. (To this day, I refer to my first drive of a 997 as my "parting of the Red Sea" moment on Porsche, though that was with the Sport Plus button on.) The S4 has the special something that doesn't captivate you. And I couldn't put my finger on it for a while. But then Matt Farah hit the nail on the head when I was watching Tuned last Monday (yes Matt, people still watch Tuned).
He said that the Audi has been made idiot-proof. And you know what? Matt Farah is right. The Audi S4 is the most idiot-proof performance sedan on the market today. All the technology in the car makes that happen and to me it doesn't have much to do with power.
Why is it idiot-proof?
Frankly, it doesn't involve power. It involves the systems to deal with that power. Quattro, Audi Drive Select, and the transmission's sport setting with their computer algorithms ensures that any idiot is a good driver in it. And for the first 15 minutes, even I felt that way.
Here's a quick breakdown of how these three systems make the driving idiot-proof:
- Quattro: This car also had the sport differential for extra idiot-proofing. The algorithms inherent in the system can distribute the torque of the engine anywhere where it is most needed. There is no need to tame the car when the system can do it for you. As a result, it won't be like driving an Audi Sport Quattro of the 1980s, which you want it to be in order to express your inner-Walter Röhrl. You think you're doing a good job, but the car is. There's a reason the S4 isn't as understeer-prone as other Audis.
- Audi Drive Select: There are four settings: Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic, and Individual. Dynamic is the only one needed for go-fast idiot-proof mode in setting up the chassis. Individual is for un-idiot-proofing the car, but that would involve reading the owner's manual in setting up the car. And no one reads the owner's manual. So they just put it into Dynamic and let the algorithms do their thing, getting our satisfaction. After all, I don't want to spend hours getting the car set up just right for me when Dynamic is 90% there.
- S-Tronic: A fantastic transmission, loads better than Tiptronic. It can get your shifts better than you can in Sport mode with the paddles except when autocrossing or tracking the S4. It's based on the VW Group DSG transmission, which is fantastic in its own right, but it's been uprated for Audi duty. It makes the gear changes even before you think of a gear changes to lessen the drama, and does it brilliantly. This transmission gets a lot out of the engine and helps the driving experience along, though you're doing none of the hard work.
On the whole...
In a sense, I can understand how the tech fits Audi's current clientele (where I live it's the Silicon Valley types who want the latest and greatest technology). They want the latest and greatest in technology, which can make them look and feel good, similar to people who want the latest and greatest iPhone or MacBook.
But I just know any idiot could get into the driver's seat, put Audi Drive Select in dynamic, shift into S, and do the same things I did, with the same level of satisfaction. As a result, as good as Audi made the S4 for the driver, I'd never have one. I'd get bored because I know the same computer algorithms would apply whenever I drove it, and I'd eventually tire of them.
After consideration, I honestly can't fault the car, because it is amazing. Audi drive select is truly impressive, quattro does its job masterfully, and I was able to figure out MMI immediately when finding a nearby gas station and later the dealership (and I still can't figure out iDrive). S-Tronic is loads better than Tiptronic, and I could comfortably rest my hand on the gear lever (unlike the Tiptronic S5). Even the supercharged V-6 is a fantastic engine for that car and makes it a true handler.
All in all, the S4 is among the best cars I've ever driven, and I would recommend it to anyone who can afford it. It's that excellent a car. But I'd never consider having one beyond a month. Then I'd become bored.
Despite my overall impressions, I still have a soft spot for that S4. I still think of that car whenever I hear "Trouble."
Picture Credits: Audi