The A4 competes with the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C Class, as well as the new Cadillac ATS. It lands right in the thick of that pack, with an economical base engine, available quattro all-wheel drive, performance-oriented options, and a top S4 performance version.
To some, it's the best looking four-door in that group. The rakish, sleek shape is mostly carried over this year, but new details give it a fresh look. The headlamps are trimmer. The big grille has been toned down, and angled at its corners for a crisper look, and wider fog lamps give it more muscle. The S4 wears its own body kit and metallic trim, but it's largely a lookalike to the standard four-door.
Inside, the A4 now has wood or aluminum trim that warms up the cockpit, whether you choose metal, ash, or walnut. The controls have been rearranged a bit, and that makes the optional tech features function a bit easier. In the S4, a new piano-black and steel trim option coordinates in a hot way with red-stitched sport seats.
The A4 comes with a single engine for the 2013 model year. It's a 211-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with a responsive feel and some turbo lag. It's teamed with one of three transmissions. Front-drive cars get a continuously variable transmission, and good gas mileage, but CVTs aren't known for quick responses. All-wheel drive is an option.
Those with quattro all-wheel drive can also have either a six-speed manual shifter, or an excellent eight-speed automatic with a sport shift mode, which only lacks paddle-shift controls. On either of these versions, the ones we recommend, acceleration is strong, and fuel economy on the highway is best, with the automatic rated at 31 mpg highway.
The S4 is quattro-only. The powerplant is a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, with 333 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of about 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. It delivers loads of torque almost evenly up the rev band, with a somewhat snarling soundtrack to match an otherwise smooth personality, and it's hooked up to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters. It's nearly, but not quite, as fast as a BMW M3 or a Benz C63. And surprisingly, gas mileage is rather good for such a high-performance car—up to 18 mpg city, 28 highway.
The A4 handles well with its basic suspension and steering, with a slightly firm ride and decent electric power steering feel. A sport package stiffens things up considerably, with summer tires, 18-inch wheels, and sport shocks. Buyers can also choose dynamic steering and Drive Select, which adds variable settings for the suspension, steering, throttle and transmission. In our experience, the stock setup is more pleasant and more predictable, even on the S4, which gets a sport suspension and bigger wheels and tires standard, for awesome road-holding and grip.
The A4 has good front seats, excellent sport seats available as an option (standard on the S4) and good room for those passengers. The rear bench sits low to the ground, though, and space is snug in back, particularly in knee room for taller passengers. The trunk's on the small side compared to the likes of the 3-Series.
In the past, the A4 has scored well in safety tests, but neither agency has fully tested it since this year's revamp. Audi still doesn't make Bluetooth or a rearview camera standard, but both are available, as are blind-spot monitors, and adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a full stop if it senses obstacles at up to 19 mph.
This year the A4 offers some exotic features make it a complex, high tech piece. The usual power features, leather seats, and satellite radio are standard on the A4, while the S4 gets sport content standard, as well as Bluetooth and the rearview camera. MMI, the Multi Media Interface that takes charge of available navigation systems, is standard on both, and it also controls the beautiful Google Earth and Google Street View mapping. That setup requires a monthly subscription to Audi Connect, which also adds 3G wireless Internet service--turning the A4 into a rolling wireless hotspot. MMI can also control an optional Bang & Olufsen audio system, an expensive option, but one of the cleanest-sounding systems we've heard.
The A4 and S4 are the design-heavy, tech-happy alternative to traditional German luxury sedans--and now to a stunningly good domestic one. Prices range from $32,500 to $44,350 for the A4, and $47,600 to $55,250 for the S4, not including $895 destination