The Audi A4 benefitted from a full redesign for 2017, so there are no major changes for 2018. For 2018, its high-performance sibling, the S4, gets the redesign that the A4 got for 2017.
The all-new 2018 Audi S4 features a lower nose, higher LED headlamps that are wispy and boomerang-shaped, and sharper sheetmetal creases. The S4 is powered by a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The single twin-scroll turbocharger is designed to reduce turbo lag by feeding air to one bank of cylinders before the other. Using an 8-speed automatic transmission, it bursts from zero to sixty miles per hour in 4.4 seconds, faster than the BMW 340i and Mercedes AMG C43. The 2018 S4 front suspension uses more aluminum to reduce unsprung weight and thus improve handling, while available adaptive dampers lower the chassis. Another new option is a sport rear differential that moves power between the rear wheels in the Quattro system, and comes with sport steering that’s maybe too quick at high speed.
The upgrade engine is a strong 2.0-liter turbo making 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, using that same 7-speed twin clutch transmission. It accelerates from zero to sixty in 5.6 seconds. With front-wheel-drive, the A4 with this engine rates 25/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined, and 1 less mpg with Quattro. This engine is called the 2.0 TFSI, which we find confusing, given the base engine is called 2.0 TFSI ultra.
Rivals to Audi A4 include BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE, Cadillac ATS, and Lexus IS.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the A4 five stars overall, but only four stars for front impact. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has made the A4 a Top Safety Pick Plus, when equipped with active LED headlamps that bend around corners.
Premium Plus ($39,200) adds 18-inch wheels, parking sensors, S line exterior trim, and a Bang & Olufsen 755-watt, 19-speaker 3-D audio system. It’s available with the upgrade engine ($43,700).
Prestige ($45,500) models add the virtual cockpit instrument display, head-up display, surround-view cameras, blind-spot monitoring, and navigation with voice control. Prestige models can get the adaptive damping suspension, plus a Driver Assistance Package that includes adaptive cruise control and traffic-sign recognition. The upgrade engine is available ($50,000).
For 2018 there is a new Black Optic Plus package with black and red interior and exterior trim. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Safety options include LED headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-follow capability, and rear-seat side airbags.
The S4 is the dramatic one, totally athletic in its looks.
The cabin is fairly roomy, with front seats that are comfortable and supportive, if a bit snug in their firm bolstering. The standard leather and ambient LED lighting are nice. A disciplined instrument panel makes the digital displays stand out. The standard screen is seven inches. The dashboard is low so driver visibility is good, and it wraps around the sides a bit. The steering wheel isn’t too big, and its controls are easy to use. Toggle switches trigger the tri-zone automatic climate control system.
Until the 2017 model, rear legroom was tight in the A4, and the seat cushion was low, but no longer. Although it’s on the small side for a midsize car, it’s as roomy as rivals, in particular the BMW 3 Series. A tall passenger can ride comfortably behind a tall driver. In fact, five adults can fit inside.
The latest version of Multi-Media Interface (MMI) accepts inputs from voice, steering-wheel controls, or handwritten letters on a scratchpad. All A4s now include smartphone-app features.
Even the base engine displays gratifying zeal, natural engine sounds while being smooth and well balanced. The paddle-shifting twin-clutch 7-speed transmission is evolved and not jerky like some of them.
Audi Drive Select includes four modes: Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, and Individual. The A4 feels most adept with the active dampers and the steering and transmission in dynamic mode. It responds promptly and takes corners predictably.
Still, handling isn’t quite as sharp and sporty in the front-wheel-drive based A4 as that of some of its rear-wheel-drive rivals. In inclement conditions, however, its legendary Quattro all-wheel drive should give the Audi an advantage.
The 8-speed automatic transmission rips off confident shifts with the steering-wheel paddles. But it isn’t quick, and, regardless of the drive mode the car is in, it’s eager to upshift to save fuel, unless you’re standing on the gas.
The S4 uses four-wheel independent suspension, with the five-link front setup revised for 2018 to be lighter. The new adaptive dampers lower the ride height by one inch, and even in Dynamic mode they’re not stiff. In fact, all of the modes feel on the side of comfort. The S4 seems meant to be an all-around car, rather than an aggressive sport sedan, despite its aggressive stance.
The available rear differential that moves the torque between the rear wheels in corners enables the S4 to perform well on the track, but the sport steering that comes with it is pretty aggressive. The variable ratio quickens with speed, but it’s unpredictable, not progressively linear, so the S4 can get darty when you don’t want it to be. You have to be careful and sensitive with the steering wheel when you’re pushing it.
Audi A4 comes with a superlative powertrain, with the smoothest 2.0 turbo in the business, and a fully evolved 7-speed dual clutch automated transmission. Clean and conservative styling, satisfying ride, good-enough cornering, and competitive cabin technology. The S4 is redesigned for 2018, with sharper styling, a powerful V6 turbo, new adaptive dampers, and a sophisticated rear differential.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.