The 2013 Audi A4 and S4, last redesigned for 2009, have been freshened on the outside and refined on the inside. Mechanically, the only significant change to the standard model is that it now has electric power steering, a year or two behind many other carmakers. Possibly the biggest change is what isn't here: the A4 Avant wagon is discontinued, replaced by an all-new allroad model for 2013.
The Audi A4 is a premium compact sedan with a brilliant venerable 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, smooth ride, and classy interior, including standard leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and available features found on larger luxury cars. Front-wheel drive with a CVT transmission is standard, while quattro all-wheel-drive with a Tiptronic 8-speed automatic transmission is available.
2013 Audi A4 competitors include the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, Acura ILX, Infiniti G, Cadillac ATS, Buick Regal and Hyundai Sonata. The S4 occupies something of a niche, as many of its competitors are either dated or more expensive. The A4 does well against its competition in the areas of fuel economy and passenger room, and is superior in all-weather capability.
The 2013 A4 and S4 get a streamlined version of the MMI Navigation system and controls, reducing the number of buttons from eight to four, and the three-zone climate control system has been slightly simplified.
The A4 styling is clean but not dynamic. The 2013 A4 gets a new grille that's more angled in the upper corners, dynamic new hood lines, new bumpers with angular air inlets, and sleek headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Optional lighting includes halogen cornering lamps added to the adaptive system, and LED taillights. New wheel designs, from 17 to 19 inches, are also available.
The 2013 Audi S4 gets the same updates as the 2013 A4, including new headlights, a new front fascia, a new rear trunklid/spoiler. The 2013 S4 gets the same interior upgrades as well.
The cabin features a lot of controls, all easy to reach. The seats are excellent, with Nappa leather standard. New trim on the dash for 2013 includes more chrome than before, with inlays in aluminum, walnut, ash, or oak. It's unlikely you'll find a more appealing interior at the A4's base price.
The rear seat offers 35.2 inches of legroom, about average against its competition: same as the BMW 3 Series. Trunk space is 12.4 cubic feet, about the same as the 3 Series.
On the road, smooth or bumpy, the A4 is solid, firm and stable. It's easy and enjoyable to drive, and rides like a larger car.
The A4 quattro is very adept in snow and rain, at the top of its class of models with all-wheel drive, where it performs favorably against the BMW 328iX, Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, and Lexus IS250 AWD. Audi has been at the all-wheel drive game longer than them and has a winning rallying heritage, racing over unpaved roads. With front-wheel drive, the A4's cornering is not as precise as a rear-wheel-drive BMW 3 Series.
Audi's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is silky smooth and the torque range is exceptionally broad, so there's responsive acceleration at any time. All A4s come with this engine.
The Tiptronic 8-speed automatic is a brilliant transmission, fast-shifting and obedient, with rev-matching downshifting. Opting for the 6-speed manual gearbox, however, turns an A4 quattro into a sporty sedan. Shifting is precise and pleasurable, the clutch is easy, and the redline is way up there at about 6500 rpm. We loved it.
The high-performance Audi S4 features a 333-horsepower supercharged V6, quattro all-wheel drive, and sport suspension. The S4 looks different than the A4, with its own grille, along with a front splitter, rear diffuser, and unique exhaust. It's got a special interior, including well-bolstered seats in Alcantara leather with contrast stitching. New interior options for 2013 include a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel, high-gloss piano black trim with stainless steel mesh inlays, and Nappa leather.
The A4 is a stylish sedan and shows it; and the more and closer you look at it, the better it gets. It's clean but not dramatically dynamic. The freshened face for 2013 tries to keep the A4 from looking dated, as the basic styling has been with the car since its last redesign for the 2009 model year.
The grille on the 2013 model is downsized at the edges, backing away from its in-your-face attitude (that is so 2009). There's more apparent modernization at the headlamps for 2013, which are well done, sleek and small in the broad face of the car. In fact, they're smaller than the black air intakes at the bottom of the clean invisible bumper. The LED daytime running lights are thin lines around two-thirds of the perimeter of the lamps, and look very cool.
With such a large grille to deal with, a wide horizontal swath across it (part of the bumper) is solid, but it still seems like there are a lot of horizontal ribs in the face of the car. Black bars in the grille of the S4 help this.
The character lines on the sides of the car work, with body-colored door handles. A sharp ridge runs from the rocker behind the front wheel rising to a point at the middle of the rear wheel, and this rise affects motion and accentuates the length of the car. There's another higher line that flows slightly arced over the front fender, straight back under the windows, and tapers down a tiny bit to the taillight; use your imagination a lot, and it rolls like smoke over a car in a wind tunnel. You have to look to see it, and it's most visible from the front three-quarter view, but it can be lovely.
There are five wheel designs, some of them new. The standard 17-inch wheels are 10-spokes, and they look classy and terrific; ironically, the optional five-spoke 17s for wider tires are horrible. Both of the 10-spoke 18s, for all-season and summer tires, are unique, and that's hard to do nowadays. The 19s lack the distinction they should have. We're not a fan of the biggest wheels and tires anyhow. They stick well but don't ride so well, and both tires and wheels cost a lot to replace when you burn them up or break them. The 17-inch tires with taller sidewalls are better for rough roads.
The S4 turns heads, with a presence befitting its power. Its stance is low in front thanks to a sport suspension, and shows off an aluminum hood, black grille and air intakes, splitter below the front bumper, four exhaust pipes with rear diffuser, and more aggressive wheels and tires. It looks great in red from the front, with the black contrasts there.
It's quite busy in the cabin of an A4, but not in a bad way. There's just a lot that's available to control, and thankfully it's all fairly easy to reach. The console and center dash are angled toward the driver, and the center armrest top slides forward, enhancing ergonomic comfort.
The chrome-ringed speedometer and tachometer aren't cluttered by graphics, and the instrument lighting is easy on the eyes, but the gauges lack the pristine functional beauty of the BMWs; same for the three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, however there's an optional cool flat-bottomed Audi wheel. There are controls on the steering wheel, thumb wheels that spin and click through what you need, in particular on the display located between the speedo and tach. It can show the transmission gear, radio info, fuel range and economy, temperature and more. On the Prestige model, trip computer data, cruise control distances, and navigation data are added.
The seats are excellent, standard in black or dark gray Nappa leather; standard leather is not something that all the A4's competitors offer. And the S4 sport seats are even more excellent, for their bolstering, Alcantara inserts and embossed S4 logos. Contrasting stitching also highlights the seats, as well as the leather-covered shifter and flat-bottomed steering wheel. Standard interior trim is brushed aluminum; options include stainless steel, carbon fiber, or wood.
The A4 seats have standard driver lumbar adjustment, and the headrests raise and lower; the angle isn't adjustable, but not many are. Often we wish they were. The tilt-telescope steering wheel enables drivers to find a place that works for them.
New trim on the dash includes more chrome than before, and that's not so great, with inlays in aluminum, walnut, ash, or oak. But overall, it's unlikely you'll find a more appealing interior, at the A4's base price. Automatic climate control with manual ability is standard on the Premium model. On Premium Plus and Prestige models, there's three-zone climate control: both front seats and the rear. The standard audio system handles most inputs, while the optional Bang & Olufsen system offers 505 watts and 14 speakers. Even with so much packed into a small four-door, storage spaces still show up all over the place, from seatbacks to center armrests to a roomy glovebox.
We think the shift lever is awkward and bulky, it doesn't fit smoothly in your palm and feel good like the BMW; also, the gate for the manual mode on the automatic transmission shifter should be on the left, the driver's side, not the right.
We like that the optional MMI Navigation function has had the number of buttons reduced from eight to four, although the round control itself is big enough to block the view of the two buttons on its far side. We're getting used to Audi's Multi Media Interface, and it's getting easier, so this time we can say: no issues in getting the information on the 6.5-inch color screen, or setting the climate control. But, having driven BMWs with 10-inch screens that can display navigation and audio at the same time, we like screens bigger.
The rear seat is okay for two people, with 35.2 inches of legroom, about average against its competition: same as the BMW 3 Series, but two inches less than the Buick Regal (which makes it on a wheelbase that's three inches less than the Audi). The floor hump in the center will keep an adult from riding there, but kids can endure it. The rest of the time, a good center armrest folds down with cupholders and storage. A nice touch is LED footwell lights. The rear headrests don't get in the way of the driver's rear visibility in the mirror.
Trunk space is 12.4 cubic feet, about the same as the BMW 3 Series, but less than the Regal's 14.2 cubic feet, and way less than the Sonata's 16.4 cubic feet. But with the rear seats folded, you get a vast 34 cubic feet.
We got a lot of good seat time in Colorado, including one high-speed blast for 100 miles to the airport, during which the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine really showed its silky stuff. It's long been the smoothest and best 2.0-liter out there; although recently we came away from a week-long test of the Hyundai Sonata, and were blown away by how smooth and fast its own available 2.0-liter turbo is. The Hyundai engine makes 274 horsepower, compared to the Audi's 211 hp. The Audi engine is praised for its torque, 258 foot-pounds, but even there, the Hyundai delivers 269. Korean engineers challenging the German kingpins, we love it.
Fuel economy for the Audi A4 is an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg with 8-speed automatic, 22/32 mpg with 6-speed manual. Premium gasoline is recommended. Comparing fuel mileages of 2.0-liter turbos among cars of this size, the Sonata is rated 22/34 mpg, the Regal 19/30 mpg, the new Acura ILX 24/35 mpg (it's a wee bit smaller), and the BMW 23/33 mpg.
However the exceptional thing about the A4 is that the torque range is so broad, so you have acceleration any time. Zero to 60 is reached in 6.7 seconds with the manual transmission, 6.4 seconds with the Tiptronic.
We loved driving it with the 6-speed manual transmission the most, especially since redline is way up there at about 6500 rpm. It's so very easy to transform the ordinary A4 into a way fun sporty sedan, by opting for quattro with the manual transmission. Shifting is precise and pleasurable. The clutch is easy. Starting on a hill, the brakes are held on while you your foot from the brake to gas pedal, so even novices can manage an uphill start.
Not that the Tiptronic 8-speed automatic isn't a brilliant transmission. It's fast-shifting and obedient, with rev-matching downshifting. Sixth gear is the direct drive (1:1 ratio), so 7th and 8th gears are for high speeds and fuel mileage, so when you're working the transmission with the paddles in the twisties, you really only use maybe 2nd through 5th. In Sport mode it will take hard downshifts, and won't change gears unless you ask it to. We hit the mountainous curves in Colorado, and loved driving the A4 like that.
The brakes were up to the task, as well. We like the feel of the pedal, which didn't soften during aggressive downhill applications. Well, not much. Discs are ventilated in front but not in rear.
Quattro all-wheel drive isn't just for traction in snow, ice and rain. It improves the handling on dry pavement too. Come to think of it, we were there in 1988, when an Audi quattro used its superior handing and grip to win the Trans-Am race on the streets of Detroit, against the big V8s. And we saw Walter Rohrl head out for practice on Sears Point Raceway at Sonoma in the pouring rain, the sole car to do so, his Audi quattro looking like an unlimited hydroplane as it blasted around the serpentine circuit, a big rooster tail in its wake. And we saw Michelle Mouton, one of the world's fastest women, dance on the pedals of her quattro as she tore down dirt trails in the World Rally Championship. And we watched John Buffum win 11 SCCA Pro Rally Championships. Audi introduced quattro more than 30 years ago.
Quattro comes on most A4s. Until a wheel starts slipping, 60 percent of the drive goes to the rear wheels, for ideal driving dynamics and balance. Quattro also uses differential locks for best low-speed traction.
Meanwhile, the mundane CVT continuously variable transmission in the front-wheel-drive 2.0T feels different. Engine speed matches how hard you're pushing the gas pedal, rather than how fast the car is going, so it feels like a car with a manual transmission whose clutch is slipping. Buyers resist this weirdness so carmakers have been fixing it with a Sport mode that allows the CVT to shift in steps. There are eight of them with the A4's CVT, which you shift through with the shift lever or paddles, and it all feels fine.
The A4 isn't a lightweight when compared to other cars in its class (BMW 3 Series, Hyundai Sonata, Buick Regal are all lighter, in that order), even though most of the suspension pieces are forged aluminum, as is the front crossmember. The rear suspension is based on the larger A6, with trapezoidal links and separate spring and shock mounts that allow a lower floor but more suspension travel, a win-win situation. For better balance, Audi mounts the battery in the trunk. The A4 corners well, although both the Sonata and Regal have a wider track, while the BMW 3 Series is about the same as the Audi.
There's an optional sport suspension, making the firm but never stiff, and raising the fun quotient. At the highest level, the Drive Select system with dynamic steering and variable damping that calculates shock rates 1000 times/second gives the widest spectrum of ride and handling.
The Audi S4 is another animal. It's powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 producing 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or available 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission, which uses dual input shafts and dual clutch packs to execute computer-controlled gear changes in just .2 seconds.
The S4 engine is fueled by direct injection and breathes through four valves per cylinder; additionally the V6 employs a two-stage intake manifold for maximum flexibility. An optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle's Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers.
The S4 accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, which is quicker (by 0.4 seconds) than the previous-generation S4 that used a V8.
The Audi A4 sedan is proven. Its drivetrain is beyond reproach, especially the engine and quattro all-wheel drive, while its styling is smooth and interior high quality, especially for the price. It's led the premium compact sedan class for a long time, although there are some new challengers that top the A4 in some areas, for example the Buick Regal and Hyundai Sonata.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the A4 models in Colorado.