If you want to know what a competitive streak looks like, check out the new Audi S4.
Powered by a supercharged 3-liter, six-cylinder engine, the S4 is the high performance version of Audi's compact A4, the German automaker's best-selling model.
Built at Audi's plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, the S4 competes with higher-performance versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series. Japanese competitors include the Infiniti IPL G-37, Lexus IS and Acura TL SH-AWD.
The S4 can be equipped with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. Enthusiasts will go for the stick, though the automatic can be shifted manually through paddle shifters.
The supercharged V6 generates 333 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. To keep a firm grip on all that power, the S4 has quattro all-wheel drive as standard equipment. This can be enhanced even more with an optional sport differential that directs power to the outside rear wheel during a turn. With the Quattro all-wheel drive, you gain an element of safety and performance that's not available on typical front or rear-drive sedan.
The torque split of the quattro system for both models is 40 percent front and 60 percent rear. A new electromechanical steering column fitted to both models removes weight from the front of the car versus the previous hydraulic steering system. Dynamic steering also is available to adjust steering input based on the speed of the vehicle.
Once a car shopper gets behind the wheel of the S4, the deal could close as solidly as the driver's door. The interior is something special, especially in red and black leather upholstery.
S4 sport seats are embossed with the S4 logo, as are the leather sport steering wheel with colored stitching and aluminum shift paddles, as well as a S4 instrument cluster. Illuminated doorsills and the driver information system greet the driver with an illuminated logo.
With a base sticker price of $47,600, the review car rose to $54,520 with options, including $3,050 for the navigation-plus package, $1,250 for leather upholstery and another $1,250 for the Quattro all-wheel-drive system with a sport differential.
Combined city and highway fuel economy of 20 mpg means you'll be shelling out $2,850 per year at the pump, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Over five years, you can expect to spend about $2,650 more on fuel than you would if you were driving the average new vehicle. And, clearly, this is not the average new vehicle.
Like other luxury models in its class, the S4 offers a full menu of marvels.
Audi's radar-based adaptive cruise control maintains the proper interval between the car and the vehicle ahead at all times. At speeds below about 19 mph, it starts maximum braking in the event of an impending collision.
Audi active lane assist helps the driver to maintain the lane, and Audi side assist monitors the area behind the A4 to make lane changes safer. The driver information system with rest recommendation is standard.
Audi also offers an array of communication and infotainment features. Besides the sound system from the Danish hi-fi specialists Bang & Olufsen, the top-level MMI navigation plus system can be combined with the Bluetooth online car phone, which connects the A4 to the Internet and brings the tailored Audi connect services on board. The MMI system is part of a $3,050 option package that includes a parking system with camera and other features.
Competition in this class is extremely brutal.
In keeping with Audi's sedate tradition, the S4 would not attract as much attention as Infiniti's IPL G37, the most attractive member of the segment. However, Audi's reputation for safety, as represented by the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, gives the brand an enviable edge.
2013 AUDI S4
TYPE: All-wheel-drive, midsize, compact sedan.
PRICE: $47,600 base, $54,520 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Ingolstadt, Germany.
KEY RIVALS: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti G37.
POWER: 3-liter, 333-horsepower V6 engine; six-speed manual transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 17 city, 26 highway, 20 combined mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $2,850.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 185.7 x 71.9 x 55.4 inches.
WHEELBASE X TRACK: 110.7 x 61.1/60.6 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 3,935 pounds.
STANDARD: Power windows/locks/mirrors; power disc brakes with ABS, brake assist; Quattro all-wheel-drive; speed-sensitive power steering; power glass sunroof; front/side/head-curtain air bags; AM/FM/Satellite radio with CD player, music player interface; power front seats; split-folding rear seats; anti-theft system.
OPTIONS: Navigation-plus package ($3,050); leather upholstery ($1,250); Quattro with sport differential ($1,250).