Audi A4 vs S4

As followers of this blog know, I sold my beloved 2006 Audi A4 back in February, 2012, and traded-in it in for a 2006 Audi S4. After ~8 months of owning the S4, I have experienced the highs-and-lows of owning an S4, and feel I’m qualified to give an opinion on those trying to decide between purchasing an Audi A4 or S4. In addition to this blog, be sure to check out plenty of car news and comparison sites, and then most importantly – go test drive each!

Audi S4

Pros of Owning An S4 Over An A4

  • Power – the S4 has gobs of power across the powerband. While the A4 has plenty of “get up and go” at full throttle, there is turbo lag and the power band has lots of spikes and lulls in it; not so with the S4, which has consistent power that is smooth and always ready to go
  • Interior – while the A4 and S4 are cosmetically similar on the exterior, the interior of the S4 is much nicer. While you can retrofit the S4 Recaro seats like I did on my A4, there are plenty of other standard options on the S4 that aren’t so easy to retrofit like the color Drivers Information System (DIS).
  • The Exhaust Note – the S4 sounds amazing. I’ve heard plenty of big turbo A4s in my day, and pretty much every exhaust combination available for the A4, and nothing can beat the sound of the naturally aspirated 4.2 V8 that’s in the S4
  • The Full Package – while the S-line appearance package on many A4s may cause those cars to look like an S4 – it’s not the full package. The S4 has upgraded brakes (larger rotors in front and vented in the back), sway bars, differential, suspension, wheels, etc. Right out of the box, it’s a well upgraded machine that has improvements over the A4 in nearly every area. If you’re like me and you can’t leave “good enough” alone this may not matter a ton (I will probably upgrade/replace all of the aforementioned components of my S4), but this is definitely something to consider especially if you plan to keep modifications minimal.
  • Quattro – my A4 didn’t have Quattro (AWD), and I do have to say, having Quattro is really, really nice. The car handles like a dream and not only takes corners with a ton of confidence but you can actually add power while coming out of the turn, rather than understeering, skidding, and then waiting until the turn is complete to return to the throttle. My FWD A4, even with a ton of suspension work, could never stock up to the handling of even a stock S4 with Quattro.
So the S4 is beautiful, fast, and smooth. What’s not to love?
Audi A4

Cons of Owning An S4 Over An A4

  • Gas mileage – my S4, no matter how hard or soft I drive it, gets an average of about 18 mpg over the course of a tank (for a total of about 225-250 miles per tank). My A4 was upper 20s/low 30 MPGs fairly consistently. So prepare to refuel a lot more often…
  • Maintenance – the S4 is a little more high maintenance; although I haven’t had any major repairs yet, my biggest worry is that if the engine were to ever blow, finding a replacement is nearly impossible. Finding a used 2.0T for an A4 is super easy, but the aluminum 4.2 V8 can cost anywhere from $5-20k for the engine alone…
  • Insurance – this wasn’t as bad as I thought, but my premium did go up from about $90 per month to $125 per month. Not a deal breaker, but this is a hidden cost to be aware of.
  • Modification cost & effectiveness – tuning this car is both more expensive and more difficult. While some basic mods like piggie pipes and a tune will wake up the 4.2 V8, adding power beyond that requires a lot of money for relatively small gains. The A4, on the other hand, is very mod-friendly and you can add a decent amount of power fairly cheap. That’s not to say you can’ t mod the 4.2 V8 S4, and companies like JHM have done some amazing things with bolt-ons alone, but those tuning options are just more expensive than A4 parts, especially when you factor in availability of used parts or sale items.

So now we know the S4 is beautiful, fast, and smooth BUT ALSO thirsty, high-maintenance and expensive. Sound like anything else in life? You bet.

Audi S4 Sedan, A4 Sedan, S4 Cab

Which Should I Choose?

Would it do it all over again? Most definitely. The choice between an A4 and S4, at the end of the day, comes down to your priorities. As a car freak, die-hard Audi fan, and someone that could afford the switch financially, it was a fairly easy decision for me. On the other hand, you (or I) could be perfectly happy in an A4, and even perform a lot of modifications on it and have a car that performs & looks amazing. There are certainly days when I do miss my A4 (especially those days involving the gas station, haha). When making your determination, here is what I’d advise you weigh in from a personal perspective to help you decide if the pros outweigh the cons of S4 ownership:

  • Budget – factor in an extra $8-10k in purchase price for the S4, and remember that modifications, insurance, and maintenance are all going to be more expensive too. If you think an S4 is out of your price range based on purchase price alone, I wouldn’t advise “reaching” for it, as there are tons of additional costs down the road that might make an A4 a better choice. It’s better to have extra wiggle room when it comes to budget rather than stretching your dollar too thin and hoping nothing goes wrong (Murphy’s Law loves to strike at those times!).
  • Gas Mileage/Driving Habits – if you plan to use the car as a daily driver, and have a long commute (regardless of whether it’s city or freeway driving), the A4 may be a better choice. The S4 goes through a lot of gas, and does not care if you go gentle on it or not. The gas tank is also pretty small (about 17 gallons, give or take) so you can go through a tank on even a medium distance roadtrip pretty easily. Be prepared for this…
  • What you currently drive – if you already have a B7 A4, and want to move to an S4, you need to consider what you really want to gain out of the move. If you already own an A4, I’d recommend moving to an S4 for reasons other than wanting added power alone (you can always big-turbo your A4 if this is the case). For me, I had a FWD Automatic A4 and desperately wanted a manual transmission and Quattro, and in this case that makes sense as that’s a significantly different car. Another case where it would make a lot of sense is going from a high mileage A4 to a low mileage S4, or going from a B6 to a B7 for the cosmetic upgrades, or maybe even from a Sedan to an Avant or Cabriolet. If you’re looking to move from a 6MT A4 with Quattro and low miles to a 6MT S4 with Quattro with high miles, this may not be a good idea. If you’re going to take the plunge, make sure you are actually upgrading and not buying a car that will need expensive maintenance soon.

Nick Roshon

Still unsure?

Leave me a comment below and I’ll give you some unbiased advice…

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