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The Audi S4 is powered by a supercharged V-6 that is rated at 333 horsepower.

Neil Vorano/The Globe and Mail

The Audi A4 offers a fine 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, a refined and relatively powerful mill great for getting around town or on the highway quickly and efficiently. But what if you want more performance, without breaking the bank on the two-door, M4-fighting RS5? Enter the S4.

It's Audi's mid-level luxury sedan, but unless you've experienced the brutality – and the higher price – of its RS models, it's hard to conceive that this S4 is simply a buffer car. The supercharged V-6 is rated at 333 horsepower, but you'll think it's more as you reach for the gear shifter and realize you're bumping off the rev limiter before you can change cogs. If you wish to put your licence in jeopardy, there seems to be no limit to its acceleration. Shifting also offers a satisfying snick through each gate as you grip the flat-bottomed steering wheel with white knuckles.

Thankfully, the handling is just as adept. With standard, rear-based quattro all-wheel drive, along with the optional active damping suspension, there's no problem in keeping all four wheels pointed where you want to go. Audi is renowned for its AWD prowess and the S4 seems to bring that up a notch in spirited driving. For a luxury, performance sedan – and if you really enjoy making your daily commute more exciting – this one will seem like good value every time you fire it up.

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But here's the problem with the S4: For upward of seventy grand with freight charges and taxes, there should be a little bit of exclusivity; a dash of luxury not experienced by peons. But the sedan's stark, staid interior looks like that of its poorer sibling, Volkswagen, complete with switchgear the two companies share. And the swashes of painted, striped aluminum look cheap – there is nicer, real wood in premium pickup trucks.

Don't misunderstand: It all has the quality that Audi is famous for, but that's just an indication of how far other car makers have come. Forget Mercedes or BMW; when Ford, Hyundai or Honda start having more interesting interiors with a more varied palette of colour, content and materials, it's time to start making yourself special again. And making the buyer feel special again.

You'll like this car if ... you're more Mario Andretti than Giorgio Armani.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $57,800; as tested: $66,450
  • Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged V-6
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.1 city; 8.3 highway
  • Alternatives: BMW 335i, Jaguar XF 3.0 AWD Sport, Mercedes-Benz C 400 4Matic, Infiniti Q50

RATINGS

  • Looks: An understated shape; nothing fancy but clean lines with more than a hint of mean muscle.
  • Interior: This is a high-quality space with good ergonomics, but it could use a lot more creativity and opulence – and less switchgear from Volkswagen.
  • Performance: Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel when you punch the throttle. The dynamic steering, sport differential and adaptive damping suspension help keep that power under control.
  • Technology: The MMI infotainment system is easy to get your head around, but the real beauty lies underneath the skin.
  • Cargo: The trunk is what you’d expect for a car this size; storage in the cabin is limited.

The Verdict

7.0

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There's no doubt about its performance, but its luxury is a little too understated.

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