Which Audi S4 is the best S4?

With the upcoming B9 Audi S4 to debut soon, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at all of the S4s that have led up to this one and try and determine the best one of the bunch. To do so, we must first look at the history of the S4 and what it means to Audi. The S4 is an important car to Audi. It competes with the highest variants of the iconic BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Cadillac ATS and now the Jaguar XE S as well. Being that this is one of the most hotly contested segments in the automotive world, the S4 is a big part of Audi’s brand. But it didn’t start off like that.

C4 Audi S4
The original S4, internally known as the C4 S4, was based off of the C4 Audi 100 sedan and was made from 1991-1994. It packed a 2.2 liter turbocharged inline-5-cylinder engine under its hood, similar to the engine used in the fire-spitting Audi Quattro. The C4 S4 made 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which was a lot back in 1991, when the 190 hp BMW M3 was setting the world ablaze. Paired to a 5-speed manual and Quattro all-wheel drive, the C4 S4 could do the sprint from 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds. That was faster than the famous BMW M3’s 6.9 second sprint. Though, eventually Audi switched the Audi 100 to the A6 and the S4 disappeared.

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B5 Audi S4 - Santorini Blue
B5 Audi S4 – Santorini Blue

Until 1997, that is. In 1997, Audi released the S4 variant of the B5 A4 and was first introduced as a sedan, though the Avant version came one year later, in 1998. The B5 Audi S4 was powered by a 2.7 liter biturbo V6, which developed 261 hp (251 for US market) and 295 lb-ft of torque (258 for US market). This allowed the B5 S4 to be significantly faster than the outgoing model, with a 0-60 mph sprint coming in 5.6 seconds. That’s quick by modern standards, but nearly 20 years ago that kind of speed out of a small sedan was ludicrous. The B5 Audi S4 also came with Quattro all-wheel drive as standard, as well as a 6-speed manual with a 5-speed automatic option. Brakes were two-piston calipers up front with single-pistons at the rear. All in all the B5 Audi S4 was a fantastic machine and one that’s often overshadowed by the M3s of the time.

B6 Audi S4
B6 Audi S4

The B6 sung a very different tune. In 2003, Audi released the B6 S4 and immediately was a hit. Based off of the B6 A4, the S4 came in sedan, Avant and, new for the B6, convertible variants. Replacing the cast iron and aluminum 2.7 liter biturbo V6 was a very high-tech all aluminum 4.2 liter V8. And boy could that V8 sing. Making 339 hp at 7,000 rpm and 302 lb-ft of torque, the B6 S4 will live on forever as being one of the last great German V8 sports sedans. It was also faster than its predecessor, being able to hit 60 mph in 5 seconds flat. Mated to a 6-speed and Quattro all-wheel drive, the S4 was finally a true contender to the BMW M3. The M3 was still a bit more loved than the S4, but the battle was closer than ever.

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B7 Audi S4
B7 Audi S4

The B7 S4 came after, and was really just a cosmetic refresh of the B6. The powertrain remained the same and so did the chassis. The only differences that weren’t cosmetic were some spring rates and shock damping changes and a slight upgrade to the center differential. Other than that, the B7 S4 was essentially just a better looking and riding B6 S4. That doesn’t make it bad, though. In fact, the B6 S4 was so great that a better looking version is even more so.

B8 Audi S4
B8 Audi S4

The B8 is where major differences occurred. The B8 Audi S4 debuted in 2009, as both a sedan and an Avant, though the US never saw the Avant variant.  The B8 was an entirely different car. It was built on a different chassis, so it was longer, wider, lower and handled better. It also ditched the glorious 4.2 liter V8 for a 3.0 liter supercharged V6. The switch to the V6 after the V8 was one that was hated by many Audi enthusiasts. However, their hate was short lived, as the B8 S4, with its 333 hp, ended up being faster than the outgoing B7 S4, with its 339. Various magazines have clocked the B8 S4 at 4.9 seconds to 60 mph. Credit the speed difference to the B8’s lighter weight and instant boost delivery of the supercharger. Still, many dislike the B8 S4, they claim it to be too soft. The B8 was regularly offered with a 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox, whereas the previous S4s were almost exclusively manual. So despite the extra performance, interior room, interior comfort and better looks, the B8 S4 is one of the least liked S4s of all.

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B9 Audi A4

The upcoming B9 Audi S4 needs to be huge. It needs to be the car that Audi fans have been waiting for since the departure of the B6/B7. Rumors have been going around that the next-gen S4 will swap the 3.0 liter supercharged V6 for an all-new turbocharged 3.0 liter V6. Power is said to be around 350, which would make it the most powerful S4 ever. And being that it’s being built on Audi’s latest MLB platform, it should be lighter than ever, stiffer than ever and handle better than ever. We’ll see whan Audi finally spills the beans, but until then we can only hope.


So which one is your favorite S4?


[Top Photo Credit: Autobild]
Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.