The Palms to Pines Highway starts in the desert outside of Palm Springs, Calif., snaking its way through the San Jacinto Mountains to elevations of 5,000 feet. In just a short distance, long sandy straights give way to rocky landscapes and on to alpine curves. It’s on these disparate legs of the same road that we discover how the 2020 Audi S4 shows off its updated tech.
Starting at $49,900, the S4 has been refreshed with a more aggressive version of its single-frame grille, now with a honeycomb-shaped mesh insert and updated LED lights. Above the rear wheels, slightly flared “blisters” in the sheet metal hint at the S4’s all-wheel-drive setup, an homage to Audi’s early Quattro race cars.
The rear is sharpened with chrome accents and wide, trapezoidal tail pipes that replace the old dual round tips. The interior gets handsome diamond-stitched sport seats and other sporty design cues such as a flat-bottomed steering wheel and stainless-steel pedal caps. The display screen is now larger at 10.1 inches and boasts higher resolution and faster processing power. The setup isn’t as dazzling as, say, the that found in the Audi Q7, but when it comes to the S4, the fun lies in the driving.
In this incarnation, the S4’s 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 makes 349 hp and 369 ft lbs of torque. The power train propels the car from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. The spring in the S4’s step is undeniable, zipping from dusty service roads onto the highway and then toward steep terrain. Dynamic steering is improved in this generation, with more responsiveness and better feedback. With help from the S-tuned adaptive sport suspension and Quattro sport rear differential, we can take the switchbacks up and down the mountain aggressively, feeling surprisingly dialed in and stuck to the road around every curve.
That’s not to say the S4 can’t be a comfortable cruiser. It’s also equipped with adaptive cruise control and Audi side assist, so when you’re done putting the car through its paces and want to set the nav for the return trip, it’s easy to relax in the S4’s massaging seats and let the driver systems help guide you home.