The Audi S4 is $50,000 of old-school driving fun and modern luxury

These days, there’s no shortage of high-end sedans that are both luxurious and fun to drive. But there is a shortage of luxurious sports sedans that achieve that fun by directly connecting the driver and machine — in the old-fashioned way, channeling a powerful engine through a manual transmission.

In this sense, the Audi 2015 S4 Quattro — With a 6-speed stick shift! — is something special: a throwback that still feels thoroughly modern. When Audi handed us the keys, we just had to take it for a spin.

In the S4, Audi has achieved a fantastic balance of luxury and performance.

The S4 sits above the standard A4 sedan and below the RS4 Avant, a BMW M3-fighter. Sadly, the RS4 isn't destined for the US market.

Armed with a 6-speed manual transmission, the S4 allowed for old-school gear-shifting enjoyment.

Even in the world of sports sedans, the manual transmission is a relative rarity.

If you're looking for a less hands-on experience, you can choose Audi's exceptional S-Tronic 'auto-manual' gearbox, which enables drivers to experience something similar to manual-shifting.

In the S4, the 6-speed is paired Audi's 3.0 litre supercharged V6 borrowed from the big brother A6 sedan.

And boy! What an engine it is! It produces 333 silky-smooth horsepower, available at your beck and call.

The S4 is a pleasure to drive. The 6-speed shifts quickly and smoothly. Like a good red wine and a juicy steak, the manual and the V6's deep well of horsepower are a fine match.

In the corners, the Quattro AWD S4 is surefooted. The massive brakes grip with ferocity. Blip the throttle as you downshift and you'll hear the big V6 sing.

In a way, it reminds me of the Audi's A4 British Touring Car Championship racers of the late 1990s.

Although the S4's V6 is significantly bigger than the high-revving 4-cylinder engines in those race cars.

Still ... the A4 Quattro's BTCC championship-winning pedigree is clear, all these years later.

Inside, the S4 is quiet and comfortable. As with all Audi interiors, the ergonomics and materials are top notch.

These Alcantara and leather seats are incredibly comfortable and offer great support when the driving gets spirited.

The current generation A4/S4 has been on sale since 2007. Even with a refresh in 2013, the interior styling is beginning to feel somewhat dated.

Especially when compared to the minimalist chic of the new S3 and ...

... the technological flourishes of the S6.

Rear seat room is on par with other cars in the segment.

And what a segment it is! With a starting price just over $48,000, the S4 will contend with such industry heavyweights such as ...

...the BMW 335xi ...

... the Mercedes-Benz C400 4-Matic ...

... the Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD ...

... Infiniti Q50 S AWD ...

... Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD and ...

... the Lexus IS350 F-Sport.

With the S4, Audi has a worthy competitor. The evocative styling, sport-tuned suspension, powerful engine, and stimulating luxury make the S4 a world-class luxury sports sedan.

And that 6-speed stick shift! That makes all the difference!

Here's the what $120,000 can buy you from Audi ....

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