Audi S4

No longer a whiner, is Audiís sports sedan now a winner?

by LOUIS CORDONY

ENGINE 2995cc V6, DOHC, 24v, turbo / POWER 260kW @ 5400-6400rpm / TORQUE 500Nm @ 1370rpm / WEIGHT 1610kg / 0-100KM/H 4.7sec (claimed) / PRICE $106,000 (est)

One thing about humans is we love conflict. We canít escape it. Take boost for instance.

Blower buffs enjoy the instant response and comic noises involved, while their rivals prefer the high-tech edge of turbocharging. Tell a VL Turbo owner to add a belt to his ride rather than a larger snail and you might end up hanging from one yourself.

Car companies obviously arenít so loyal. This is probably why Audiís dropped a turbocharged engine in its all-new S4, replacing the old supercharged unit MOTOR loved so much back in 2009.

We found ourselves in Frankfurt to find out just how different the new 3.0-litre turbo V6 is. Bolted into an all-new chassis, the changes are numerous, not just under the bonnet.

But as we find ourselves huddled around a cut-away with the blokes that designed it, it seems proper we only ask a few questions.

On paper it might seem Audiís simply attached a huffer to the old V6 alloy block. It again uses 24 valves, six cylinders, and identical bore and stroke measurements. But its bore spacing is new, and itís 14kg lighter.

Its cylinder heads have been rotated to pump air through the twin-scroll turbine in its vee, which is a big unit.

Audiís powertrain engineers reckon you could fit two turbos where the single one lies, just like an RS6.

But he adds that one turbo was enough to make 260kW and 500Nm with good response. So much twist, in fact, Audi had to ditch the sevenspeed dual-clutch for its eight-speed auto, saying 500Nm strays close to its torque limits. However if an S-tronic can cop 560Nm in the Audi R8, we suspect Ohlandís guys might have more planned for this drivetrain.

Direct injection, a high-ish 11.2:1 compression ratio and trick combustion method help cut the S4ís thirst by five per cent. Thereís less to lug too, as the new chassis, based on the MLB evo platform, sheds 15kg, while its panels, steering, and body in white slash another 16kg. Further weight was saved by slimming things like seats Ė 75kg overall.

Telling one apart from a regular A4ís going to be difficult. Badges, silver mirror scalps and a set of quadexhausts poking from the rear diffuser are the subtle clues, but new front sixpiston calipers are the real giveaways.

Thereís not much inside to reveal youíre in an S model, either. Itís the same high-tech affair as the A4, where youíre greeted by a suave layered stack and rich materials. Thereís loads of foot room, steering reach adjustment, and visionís good. But there are also some foibles.

For one, thereís a lot going on. There are three stalks hiding behind the wheel. The gear selector blocks the MMI touch controller, and the row of buttons underneath the HVAC controls looks like an afterthought.

STAR RATING

4.0

Like

Engine, chassis dynamics, tech options

Dislike

Driver ergos, lots on the options list, lack of soul

What we like are the (optional) nappa leather sport seats. Theyíre exquisitely made and can be adjusted to grab you tighter than an organ thief.

The head-up display screen fits in all the info you could need. And the completely round S steering wheel (a circular steering wheel, how novel) beats the regular D-shaped item for tactility, especially while driving.

The rounder wheel feels meatier and more natural and youíll find sharp, nicely geared turn-in from the tiller. But the S4ís variable-speed rack doesnít lend much feedback and feels indirect when unwinding lock out of tight corners.

Whether this comes down to Ďdynamic steeringí or not we canít say because we didnít drive a car without it. We can tell you, however, the carís fast. Despite the OEM-fitted Hankookís Ventus S1 Evo2ís low grip levels, the all-round five-link suspension setup and quattro drivetrain extract the most from them.

There are simply piles of grip.

Adaptive damping and a rear sports differential are still its cornerstone dynamic weapons and are now joined by inside-wheel braking on each axle. Stomp the throttle early and you can genuinely feel the S4 pull itself through corners.

It shrinks around you. And being so unflappable, the S4 demands to be driven faster, so itís lucky the new grabbers are strong. Theyíre also nicely assisted and connected to a pedal with a nice long travel.

With magnetically adjustable dampers at each corner, the S4 does well to iron out most surfaces driven hard. Thereís decent travel and they cancel out any unwanted pitch or roll.

But they canít defeat large potholes and permit only just acceptable ride levels in comfort mode.

Similarly clinical in performance is the carís engine. With the turbine harboured in its vee, gas paths are extremely short. The result of this is that the engineís super responsive.

Even in the depths of its rev-range it pulls hard, making peak torque at 1370rpm, 1530rpm sooner than the old supercharged mill.

It doesnít rev out as high as the old unit, but with the new turbo V6ís delivery over by 6400rpm, thereís no point. Thereís no aural treat to keep you hanging around either.

Sure, thereís a growl at lower revs and a crackle escapes on the overrun, but when itís working hard the engine really sounds like it. Thereís no snarl, suck, or sneeze. At full noise it even sounds like a four-banger.

This lack of character is a little disappointing because thereís

so much potential in the S4. Itís blindingly quick, super-refined, and loaded with all the right gizmos. You want to love it, but it feels like its tie is done up too tight.

Regardless, if Audi can price it right (itís aiming for $106K for the sedan and $109K for the Avant) itís going to be hard to beat. Thereís so much technology stuffed into it ĖWi-Fi, inductive phone charging, matrix LEDs, automatic safety tech Ė that it comes down to what of the good stuff ends up on the Ďstandardí list.

Weíd like to see the magnetic dampers, nappa seats, and sports diff ticked. But itíll most likely be the head-up display, virtual cockpit, and round steering wheel that come standard on local S4s. Which isnít a bad deal, but if Audi wants to tempt buyers out of serious sport metal at $100K, it should tick at least one of the former three options.

With it set to dive bomb into a category populated by Jagís XE S, BMWís 340i, and the soon-to-be Mercedes-AMG C43, you can expect there to be conflict. But weíre not going to shy away from that.

Itís blindingly quick, super-refi ned and has all the right gizmos, but it feels like its tie is done up too tight