Audi S4

An all-new turbo V6 engine to bolster its new-gen platform

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIVE different generations of S4 and five different engines. Thatís where this highly unusual tally stands as Audiís suave B9-generation S4 introduces an all-new 3.0-litre turbo V6 to join its freshly minted platform.

On paper, the differences arenít so obvious. The all-aluminium 90-degree V6 shares its bore and stroke, and thus its 2995cc capacity, with its supercharged predecessor, but thatís where the similarities end. Different bore centres, a new two-phase combustion method and a twinscroll turbocharger mounted inside the vee has produced a more compact, lighter (by 14kg), friction-optimised engine with improved response and efficiency.

Power jumps from 245kW to 260, while torque swells to a solid 500Nm from 1370-4500rpm (up from 440Nm at 2900-5300rpm).

The previous S4ís seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE been replaced with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic and the S4ís 0-100km/h acceleration time drops to 4.7sec.

But does different actually mean better? Yes and no. Despite sitting well forward of the front axle line, the lighter V6 has a negligible effect on the S4ís impressive chassis balance. Itís a strong performer, with easily enough muscle to make the most of the S4ís 60 percent rear drive bias and (optional) torquevectoring Ďsportí rear differential.

The new eight-speed auto matches the previous dual-clutch unitís shift speed, while being smoother in traffic. And if the claimed fuel figure isnít porkies, 7.5L/100km isnít to be scoffed at.

What the turbo V6 lacks is personality. Gone is the blown V6ís raspy induction snarl as it approaches its 7000rpm redline, replaced by a grainier though vibration-free soundtrack and a lower 6500rpm rev limit. We saw 6700rpm once, followed by the requisite upshift blurt from its four exhaust pipes.

Thereís a marked difference in throttle response between the autoís Drive and Sport modes, with the sweet spot somewhere in the middle. The accelerator feels almost resistant in Drive and demands lots of travel to deliver what youíre asking for, while Sport is far too sensitive and throws passengers around when stepping on and off the gas.

When questioned about the new engineís shift in personality, powertrain development engineer Johannes Ohland admitted Audi had done no tuning to the V6ís induction sound, only its exhaust, which is a little disappointing, though it produces a pleasant induction blare when under throttle load between 2500 and 3000rpm.

The new-gen S4 definitely handles but it doesnít ride. Even in the adaptive dampersí Comfort mode, thereís a knobbliness to the S4 (on Hankook 245/35ZR19 tyres) that is completely at odds with the regular A4ís plush composure.

While the S4ís suspension discipline achieves handling on a higher plane than ever, weíd avoid ticking Ďdynamic steeringí.

Its over-eagerness gives it an unnatural feel, with weighting and steering ratio at times perceptibly altering mid-corner, and it never quite gels with the S4ís otherwise excellent dynamics. Hopefully the standard fixed-ratio set-up is more progressive.

Gripes aside, thereís a lot to like about the new S4. Both bodystyles blend subtly sporty looks with practical elegance, and the S4 has great brakes Ė 350mm front discs with six-pistons calipers and very natural pedal feel.

But until the S4 receives attention to its ride and engine acoustics, its A4 2.0TFSI quattro baby brother remains our pick.

PLUS & MINUS

Acoustically inferior to old blown S4; Ďdynamicí steering; lumpy ride Benchmark interior; poised chassis; excellent grip; brisk performance

REVVED UP 01

A new screen in the S4ís Virtual Cockpit display (expected to be standard in Oz) places the tacho dead-centre with a digital speed reading inside, while Audiís optional head-up display is arguably the worldís prettiest.

TOUCHY FEELY 02

S4ís embellished A4 cabin doesnít disappoint Ė itís fabulous. The test cars featured diamond-stitched leather, carbonfibre trim and, on the pictured sedan, a round steering wheel! Thereís a flatbottom alternative, however, so hereís hoping our Aussie-spec S4s donít cop the poseur version.

FULL BELLY 03

Our S4 will be chocked with gear, for similar money to the old car.

Expect 19s, adaptive dampers and a kick-to-open bootlid to be standard, but youíll pay extra for Matrix LED headlights, sport differential, dynamic steering, S Sport seats, Audi Phone Box (inductive charging) and the Ďblack packí (pictured).

Avant guard

Despite the obvious appeal of Audiís attractive load-lugging line-up, just 15 percent of Aussie buyers are expected to opt for the S4 Avant wagon over its sedan alternative.

As for the S4 model itself, it previously made up less than three percent of total A4 sales, however Audi hopes the new-gen S4 will expand that to as much as five percent.

At 1675kg, the S4 Avant is heavier than the sedan, and 0.2sec slower to 100.

But itís luggage capacity is well up Ė 505 litres under the luggage cover (compared to 480) and 1510 litres seats dropped.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW 340i $89,900

Cheaper than the S4, but once you start adding stuff the S4 gets standard, the 340i approaches parity. Strong turbo straight-six is sweeter than Audiís V6, though (like S4ís optional Ďdynamicí steering) the 340iís Ďsportí steering is flawed.

Jaguar XE S $105,350

The most expensive yet arguably the least convincing of Jaguarís great-handling XE range. Ageing supercharged V6 packs a punch but doesnít sound like it should, and itís thirstier than the S4 and 340i. But we love the XEís left-field appeal.