The S4 mantra is one of sporting understatement – “an athlete in a suit”, as Audi describes it – so you won’t find any overt wings or shouty badgework. Instead, the S4 offers suave overtones of sportiness, from its ritzier detailing and bootlid lip spoiler to its four chrome exhaust pipes sprouting from a tasteful rear air diffuser.
- That interior! Audi’s new-generation A4 has raised the game for cabin class and technology, and the more expensive S4 takes that to another level. Beautifully tactile materials and a stunning ‘Virtual Cockpit’ instrument display that fills the entire instrument housing with a single, customisable screen makes the S4 hugely desirable simply for its appearance and feel.
- It’s handling. Audi has trimmed 75kg from the old S4’s kerb weight (including 14kg from an all-new turbo V6 engine), making the S4 feel more agile than ever. An optional ‘sport’ rear differential enhances the S4’s keenness to turn into corners, while its standard ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system has the smarts to shuffle power between its wheels for tremendous power-down ability and great balance.
- Technology. In a rapidly changing era where razzle-dazzle is king, the 2016 S4 has made a huge leap forward. As well as the aforementioned virtual instrument display, available tech includes Audi Phone Box (an inductive charging panel under the centre armrest that doesn’t require a physical connection to charge your phone), on-board internet with a wi-fi hotspot, ambient cabin lighting in 30 selectable colours, plus adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ traffic-jam assistance that autonomously drives the S4 at slow-moving speeds.
- For all its technical excellence, the S4’s new-generation turbocharged V6 doesn’t sound as good, or rev as hard, as the previous supercharged V6. While the exhaust can sound quite fruity, and there are moments when the turbo V6 has a pleasant rumble to it when being driven hard, it sounds grainy and a bit pedestrian.
- Ride quality. Even with its adjustable suspension dampers set to ‘Comfort’ mode, the S4 fidgets over bumps and only settles on perfectly smooth roads. And that’s in Germany. Craggy Australian roads will be an even greater challenge.
- The optional ‘Dynamic Steering’. This features a variable steering-gear ratio that adapts its responsiveness to vehicle speed and steering angle. But it’s often too sharp, making smooth driving harder to achieve, and you can feel it altering the steering ratio through the wheel rim.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
If you believe rear-wheel drive is your thing, then either the BMW 340i or Jaguar XE S might be the answer. The BMW is more affordable, but is blighted with Variable Sport Steering (much like the optional set-up in the S4) that spoils the 340i’s sporting purity, while the great-handling Jaguar loses out to the Audi for performance and fuel efficiency. Mercedes-Benz has a rival coming in November – the C43 AMG, featuring a twin-turbo V6 – though it will be available in sedan, wagon, coupe and convertible forms. Audi’s comparative all-new S5 coupe and convertible won’t launch here until 2017.
Click here to find out more about the Audi S4.