Right car, wrong timing? The 2008 Audi S4, based on the latest A4’s B8 platform, was unveiled at the Paris show where hybrids and electric vehicles stole the limelight.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2008 issue
Still, despite the eco emphasis, the new S4 emerges as a surprisingly rational proposition. It costs almost 10,000 Euro less than its predecessor, is 27 percent more frugal and is understated enough to fit in the most conservative car park.
Cosmetic changes are limited: alloy-capped door mirrors, the usual S-line trim bits, a slightly different grille, metal horizontal diffusers front and rear, and the signature quad tail pipes – that’s it.
It will return 7.3L/100km in extra-urban mode to reward pussy-footed drivers, but doubles as a high-tech tearaway that employs trick steering, chassis and differential systems to beam you quicker from A to B than most of its rivals.
Under the bonnet lies a significant change – Audi has dumped its 4.2-litre V8 for a new 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that produces slightly less power (245kW), but more torque (440Nm) across a wider spread of the rev range (between 2900rpm and 5300rpm). Despite the power drop, the higher torque and slight (10kg) weight reduction means the new S4 can beat its predecessor from 0-100km/h by half a second.
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The new S4 is deceptively fast. The Roots-type supercharger launches the S4 with instant response and powers it from 80 to 120km/h in a claimed 4.4sec (in fourth gear) in seemingly effortless, yet entertaining fashion. Our pre-production test car was fitted with a six-speed manual, but the optional seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic could be the gearbox to go for.
Quattro with a 40/60 front/rear torque split is standard, but to get the best out of all-wheel drive, specify the optional new sport differential. The trick diff distributes torque between the rear wheels in a progressively variable fashion and also works under trailing throttle, even when the gearbox is in neutral.
As the vehicle turns in, the sport diff automatically diverts most of the propulsion forces to the outer rear wheel. This reduces understeer, allows you to work with more moderate steering angle and improves directional stability.
The maximum torque difference between the rear wheels is a substantial 1800Nm, but the biggest advantage of the sports differential is that instead of eliminating excess energy, it cleverly and smoothly redistributes it.
Hard cornering is no longer a mix of more or less understeer. Instead, the nose turns in, rear-end complies, and the ensuing four-wheel drift is easily modulated by throttle and steering in much smaller nuances than before.
Inside and out, the new S4 is an undercover fast-lane warrior rather than a baby RS4. It’s as Plain Jane as they come – no fancy LED running lights, no special wheels and no gaudy colour schemes. Instead, the S4 epitomises sublime efficiency with an introvert appearance that belies its extrovert character and ability.
With rose-tinted glasses on classic MOTOR
2008 AUDI S4 SPECS
Engine: 2995cc V6, DOHC, 24v, supercharged
Power: 245kW @ 5500-7000rpm
Torque: 440Nm @ 2900-5300rpm
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h: 5.1sec (manual claimed)
Price: $115,000 (est)
Like: Economy, power, handling balance, Q-car subtlety
Dislike: Maybe too subtle for some; missing the old V8 burble