Audi’s launch of the all-new B9 version of its A4 last year, was, visually speaking, a bit of a let-down.
In fact, the new car looked so much like the old car, plenty of punters had trouble telling the difference. But it seems subtlety is the new buzz-word over at Audi, because the just-released S4 version of the B9 is equally understated. Here is a car that is much, much more about ruthless efficiency than headline grabbing looks. It’s not unattractive, but it is more wallflower than party animal.
Until you sink the clog, that is, because it’s then that you realise this is one of the all-time great stealth bombers. And that, in 2017 when being caught speeding can easily get you into more trouble than selling drugs, counts for a fair bit. The wagon version is even stealthier (and my personal pick).
It all starts with Audi’s new take on turbocharged engines that places the turbo (in this case a twin-scroll unit) inside the vee of the engine (a three-litre V6 with an unusual - for a V6 - 90-degree layout).
The `hot-side-in’ architecture requires some serious heat management but it does give the exhaust gasses a better shot at the turbine’s blades and allows for quicker cat light-off.
Clever bits include an on-demand cooling system for faster warm-up times and an overall reduction of 14kg versus the old engine. The important numbers are 260kW and 500Nm, spookily similar to the new BMW B58 three-litre mill.
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Quattro all-wheel-drive is part of the deal, too, and now there’s a self-locking centre-diff that can shift as much as 85 per cent of torque to the rear and 75 to the front. The rear diff is now an active unit, too. The good news is that adaptive damper are now standard on all Australian-delivered cars. And instead of a DSG or CVT transmission, there’s a good old torque-converter box in there, this time with eight ratios.
Audi has chased weight hard, and settled on lighter, aluminium brake calipers, magnesium in the seats and various high-tech steel components to pull a full 75 kg out of the deal (although the sedan is still 1630kg). And that’s despite the new car being bigger in every direction. The driver assistance stuff is utterly comprehensive and while crashing an S4 won’t be impossible, you will need to be committed.
Audi’s latest ergonomic technology – the virtual cockpit – has found its way into this car, too, and that’s a good thing. It’s easy to use and understand and has a fair idea of what most drivers are going to want to see.
Less intuitive is the sat-nav system which uses a mouse-wheel rather than a touch-screen which seems a bit clunky in 2017. On top of that, the nav screen offers up the next three directions, but you need to read them from bottom to top to get them in the right order. Very strange.
But the driving itself is less confronting. There’s loads of grip as you’d expect and the eight-speed auto feel just as sharp as a DSG and even still manages to produce that little pop and bang between gears that we all love so much. I’m less convinced about the steering feel which seems a bit more synthesised than other recent VAG products, especially as you initially knock it off the straight-ahead
The adaptive damper are worth their weight in gold, however, and take the car from composed-but-comfy to rather-sporty-really in the flick of a slightly awkwardly placed switch (it’s in the right place for left-hand-drive). The new engine kicks butt, too, but in a fairly retrained way (if that makes any sense).
It’s smooth and willing and while there’s loads of thrust, that flat torque curve means it never swells up and explodes; it just keeps on shoving your forward with absolutely zero fuss.
If that sounds a bit weird for a car that costs a hundred bucks short of six figures ($102,900 for the Avant wagon) consider that Audi had to leave itself somewhere to go with the RS4 when it arrives. Also, there’s also a school of thought that says a no fuss exterior and nincompoop-proof driveline and handling is where all cars should be.
LIKE: Stealthy, high real-world limits.
DISLIKE: Man-machine interface seems a touch clunky.
Engine: 2995cc V6, DOHC, 24v, turbo
Power: 260kW @ 5400-6400rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1370-4500rpm
Weight: 1630kg/ 0-100km/h 4.9sec (claim)
Price: $99,900 ($102,900 Avant)