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Plus & Minus
Creamy, stylish and subtle cargo warrior
Small niggles reveal ageing A4 origins, multimedia glitches
The Wheels Verdict: It’s getting on a bit, but Audi’s underplayed S4 Avant is still a smart if subtle choice
WHAT IS THE AUDI S4 AVANT?
The Audi S4 Avant is based on the B9 A4, which means an MLB chassis and all-wheel-drive as standard for the five-seat, five-door wagon. The S4 uses Audi’s six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that makes 260kW and 500Nm, backed by an eight-speed automatic.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Audi gave its S line-up a bit of a value tickle late in 2019, so we thought we’d revisit the (relatively) old stager to see how it stacks up.
Honestly, if car companies made product decisions based on a straw poll of any motoring publication’s break room conversations, they would only sell two-door manual sports cars and moderately hot station wagons.
No one else, though, seems to take much notice of the innate desires of motor noters, and wagons have gone unheeded here for decades.
The perplexing allegiance to SUVs in the Aussie market shows that buyers want cars with space, but unless they have obscene ride height, cars like the Audi S4 Avant are left to wither on the vine.
On sale since 2016, the B9 is widely lauded as a pretty good thing, even if the sales figures don’t reflect that. It still has at least another two years to run, though, so Audi’s been sprinkling its fleet with extra showroom floor goodness to keep metal moving.
One such recipient is our S4 Avant, which now sells for $102,900 plus on-roads. Audi has added niceties like its S sports seating trimmed in Nappa leather, inductive phone charging, a Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade and rear USB ports to the decent standard level of kit which includes a digital dash, S sport wheel, 19-inch rims and LED lights all ’round.
The S4 runs Audi’s 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6, sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a tried-and-true powertrain that, in combination with the adaptive suspension-equipped MLB platform, has made for a pretty handy jigger every time we’ve driven it.
Over the course of a few days, adding 800km to the S4’s odo reacquaints me with the stable, sophisticated and sinuous car that Audi debuted back in 2016. Even four years on, the degree of lustre and polish in its decently weighted steering response, in the way the chassis disdainfully sniffs at sharp-edged bumps and the presentation of the interior is pretty remarkable.
As a package, the S4 occupies the territory between the stock A4 and the super RS4, and it rides that fine line pretty well. Take that drivetrain, for example. It’s a rarity to find a V6 petrol engine in anything these days, but while you’re never going to say no to a turbo, it feels like there’s a lot more to give. I occasionally forgot it was turbocharged, such is the engine’s linearity, and its smooth tractability under load is offset by a sufficiently sexy exhaust and induction note that reminds you what you’ve paid for.
The range of damping tune between comfort and dynamic modes is sufficiently different, and the S4 doesn’t stray into the RS4’s tied-down territory. There’s not a huge change between firmest and softest modes, which is noticeably comfortable, but at least the firm setting doesn’t rattle your teeth out.
The interior of the S4, too, is a triumph of style and execution, with a little bit of ‘look at me’ thrown in. The digital dash is well integrated and the MMI multimedia is effective, although our tester misbehaved during the course of the test, throwing off our Apple CarPlay connection a couple of times for no apparent reason.
There are some niggles that are down to length of time in service; the S4’s lane departure assistance, for example, is really intrusive and not especially integrated with steering effort. When it wants to adjust your trajectory it does so in an unnatural way, which will lead to people turning the system off, which defeats the purpose of having it in the car.
Look past the beautifully detailed centre console, seats and dash, and you can spot elements of base A4; the way the seat buckle rattles against the hard plastic on the lower part of the b-pillar, for example, stands out like a bum note in a piano concerto.
As well, does it look a little plain-Jane for its $102k ask? I gaze at the new A6, for example, which is more than $30,000 dearer again, and I think ‘that’s a pretty good deal’… and that’s simply down to its movie-star looks. The S4 Avant falls just on the wrong side of derivative, despite its enormous spindle grille and its twin-stripe DRLs that are a firm ‘up yours’ to your neighbour and his 2017 rig. It just misses that final veneer of cool that, say, a set of speccy 20-inch rims would provide.
Still, the S4 Avant takes the notion of a pacey wagon, mixes it with lashings of panache and driveway cache and serves it with a proven drivetrain that will bring a smile to the face of someone who knows what they like in a car.
BMW 330i Touring and 530i Touring are price-point rivals, as is the Jaguar XF Chequered Flag edition. At $114,900, though, Mercedes-AMG’s C43 Estate is probably the S4 Avant’s nearest foe.
AUDI S4 AVANT PRICE AND SPECS
Model: Audi S4 Avant
Engine: 2995cc V6, dohc, 24v, turbo petrol
Power: 260kW @ 5400-6400rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1370-4500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Economy: 8.4L/100km (as tested)
On sale: Now