Practical, rapid and more dynamic than its predecessor

Our Verdict

Audi S4
The Audi S4 is based on the eighth-generation A4

Audi's S4 packs a supercharged 328bhp punch, but it's not the most engaging high-performance saloon on the market

  • First Drive

    Audi S4

    On the right road the S4 can really entertain, but if you’re not in the mood, it won’t beat you up
  • First Drive

    Audi S4

    Practical, rapid and more dynamic than its predecessor
21 October 2008

What is it?

The fastest and most engaging Audi S4 yet. The old 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine is gone, with a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in its place. The new powerplant is 20kg lighter and a good deal more compact.

This has allowed Audi to mount it further back in the engine bay for a 60:40 front-to-rear weight distribution, most of the mass now residing behind the front axle line for greater balance.

Running a mechanical supercharger, the four-valve-per-cylinder unit kicks out 328bhp between 5500 and 7000rpm - down by some 11bhp on the outgoing S4. But the new engine delivers 22lb ft more torque than before, releasing an impressive 324lb ft being between 2900 and 5300rpm.

These reserves are channelled to all four wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox. A rapid-fire seven-speed DSG is available as an option.

Audi claims 0-62mph in 5.1sec for an S4 with the double-clutch ‘box – some 0.8sec inside the official time of the old S4. A more telling indicator of its performance is its 50-75mph fourth gear time of just 4.4sec. Even in sixth gear, it only needs 7.1sec between the two marks. Top speed continues to be limited to 155mph.

What is even more impressive is that the S4’s new supercharged 3.0-litre V6 achieves all this with a 27 per cent decrease in consumption over the old naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 with a combined cycle average of 29.1mpg.

What’s it like?

The smaller engine has robbed the S4 of some of its more memorable acoustic qualities, but this new model is quicker off the line, urgent through the gears, extremely agile for a car weighing 1650kg, progressive when you get towards the limit of adhesion and extremely stable at high speed.

We tested the double clutch gearbox and found that it encourages spirited driving. Its tightly stacked ratios help to make the most of the prodigious low-end torque and flexible qualities of the engine.

Upshifts are crisp and smooth even at high revs, while the electronics are clever enough to provide an alluring blip on the throttle on the downshifts.

The best thing about the S4, however, is its heightened dynamic ability. There is an inherent sharpness to its actions that make it a much more engaging car to drive than its predecessor. It all starts with the steering, which is both direct and terrifically well weighted. This is backed up by excellent body control and seemingly endless levels of grip.

The new Audi S4 is also the first model from Ingolstadt to receive what Audi describes as its sport differential. This is a complex torque vectoring gear set that acts very much like a traditional mechanical locking differential by varying the amount of drive going to each rear wheel. All of which results in a much more stable feel during cornering and higher apex speeds.

Another area where the new S4 displays a clear advance on the model it replaces is in the quality of its ride. With the addition of electronic dampers for the first time, it gives the driver the choice between three different levels of stiffness – comfort, automatic and dynamic.

Buyers can also option their car up with Audi’s so-called ‘drive select system’, which provides the basis for sharper and more responsive actions by remapping the characteristics of the throttle, transmission shift points, dampers and steering – the latter receiving a low friction axial transmission that provides a wonderfully direct feel.

Should I buy one?

If the idea of a rapid but practical everyday car possessing true all-season ability and a bulletproof quality appeals, we certainly wouldn’t talk you out of it.

The only problem facing prospective buyers will be the question of whether to opt for style of the saloon or the versatility offered by the estate.

Join the debate


21 October 2008

How does 60:40 F:R compare to a typical 'FF' layout car?

1650kg? What's it made of, lead or depleted uranium?

21 October 2008

[quote Autocar]The new powerplant is 20kg lighter and a good deal more compact.[/quote] Yes, but the new S4 only weighs 10kg less than the old one. Another German porker.

22 October 2008

due to extra weight of torque vectoring diff? [quote Dan McNeil]but the new S4 only weighs 10kg less[/quote] | Model | Engine | D/T | Weight | Dist F:R................................. | | Pug 407 | 3.0 V6 | F/F | 1585kg | 65.3 : 34.7 | Pug 407 | 2.0 HDi | F/F | 1505kg | 64.1 : 35.9 | VW Passat| 3.6 V6 | F/4 | 1737kg | 56.9 : 43.1 | Audi S4 | 3.0 V6/s| F/4 | 1650kg | 60 : 40 | Volvo S80 | 4.4 V8 | F|4 | 1742kg | 61.5 : 38.5 Unfortunarely no data for Subaru Legacy 3.0R except that it dips under 1500kg, which is pretty impressive next to the VW Interesting that the Passat's nearly as heavy as the S80, a much larger car with a much larger engine. It has better weight distribution than the S4 though. Included the 407 for comparison with front drive chassis, although admittedly it's an extreme case with that ginormous front overhang!

27 October 2008

[quote]Another area where the new S4 displays a clear advance on the model it replaces is in the quality of its ride. With the addition of electronic dampers for the first time, it gives the driver the choice between three different levels of stiffness – comfort, automatic and dynamic.[/quote]

Translated from Audi to English:

borderline bad, ill at ease, and severe discomfort.

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