From £26,2657
New Audi S4 keeps things reserved in the looks department, but packs a 349bhp turbocharged V6 petrol punch. We've driven an early car abroad
8 June 2016

What is it?

Audi labels this car the ninth generation S4, which is a little sneaky given it has counted both new and facelifted models launched since its inception back in 1991 in that figure.

With increased dimensions, a new turbocharged engine with added firepower and greater levels of standard equipment than before, it takes its place at the top of the latest A4 line-up – at least until the new RS4 hits UK showrooms in 2017, offering the choice of both saloon and estate, or as Audi likes to say, Avant, bodystyles.

Pricing is yet to be revealed, although officials suggest the saloon model tested here will not deviate too much from the £39,310 of the old model.

You’ll need to look carefully to spot the new S4, though. The styling changes over the A4 are typically subtle and easy to miss at glance. Up front, there’s a slightly more structured bumper, lightly reworked single frame grille with double slats in matt aluminium look and altered headlamps graphics; all of which gives it a slightly more focused appearance.

They’re combined with aluminium-look exterior mirror housings, chrome window trims, wider sills and a uniquely styled rear bumper with an aluminium look panel and integral diffuser housing twin oval tail pipes.

Power for the 2016 model year S4 comes from a new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine. Known by the internal codename EA838, it is the first in a new range of modular V6 and V8 engines developed jointly between Audi and Porsche and set to appear in various models in the not-to-distant future.

The 60-deg unit replaces the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 used in the old S4, bringing a 14kg reduction in weight, at 172kg. It features Audi’s patented valve lift system with a constantly adjustable camshaft and a highly touted combustion process with centre mounted spark plugs for what Ingolstadt engineers describe as vastly improved combustion efficiency among other improvements.

With 349bhp, the EA383 kicks out 21bhp more than the EA387 unit. More significant, though, is the lift in torque, which has risen by 45lb, providing the new S4 with 369lb ft on a 600rpm wider band of revs than before - between 1370 and 4500rpm.

Exhaust gas turbocharging isn’t the only new driveline development. Audi has also replaced the outgoing S4’s seven-speed dual clutch S tronic gearbox with an eight-speed torque converter automatic in a bid to improve step-off acceleration. The ZF produced unit comes with a Tiptronic shifting function and steering wheel mounted shift paddles as standard.

As tradition dictates, drive is sent to all four wheels via a Torsen torque sensing four-wheel drive system. Under normal conditions, 40% goes to the front wheels and the remaining 60% to the rear. Depending on prevailing grip, up to 70% of the engine’s reserves can now be sent to the front or up to 85% to the rear. A sport differential, which constantly varies the amount of drive to each of the rear wheels, is also available as an option.  

 

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What's it like?

To look at, somewhat disappointing. This latest S4 is more understated than ever. If you weren’t aware of the extent of the changes that have taken place beneath its spectacularly unexciting exterior, you could easily mistake it for a highly specified A4, which in essence is exactly what it is.

It’s a similar story inside, too. But that’s no bad thing – the quality of the interior fittings and overall attention to the detailing is quite superb. What’s more, the driving position, aided by a generous amount of steering wheel and seat adjustment, is easily tailored, making the S4 a pleasing place to be for longer journeys.   

The standard sport seats are fabulously supportive, the standard flat-bottom steering wheel a delight to hold and, with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit providing high definition instruments in one of three themes as well as the latest evolution of Audi MMI infotainment system placing an 8.3in screen in your light of sight and the very latest in internet connectivity, there’s also a pleasingly contemporary air to the driving environment, provided you’re prepared to pay for the more worthwhile options.

From the off, the S4’s turbocharged V6 offers plenty of low-end flexibility and its delivery is satisfyingly smooth. With an additional 45lb of torque arriving some 1530rpm earlier than before and a broader spread of ratios to exploit, there is near-to-instantaneous urge. At almost any revs and in almost any gear, the S4 surges forward with proper authority.  

The throttle response is both quick and reliable, allowing you to easily take advantage of empty spaces in traffic around town and fleeting overtaking opportunities out on the road. Throughout the rev range, there is an earnest but hardly entertaining exhaust note, which undergoes various changes in timbre as you near the 6500rpm cut-out, but sadly never really fulfils its aural potential in the way some rivals manage.   

For the most part, the torque converter touting automatic gearbox matches the high standards of the new engine, providing smooth and mostly rapid shifts, which goes some way to justifying the decision to axe the earlier dual clutch unit owing to its apparent inability to handle the added torque load provided by the new engine. With drive being doled out in a distinctly rearward bias, traction is rarely if ever an issue in everyday driving conditions.   

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When the conditions allows, the pace is predictably rapid. Audi claims 0-62mph in 4.7sec, which is 0.3sec faster than the old model. It is also 0.2sec inside the time Mercedes-AMG claims for the C43 4Matic and 0.4sec better than a BMW 340i auto.

It’s the in-gear qualities of the new driveline that really impress, though. And with outstanding longitudinally stability, the new Audi continues its reputation as an excellent long-distance proposition. Reflecting its German roots, it feels right at home in the fast lane of an autobahn, where it can confidently be run to its limited 155mph top speed.  

Sadly, though, the S4 is no more involving than its lesser A4 siblings on more testing back roads. There is undeniable directness to the electro-mechanical steering and the Drive Select system allows you to tailor it to suit the conditions by offering quite a broad range between the Dynamic and Comfort settings. But despite the various tweaks brought to the suspension, including a 23mm reduction in right height and the fitment of optional 19in wheels shod with 245/35 on our test car, it lacks for meaningful interaction. It’s not clinical in the way some earlier S4 models were, but neither is it truly communicative.

The S4’s ride leaves a little to be desired, too. The reworked chassis does an admirable job of isolating road noise and manages to rein in excess roll quite well when you arrive in a corner a little too quickly. However, the reduction in ride height robs it of crucial wheel travel, particularly up front. This leads to sharp vertical movements when the road is not absolutely smooth, even when the Drive Select system is switched to Comfort.  

 

Should I buy one?

There are many convincing facets to the new S4 that will undoubtedly tempt a lot of prospective buyers when sales begin in August. But while it manages impress with its speed, unflustered mile eating qualities, understated style, superb cabin, all round accommodation, impressive refinement and outstanding quality, the overall driving experience lacks that vital interaction.

We very much admire the sheer depth of engineering that is part-and-parcel of its appeal. In terms of point-to-point speed it is very impressive. However, when pushed along in earnest on challenging roads the new Audi ultimately fails to fully engage the driver in a way a car with supposedly sporting pretensions should.  

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The BMW 340i and Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic are both more engaging for similar money. That’s not to suggest they would provide a better ownership prospect, although it’s safe to say they would be more fun in the long run. 

Audi S4                  

Location Germany; On sale August 2016; Price tbc; Engine V6, 2995cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 349bhp at 5400rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1370rpm; Gearbox eight-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1630kg; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph limited; Economy 38.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 166g/km, 30%

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Comments
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jer 13 June 2016

The 340i

Is obtainable for so much less money for 99% of the bags for yer buck. The AMG Merc, UK prices yet? seems more characterful the Jaguar the best chassis but drinks fuel. Regardless Audi will sell on its enduring qualities - Interior etc.
dickieb 11 June 2016

A4

What a beauty. Real head turner this one...
Jimbbobw1977 8 June 2016

I didn't just read a 4* car

I didn't just read a 4* car review I read a review of an average car of 3* perhaps?

Having had a sit in and poke around the new A4 is the quality really all that? The doors actually sounded fairly tinny on closing. In the Avant the plastic handle on the load cover snapped off in my hand.

Ektor 8 June 2016

Jimbbobw1977 wrote: I didn't

Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

I didn't just read a 4* car review I read a review of an average car of 3* perhaps?

Having had a sit in and poke around the new A4 is the quality really all that? The doors actually sounded fairly tinny on closing. In the Avant the plastic handle on the load cover snapped off in my hand.

Agreed. Stars seem to be given very generously to the three German premiums plus JLR (and Porsche too, but they truly deserve it), while the rest not even close. Be a bit more demanding, please, four stars have become the new three

tlb 9 June 2016

Jimbbobw1977 wrote: I didn't

Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

I didn't just read a 4* car review I read a review of an average car of 3* perhaps?

Having had a sit in and poke around the new A4 is the quality really all that? The doors actually sounded fairly tinny on closing. In the Avant the plastic handle on the load cover snapped off in my hand.

Well this is a review of the S4 not the A4 so have you had a poke around (or better a drive) in that? All of the German models in this sector are very decent cars IMO - I'd say the BMW has the edge overall as the handling is that little bit better - but this, and the faster petrol Merc are a very compelling offering. Maybe you just need to recalibrate your star assessment - remember the ridiculous Evoque Cabriolet got 3* - so by that benchmark every other vehicle on the road should exceed that.