What is it?
If there’s any badge that signifies discreet all-weather performance, it’s the little ‘S’ found on the back of fast Audis like this new Audi S4. Whether on an Audi S1 or an S8, it guarantees a strong engine and Velcro-like traction wrapped in a package that will fly under the radar of all but the most hardened car nut.
One of the longest serving members of the S dynasty is the S4 saloon, which, apart from a brief dalliance with a bent-eight, has always stuck to the tried and tested recipe of a boosted engine up front, four-wheel drive and all but the smallest of visual nods to give away what it’s capable of.
The latest version ditches the supercharged six of its predecessor, replacing it with a single-turbo V6 that pushes out a healthy 349bhp and 368Ib ft of torque. That might be down on the Mercedes-AMG C 43 – arguably its closest rival – but it matches its 0-62mph time of 4.7sec.
As is usually the case, the aluminium-effect door mirrors and quad exhaust pipes are the easiest ways to spot an S4. Inside, you get electrically adjustable Nappa leather sports seats, plenty of S badging and Navigation Plus.
What's it like?
It might not look that different to an S line-equipped diesel A4 on the outside, but you certainly know you’re in an S4 when the V6 fires with a flourish. Slipping the eight-speed torque converter auto into drive reveals a 'box that’s noticeably smoother than the dual-clutch unit in most other A4s.
Continue to drive conservatively and the motor settles into the background, emitting the faintest of six-pot growls as you cruise down the road. Our test car had adaptive dampers that, even in Comfort mode, still had a firm edge, albeit one that very rarely became crashy. Even then, we’d blame the optional 19in wheels and particularly vicious potholes for this.
More of a concern is steering (the standard setup rather than the optional £950 Dynamic Steering variable ratio rack) that's far too light in comfort mode. Things do improve in auto, but while it tracks straight and feels precise, it's still decidedly numb.
But so far we’ve only played with the more boring drive modes, what if you flick it to Dynamic mode? The first thing you notice is the noise; faint growl turns into howl that builds deliciously as the revs rise. To these ears, it’s one of the best sounding turbo sixes at (relatively) sane money.
It’s fast, too. The ‘box is capable of rapid gearchanges when asked, and the V6 feels muscular, pulling strongly from low rpm yet happy to rev out should the mood take you.