Audi A4 Avant S4 S-tronic

May 2009

picture of car from the front

Discreet badges signal the S4's performance

Ratings

Overall Rating 8Overall rating

Value for money Rating 7Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 7Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 7Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 9Controls and display

Comfort Rating 7Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 8Car safety


Likes

  • Flexible engine is responsive and sounds good
  • Suspension strikes an excellent compromise between ride and handling
  • Interior is smart and well constructed
  • Seats offer a high degree of support

Gripes

  • Upgraded Drive select system needed for optimum performance
  • Steering can feel over-assisted at times
  • Looks only subtly different to standard car
  • Insurance costs remain high

Having already introduced a new A4 range to critical acclaim, Audi is filling in the gaps with the introduction of the S4. With increased performance, optimised ride and handling and the kind of visual muscle expected from the German manufacturer, the S4 also promises better emissions and reduced fuel consumption to boot.

From the outside the S4 is a clear step above lesser A4 models. At the front it gets piercing LED headlamps and a deep front bumper, with a pair of large air intakes at either side. Large alloy wheels are standard, with a lower ride height to match, and discreet badges make it clear that the S4 is a different machine.

Mechanical changes are centred around the engine. The 4.2-litre V8 of the outgoing model has been replaced by a supercharged V6 of 3.0-litre capacity. Despite the significant change in capacity, the new engine delivers almost identical outputs, but is considerably more efficient in doing so. Audi claims improvements of more than 30 per cent in both economy and emissions.

This is transmitted to the road via a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and into the Quattro four-wheel drive system. In this installation the four-wheel drive system is split in a ratio of 40/60 front to rear. In addition, the optional Drive Select system allows the driver to alter steering ratio, throttle response, damper settings and gearshift points (with the dual-clutch gearbox). A further additional option includes a sports rear differential for tailored driving characteristics.

Inside the S4 gets stylish and supportive electric sports seats, three-zone climate control, and an enhanced stereo system which increases the sense of luxury and sportiness in the cabin. In Avant guise as tested here, there are additional features such as an integrated dog guard and a roof-mounted rear spoiler.

Our verdict on the Audi A4 Avant S4 S-tronic

The S4 manages the remarkable feat of being more fun to drive than its predecessor yet also has better economy and reduced emissions. Whilst still requiring a fair financial commitment to purchase and run, the S4 is a useable performance car that can entertain and comfort in equal measures. Getting the best from it may require careful selections from the options list, but as a car for all seasons it is more than capable.

Costs
Costs rating 7

Audi has worked hard to make the S4 more viable in terms of running costs, and the comparatively low emissions and fuel consumption do help to reduce costs. It can't do much to lower the insurance grouping however, and it will always be more expensive than a regular A4 to run.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 7

The S4, especially in Avant form, has a good amount of space for passengers both front and rear, with decent head and legroom. The boot is also well sized, and has lashing eyes, plus the option of a remote tailgate and a load securing system.

picture of car from the rear

Avant looks even better in S4 guise

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 9

The layout of the S4 is very good, with clearly labelled and easy to understand controls. The Multi Media Interface that operates vehicle, navigation and audio settings is also simple and intuitive, and the instrument graphics are clear and attractive.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 7

Despite the performance on offer, the S4 is almost as adept at providing good levels of comfort for passengers. The full (optional) Drive select package allows for suspension compliance over bumps and firmer settings when required, and although the ride is on the firm side, only the roughest of roads will cause a disturbance in the cabin. In addition, the sports seats fitted as standard in the front are very comfortable and supportive, with a large range of adjustment.

Car security
Security Rating 7

A Thatcham-approved alarm system is fitted as standard, and options such as tracking devices give the potential for a high level of security for a car this desirable.

Car safety
Safety Rating 8

The S4 has a very high standard of safety, with ABS, ESP and electronic brakeforce distribution as standard. LED headlights, a strong bodyshell, seat belt pretensioners on all seats and a full compliment of airbags provide reassurance should the worst happen.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 8

As a step up from the standard car, the S4 is easy to drive and far from intimidating. With the optional Drive Select system ordinary driving is simple thanks to the light steering and pedals. However, in the right conditions the S4 is equally adept at providing entertainment. The responsive V6 engine has plentiful torque and sounds good when extended. The brakes are strong and the dual-clutch S tronic gearbox allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Steering response is improved with Drive select in the right mode, but to truly benefit from the changes Audi has made, the full package is required. This then includes the adjustable differential, which in the right conditions reduces understeer and even allows oversteer, bringing a level of adjustability not seen in anything other than the R8 supercar.

picture of car interior

High quality interior is comfortable too

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 8

The S4 would make a very usable family car, with good space for passengers and luggage. It also has the refinement and comfort levels for long distance journeys without disturbing its occupants. Although it would suffer a little when fully loaded, it also offers economy sufficient to be used every day.

First car appeal
First car Rating 4

Although the S4 requires no extra effort to drive, the amount of performance on offer and the expense of purchasing and running it would make it impractical for all but the most well-heeled first time car buyers.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 7

Unquestionably the S4 sets a high standard of quality. The understated interior and exterior design plus the use of excellent materials inside and out gives the overwhelming impression that it is a quality product. The S4 builds on the image of the already desirable A4 with the S badge, which has become synonymous with high levels of performance. In a sector where image is crucial, the S4 is not lacking.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

With no compromises in terms of the body shape, getting into the S4 is barely more challenging than in the regular car. The boot aperture is also wide and uncluttered, with the option of automatic boot opening for even easier access.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The S4 is fitted with good quality sound system as standard, which comprises of a single slot CD player and tuner, with an SD card reader and auxiliary socket. The sound quality is very good, and there are numerous upgrade options too.

picture of car in detail

Flexible turbocharged engine is cleaner than before

Colours and trim

Inside the S4 impresses with its design. Although much of the interior is dark greys and blacks, there are lighter options, and the addition of flashes of chrome and silver trim plus the red illumination of the instruments and displays prevent it from feeling too dark. Leather trim as standard plus the use of smart plastics means high quality trim is used throughout the interior.

Parking

Good front and rear vision allied to light controls make it an easy car to park. The wide alloy wheels would be easy to kerb however, so caution is required when parallel parking. Optional parking sensors are available, including a system with a rear-view camera.

Spare wheel

Space saver fitted as standard beneath the boot floor.

 

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.8-litre (118bhp and 158bhp); 2.0-litre (200bhp); 3.0-litre (333bhp); 3.2-litre (261bhp). Diesel engine options - 2.0-litre (120bhp and 141bhp); 2.7-litre (187bhp); 3.0-litre (237bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, eight-speed Multitronic clutchless manual gearbox with a switchable fully auto mode and paddle shift, Quattro all-wheel drive on 3.0-litre, 3.2-litre petrols and 3.0-litre diesel models. Trim levels: SE, S Line, Executive S Line, S4.

 

Alternative cars

BMW 3 Series Excellent all-rounder with even more sporting feel

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Composed and comfortable, good-looking too

Lexus IS Understated and capable, no estate version available

Jaguar X-Type Pretty in estate form but no proper sporting model



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May 2009