Can Audi’s top-spec A4 Sedan seamlessly blend comfort and performance? We evaluate the Audi S4 Quattro Tiptronic...
The influx of SUVs and crossovers across many segments has meant that the sedan hasn’t had it easy. You only have to look at the steady decline in notchback sales of late to appreciate just how much the automotive playing field has changed. However, it takes only a couple of drives, or, in our case, two weeks, to appreciate the fun to be had behind the wheel of a well-fettled sports sedan.
As Audi’s upcoming RS4 will be available only as an Avant (station wagon) model, the S4 Quattro will likely be the sportiest A4 sedan for the foreseeable future. At its heart beats a 3,0-litre, V6 engine that’s shared with the Audi S5, as well as Porsche’s Cayenne and Panamera. In the S4, it delivers 260 kW and 500 N.m, which, incidentally, is more than it makes in the Porsches.
Among the features lending the S4 a sportier look than its standard siblings are small side skirts, a thin boot lid spoiler, four exhaust outlets and larger wheels. The overall effect gives the S4 much more presence but without drawing too much attention to itself.
A number of options were also fitted to our test unit. These included Matrix LED headlights (R9 900), red brake callipers (R4 600) and the Audi Exclusive titanium black styling package (R8 100). While the necessity of these options can be rightly debated, potential worthwhile additions include Virtual Cockpit (R7 700) and MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch (R27 000). The latter is especially useful if you want to experience the latest in in-car technology.
Climb aboard and the cabin exudes the high level of perceived quality that we have come to expect from Audi. It certainly feels like an R800 000 car, something which can’t be said of all its competitors. The S sport front seats (optional at R13 900) are comfortable, supportive and luxurious owing to the prominent cross-stitching on their panels. Space in the rear quarters is also good, with one 1,87-metre member of our team able to comfortably sit behind his ideal driving position.
Keep Audi’s Drive Select programme in the comfort setting and the exhaust note is also kept under control; perfect for everyday driving. Fortunately, Drive Select also has a dynamic option that lends the exhaust system a sportier sound, stiffens the suspension and makes the throttle pedal more sensitive. These settings sit alongside efficiency, auto and individual presets.
Equipped with Audi’s Quattro drivetrain, the S4 inspires a sense of confidence that a rear-wheel-drive car simply cannot replicate. Those high grip levels mean you can lean a bit more on the throttle through corners. With all four wheels putting the torque down to the tarmac, the S4 remains absolutely stable when pressing on. The engine spools up freely throughout the rev range, swinging the needle (on the digital display) to a 6 500 r/min redline at a satisfying lick.
Although this model is not equipped with the company’s dual-clutch transmission, the gearshifts served up by the eight-speed torque-converter ‘box are still fluently quick. It’s only when you push the throttle pedal to the stop to initiate redline upshifts that you realise the transmission is marginally slower compared with a dual-clutch system.
Entertaining as it is, the dynamic mode often sees the suspension caught out on sharp road imperfections. Thankfully, comfort mode does a good job of settling the ride. On our test strip, the Audi hit 100 km/h in a scorching 4,98 seconds, and that was without the fitment of launch control. On the other hand, you can select efficiency mode, let the transmission select neutral every time you coast and watch as the fuel consumption tumbles. Even more impressive were the braking times. An average of 2,64 seconds and a best time of 2,55 are numbers we usually associate with serious performance cars.
At a time when there are 450 kW sedans in the market, the S4 is comparatively off the pace. But, then again, those vehicles are double the price. Day to day, the S4 is quick, effortless and grippy should the surface turn slippery, making it satisfying in cut-and-thrust motoring; more so than its direct rivals.
However — and this is crucial — a fast sedan should also entertain its driver when the road ahead clears before snaking up a mountain pass. And that is where the case for the S4 falls slightly flat. Where a 340i thrills with its balanced chassis setup and the brawny C43 continually entices you to push harder, the S4's softly-softly approach is a touch too subtle. As a commuter vehicle, however, few cars below a million can touch it.
*From the March 2018 issue of CAR magazine
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