The new Audi S4 is either Ingolstadt’s idea of a bad joke or a stroke of genius. If you follow the former line of thought, then you’re from the camp that thinks the economy has jumped off a cliff, gone into freefall and the last thing the world needs is a grunty super-saloon.
But if you side with the latter then Audi’s timing with the S4 couldn’t be more apt – the company has replaced its old 4.2-litre V8 with a new, smaller, supercharged V6. This car is potentially very in tune with these downsizing times.
And while the headline power figures might be down, they still surpass the equivalent Mercedes or BMW. The torque figure also bests both (and the old S4), while mpg figures are 26 percent better that before. The new S4 will even cost a few grand less than its predecessor. Time to find out if the drive is as good as the stats...
Start me off with the Audi S4’s new engine – any good?
The big V8 lump from the old car has been dumped, and in comes the direct-injection 2995cc supercharged V6 from the recently revised A6. Only here the 3.0-litre gets a tweak to lift power from 286 to 329bhp, while torque is up from 310 to 325lb ft.
Compared to the old S4’s 344bhp, you might be disappointed that the power figure is down, but then the new car has more torque (versus the old car's 302lb ft) spread across 2900-5300rpm, rather than peaking at 3500rpm. And the new S4 weighs 10kg less, too.
However, this engine doesn’t scream and shout about its power – even Audi’s own PR team admit the S4 is a bit of a whisperer. Personally we’d prefer a more exciting base tune, some more supercharged whine and something to tell us about the top-end fury. Because unlike other blown engines, this S4’s 3.0-litre keeps on going right up the rev range.
That muted sound actually serves to make the S4 seem even quicker than it already is. Tickle the throttle and you’re away – speed is effortless, responses are immediate. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dismissed in 5.1 seconds, half a second quicker than the old car, while 50-75mph in fourth gear takes a mere 4.4 seconds.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Audi S4 first drive test review
Is there some trick gearbox to go with the new Audi S4's fancy engine?
A six-speed manual 'box is standard, but some extra cash will buy you the seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic. The latter offers two modes (Drive and Sport), paddles behind the wheel to change gear, and a fuel economy improvement, upping the figure from 29.1 to 30mpg – that’s 27 percent better than the old S4.
However, the extra gear in the seven-speed ‘box means an extra change is needed to reach 62mph, dropping the benchmark sprint time to 5.3 seconds. The S-tronic box has seamless shifts, without interruption to the torque delivery. It never ceases to amaze.
The only pity about enjoying all this performance is that after 300 miles, we returned the S4 with 17.7mpg on the trip computer, balding Bridgestones and 18-inch wheels caked in brake dust. Still, more sedate everyday driving might bring that claimed 30mpg average figure within reach.
Quattro, I presume, is standard on the new S4?
But of course, with the latest 40:60 front:rear torque split – just make sure you spec the optional sport differential to get the best out of the new S4. It works like the system in BMW's X6, distributing torque between the rear wheels.
But unlike BMW’s trick diff, Audi’s fancy system works under a trailing throttle. So, turn into a corner and torque is sent so the outside rear wheel, reducing understeer, or – if you’re reaching the limit of adhesion – twist action goes to the wheel nearest the apex.
Response times are less than 100 milliseconds and the result is not just more or less understeer, but a nose that turns in and a rear that tracks to match. You can even four-wheel drift if you want, but those who fancy the BMW 335i still might find the S4 a little boring. However, pick a section of twisting Tarmac and the Audi might well be faster than the BMW.
Click 'Next' below to read our first drive test review verdict on the Audi S4
Are the S4's looks too understated?
Of course this is a subjective answer, but while the R8 or blistered-wheelarch RS6 shout money, the S4 is indeed understated, looking no more impressive than a regular A4 adorned with the S-line bodykit.
But the result is a socially acceptable super-saloon, even in the bright red of our test car. Somehow silver wing mirrors, quad exhaust pipes and 18-inch wheels just don't seem too aggressive while the interior is equally restrained, but always cosseting and classy.
Match the S4 up against an M3 or C63 and it won’t come out on top. But then these cars aren’t rivals – better to face the S4 off against the 335i and C350. If you do, you’ll find an Audi that’s quicker point-to-point.
But the beauty of the new S4 is in its understated looks – this is a real Q-car, and a bloody quick one too. Some potential customers may actually find it too unassuming, but we rather like it.
Would you take an Audi S4 over the BMW 335i or Merc C350? Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say