Audi S4 Avant: the best non-RS Audi on sale today?

Published: 29 April 2009

I think I’ve stumbled upon the best Audi on sale today. Just back from a week away in a brand new Audi S4 Avant, the new-for-2009 one with the supercharged V6 where once nestled a big old V8 lump. And it’s brilliant. Those of you following CAR Magazine’s Twitter feed will have already read me microblogging on why I believe the S4 could be the best Audi you can buy. Well, one not bearing the increasingly valued R badges, anyway.

Here’s why. We needed something with plenty of storage space for a family trip, so the Avant practicality worked well. It’s nowhere near as roomy as our old A6 Allroad Avant long-termer, but the boot is reasonably sized at 490 litres and (more importantly) a good square shape. We whipped out the luggage cover, dog guard and Audi’s aircraft-style lashing equipment (all beautifully engineered gadgets – but they take up half the boot space!) and instead stuffed buggies, a pair of travel cots and more bags than you could shake a stick at. I’m sure I saw the wife smuggle the kitchen sink in there somewhere.

We needed something comfy. This was a family holiday, not a dirty weekend away. Audis of late haven’t had a great reputation for ride quality, but the S4 genuinely surprised with brilliant dispatch of the vagaries of rural British tarmac. As usual, with adaptive dampers they worked best in Auto mode rather than Comfort or Dynamic.

It was comfy in other ways too. Those chunky leather sports seats supported and held, the build quality exuded the usual Audi solidity that makes every prod of switch and pull of stalk a pleasure. And our S4 was bristling with options, including a double-length sunroof that bathed both rows in natural light.

Ok, ok, so the Audi S4 is practical. But it’s an S car! Is it fun too?

You bet. It was the surprising blend of the sensible with the sporty that most impressed me. The seven-speed S tronic box was a case in point. It really suits the S4, wafting us around Norfolk for 90% of the week in slusher mode, then pinging us up and down the ratios with a guillotine-style instant chop up or down the ‘box when we wanted to play.

And that new supercharged V6 is a hell of an engine. You rarely notice it’s supercharged, so subtly does it deliver its 329bhp and 324lb ft. And even fully loaded, the 3.0-litre is capable of warp speeds. It might not feel as fast, but I don’t doubt the S4 will hit 62mph in the claimed 5.4sec.

You hold one of the best Audi steering wheels, a chunky leather affair – and the S4 is pretty nimble on its feet for a 1705kg estate. I’m still getting used to the steering on every A4: it’s dartier than before, but the way it weights up off centre still feels a little artificial.

Practical, fun… where’s the catch?

Was the new Audi S4 Avant perfect? Get real. I might have really fallen for the S4, but there were some flaws. I’m not a fan of the optional auto-lift tailgate (we recently tested a Merc C-class whose system had failed and I just prefer a good old-fashioned fifth door) and our economy was a rather poor 21.5mpg over 791 miles of holiday and a separate work trip abroad.

That’s AA style standards of consumption and makes us question the switch to a supposedly more economical V6 in place of the wonderfully burbling V8. (Interestingly, assistant ed Chris Chilton’s 5.0-litre V8 Lexus IS-F is averaging 24mpg). In Audi’s defence, our car felt tight with only a few hundred miles on the clock and the road testers had driven some high-speed miles abroad.

But I could forgive these foibles for such a great all-rounder. The S4 proves again that you can find cars that cater for the sporting soul and the siblings. Maybe I’m at that stage of life, but I increasingly find appeal in such jacks of all trades.

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By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet