The S ‘range’ obviously sits above the more docile cars on which they are based, but below Audi’s RS machines - their premiere performance brand. In this case, the S4 straddles the gap between the A4 and RS4.
In many ways, its placement as this middle child has allowed the Ingolstadt engineers to exercise choice and restraint, endowing it with best of both dichotomies. It has probably eight-tenths of the RS4’s performance potential while still looking nearly as understated and and law-abiding as the standard A4.
Business in front, party at the back? This, then, could be the mullet of Ingolstadt - if mullets looked this good. On the face of it, a lot of people still do mistake it for slightly dressed up A4. There are now more of those cues that allude to its sportier nature over its predecessor, the B8-based S4, but is still the ‘sleeper’ that enthusiasts have come to associate it as.
It offers practicality and speed, wrapped up in the kind of rock solid build quality and elegant design that Audis are known for. As a package, then, this should be very compelling car indeed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the market to itself.
The S4’s main rivals are formidable, the BMW 340i, Mercedes-AMG C 43, and the newer Jaguar XE S are all faster versions of the compact executive sedans they stem from, all have turbocharged 6-cylinder engines, and they all take a stab at a subtly aggressive exterior.
In Australia, the S4 is available as a single spec car, with the choice of either the four-door saloon or wagon (Avant) body style, both with high levels of trim and standard equipment. All units are powered by a new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine that gives it proper pace and improved effiency, reined in by Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel drive system for masses of traction even in trickier conditions.
“People will look, but they won’t stop and gawk, which is what the four-generation old S4 has always been about. - CarAdvice
There’s not a lot that can be said about the new (B9) S4 exterior that hasn’t already been said, really. It is without a doubt a good looking car in the same way that the previous generation B8 S4 was, with a lot of that being down to how little the car’s overall proportions have changed.
As aesthetically pleasing as it might be objectively, the overly familiar undertone of the entire Audi range now relative to the previous generation tempers the appeal of the S4. It’s a nitpick, but it doesn’t look as special as it could.
In fact, telling the new S4 apart from the old one - or for that matter a new A4 from the previous car - can be tough, but the changes are present and indeed appreciated by the Audi or engineering connoisseur. Details like the pronounced crease that run along car’s hip line and blends seamlessly into the car’s bonnet gap are both a showcase of clever construction as it is a commitment to exacting taste.
Elsewhere, the car takes an evolutionary step in the definitive sense of the word. The A4’s more angular design gives the S4 an inherently more aggressive persona. Matched with the 18-inch wheels, lowered stance, all-round body kit, revised front and rear bumper, and the tiny ‘V6T’ side badging, the S4 does look like it means business - though it refrains from shouting about it to the degree that the RS4 might.
Engine and Drivetrain
“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.” - Autocar
Boasting 3.0-litres, 6-cylinders, and a 90-degree V configuration, this might seem like a carry over from the previous B8-generation S4, but this is in fact a wholly new engine co-developed by Audi and Porsche.
You’ll soon see it in many other - presumably higher-performance - applications within the Volkswagen Group. Here, though, in the S4, marks one of its first appearances. Now turbocharged over supercharged, the new TFSI V6 produces 260kW and 500Nm that’s delivered as early as 1,370rpm.
By numbers alone, it shadows the older motor by every margin, even able to deliver improved fuel consumption and fewer emissions. As before, this sole motor will be driven through Audi’s all-wheel drive system before reaching the wheels, but managing that output will be an 8-speed automatic transmission - another noteworthy change over the prior S4’s dual-clutch S Tronic.
The switch to a torque converter is one of pragmatism, though, as its smoother in slower speeds and more reliable over the long term while offering comparable shift times. When the throttle is buried, 100km/h arrives in 4.7 seconds, very much within purpose-built sports car territory.
“…plenty of leather (both real and man-made), with some extra zing in the form of carbon and aluminium bits. It's as roomy and comfortable as the standard car and looks just as good. It's a fine interior, the best in its class.” - CarsGuide
As was noted in with B9-generation Audi A4 upon which this is based, the car offers an almost unparalleled interior build quality. In the S4, however, it’s expectedly peppered with sportier accents, red stitching, and a plethora of ’S’ badging, but is nonetheless feels like it’s been carved from stone.
The modern no-nonsense layout and nearly full-width air conditioning vent takes an almost brutalist approach to automotive interior design, but it’s a purposeful look for a feature that is actually useful - getting a larger volume of air into the cabin without sending a hurricane up your nostril.
The leather seats do a good job of holding you in place during hard driving, but some extra yield for the sake of comfort would have been appreciated. The optional S Performance Pack will add seats with a massage function and dynamic side bolstering - both features adding weight, ironically.
The hard-ish leather seats don’t really do the rear passengers any favours either, but at least they’ll have plenty of space to spread out with head and legroom to spare. A middle passenger won’t be comfortable over a long journey, though, and will have to intrude on foot space because of that intrusive centre tunnel hump.
At the rear, the S4 sedan’s boot measures 480-litres in volumetric capacity, which is on par with the other premium sedans out there like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Folding the seats will naturally free up more room, 965-litres to be exact. Choosing the Avant body style makes the S4 even more of a practical family barnstormer, able to hold 505- and 1,510-litres or cargo respectively.
Behind The Wheel
“The chassis is clearly very well sorted, the balance with the sport diff is adjustable and not relentlessly understeery, but the weight savings advertised don’t really make themselves felt.” - EVO
The standard A4’s handling is good, but when compared for driver engagement compared to the likes of the BMW 3 Series, the Audi can feel a little inert. That should all change with the S4. After all, it’s still got a feisty six-cylinder engine, sportier suspension components (doubly so if the optional adaptive dampers are selected), and the quattro all-wheel drive system.
What isn’t in doubt here is how quick and capable this car is in transporting you quickly point to point, and depending on which Drive Select mode is chosen, in relative comfort too. There’s a seemingly unending supply of grip from the superb power distribution, but again the Audi just feels a little disconnected than rivals from the equivalent 3 Series and C-Class.
Unless road going thrills only come to you from lateral g-forces and cornering speed, you’ll have a wide grin when driving the S4. But once the novelty of unyielding rubber and ruthless efficiency of stringing corner after corner, one might miss the more slithery nature of the rear-wheel drive alternatives.
The steering is direct and linear but doesn’t give back much feedback to form much of a connection with the hands turning it. The chassis, meanwhile, handles corner compression ably while not overly so to induce undue amounts of body roll. Capable, even professional in how it dispatches its performance, if lacking in sheer involvement.
The new automatic transmission does greatly improve the slow speed driving experience too, an area where the S4 does very well now in addition to being a talented and hushed high speed cruise missile.
Safety and Technology
“Playing with the displays and infotainment systems was simple and fast and, importantly, intuitive. The centre screen has great clarity in sat-nav mode, with the Google influence a welcome addition.” - Drive.com.au
Regardless of whether the Sedan or Avant body style is chosen, the S4 carries over the B9-generation A4’s five-star ANCAP safety rating. A total of 8 airbags are standard, along with a suite of active safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, 360-degree camera, active lane assist and adaptive cruise control.
Additionally, Audi’s Collision Assist can also detect an imminent collision and, should it determine that hard braking wouldn’t alleviate the treat, it can make steering changes to avoid the obstacle.
In many regards, comparing the S4 to the likes of the BMW 340i or Mercedes-AMG C 43 isn’t really fair as the Ingolstadt automaker always had a slightly different take to the premium executive saloon, characterised by attributes such as granite-like build quality and highly exacting levels of engineering.
Through that lens, then, this newest S4 continues to be exactly the faster, higher performance A4 that it was always meant to be, dry or wet, getting close to but not quite crossing that threshold into the RS4’s domain of being a full-on emotive sports saloon/wagon. Considering just how consummately talented the all-new A4 is, the S4 expands upon the more performative aspects to enhance (but not necessarily transform) the base car.
EVO - 4/5 - “S4 suggests a huge amount of potential within the new A4 chassis…but the overall experience is perhaps too retrained for its own good.”
Autocar - 3.5/5 - “…the S4 is a perfectly usable and pretty comfortable saloon car that just happens to be exceedingly capable at crossing country rapidly without it or the driver breaking a sweat.”
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “Audi S4 does everything it ought to do brilliantly. It's comfortable yet quick, understated yet handsome, and brimming with an impressive array of technology. There are few finer ways to drop a little over $100k”
Drive.com.au - “Overall, the S4 is lively enough to satisfy enthusiast drivers while it's also big enough (rear knee room is fine for adults) and generously kitted to meet premium-buyer expectations.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “The new S4 is lighter, slightly faster and more technologically advanced than its predecessor, while bringing the A4's charms to the go-faster part of the executive sedan segment. This one will rattle a few cages.”
Top Gear - 7/10 - “Fast, capable, lovely interior. But somehow loses the ’S’ edge that we used to like so much - feels like a very fast lesser model, rather than RS lite.”