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Road Test: Audi S4 manual

2010-01-15 12:46
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Audi
Model S4
Engine 3l TFSI supercharged
Power 245kW @ 5 500-7 000r/min
Torque 440Nm @ 2 900-5 300r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 5.1 sec
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 64l
Fuel Consumption 10.9l/100km
Weight 1 650kg
Boot Size 480l
ABS Yes, with ESP, EBD
Tyres 245/40 R18
Front Suspension Double-wishbone
Rear Suspension Independent-wheel, trapezoidal-link, anti-roll bar
Price R580 500

Lance Branquinho

Audi’s S4 range is the brand’s local performance sedan moniker with the longest standing.

During the early 1990s Audi’s original S4 galvanised Ingolstadt’s reputation as a manufacturer of high-performance four-door transport solutions.

Voldi, the local motorsport arm of VW/Audi, could even oblige with a good few additional kilowatts courtesy of a limited edition factory performance kit, something which caused E39 M5 owners to begrudgingly take notice of the C4 S4.

Remember this? The very first, very handsome, S4.

Although all five generations of S4 have been fast, fluid and effortless four-door performance cars, ever since the introduction of the RS4, the B7/8 S4s have been resigned to the positioned of perennial underachievers.

The lack of uniformity in terms of engine configuration (2.2l five-cylinder turbo, 2.7l V6 twin-turbo, 4.2l V8 and now 3l TFSI supercharged) has left the S4 vulnerable to acute criticism regarding a perceived lack of heritage, too…

It begs the question then; is S4 just something to be settled upon between RS4 model cycles? Is it preferable simply due to a lack of additional purchasing power (or patience) when the RS4’s pricing and availability put it beyond one’s means?

So, should you wait for the new RS4 or just buy the A4 3.2 FSI instead, studiously ignoring the presence of the latest S4 altogether? After testing the B8 S4, in tri-pedal six-speed format for a week, we think Audi’s perennial performance car also-ran has seriously sharpened up its Q-car credentials.

Subtle or styled?

Aside from the 18-inch five-blade alloy wheels and "V6 T" badging, the latest S4 is not easily recognisable as the current performance kingpin of the A4 range.

Beyond the usual B8 styling cues (a smattering of LED illumination strips and elongated proportions) the only notable S4 details are chromed side mirrors and resculptured bumpers. Around the rear there are quad exhausts residing in the bumper, which is framed around the bottom by a functional diffuser.

All things considered, it doesn’t look like something which runs low five second 0-100km/h sprint times, yet it’s well worth remembering this is a German four-door Q-car in the strictest tradition.

Those wishing for deep cut front spoilers, power dome bonnet curvatures and carbon-fibre insets will need to wait a little while longer as the B8 RS4 will surely cater to these styling fetishes. 

Supercharged Six

As befits either marketing or engineering directives (we’re not quite sure which) Audi has settled on the umpteenth engine configuration change for its S4. This time it’s a supercharged, direct-injection V6.

Essentially a tweaked version of the top-line V6 available in the current A6, this engine might not appease S4 purists (it features an undersquare internal architecture) yet the supercharging regime is thoroughly advanced and makes all the difference.

Power is boosted by 32kW over the A6 application to a neat BMW 335i power pack-rivaling 245kW. Rotational force peaks at 440Nm, courtesy of a Roots-type compressor (operating dual four-vane rotary pistons) which runs up to 23 000r/min.

If you’re a conventionally minded mechanical engineer I know what you are thinking. "Why a power sapping, mechanically driven compressor instead of gas-exchange driven twin-turbos, which are so fashionable currently?"

Well, Audi says the Eaton-supplied supercharger it is using in the S4, positioned between the slanted cylinder banks, guarantees boost is dispensed via the shortest (most efficient) possible routing.

Coupled with the engine’s direct-injection fueling regime, Audi engineers rate this is about as efficient (and clean) as things get for around 250kW from 3 litres worth of swept capacity. It certainly squares off quite confidently on paper against BMW’s 335i…

Another S4, another new engine configuration. Blown V6 runs nearly five seconds dead 0-100km/h and returns a touch over 10l/100km if driven sedately.

Active Sport Differential

As befits its "S" badging, the B8 S4 sports a quattro drivetrain. Audi’s most fabled design application is also agitated, by critics, as being its greatest weakness. For years now, rear-wheel drive acolytes have harped on about the lack of tactile purity concerning Audi’s front-axle turn-in responsiveness. I’ve never really been convinced though.

Does your life revolve around embarrassing the kids by grabbing a dollop of opposite lock around every traffic circle whilst chauffeuring them and a gaggle of friends to Tuesday movie night at the mall? Well, mine doesn't, so the "rear-wheel drive is sacrosanct" argument with respect to executive sedans is quite fallacious.

Most modern cars are set-up with a warning margin of controllable understeer when approaching the limit and this is hardly confined exclusively to front- and all-wheel drive configurations…

Sure, there is a modicum of steering purity and quickness to be extracted (via a commensurate level of driving skill) from the unhindered nature of a rear-wheel drive car’s front axle responsibilities – which are only burdened by steering. It remains a modicum though, almost unnoticeable anywhere beyond a racetrack.

Dual blade 18-inch wheels not to all tastes, yet they are the best compromise between style and ride comfort.

Audi’s answer to increased (or perceived?) rear-wheel drive "feel" at the limit has been the addition of a very neatly engineered new trick rear differential.

The Active Sports Differential features a superposition gear added to both the left and right sides of the classic open differential, rotating 10% faster than the wheel’s drive shaft.

If steering angle and throttle applications are too extreme and break traction on the inside wheel of the cornering line, the differential immediately applies power to the outside wheel – which naturally has better traction – and ensures optimal traction and drive out of the corner.

Audi claims the multidisk clutch and electro-hydraulic actuator that command the Active Sport Differential are able to vector nearly all input torque to either rear wheel in critical situations. Tremendous.

S4 is hugely quick, yet some of the best dynamics goodies (active rear diff, adaptive damping and dynamic steering) are options...

Does it work?

Tally up S4’s competitive engine output numbers, combined with a mandatory S-line 30mm ride-height reduction (factor in its clever rear differential too), and on paper it would appear dynamically validated.

Thankfully, the driving experience confirms all the promise of S4’s impressive suite of mechanical detailing. Although the engine is acoustically shy, it endows the 1.6t S4 with effortless pace, especially from low speeds. It might lack verve beyond 7 000r/min (unlike the RS4), yet S4 is awfully urgent between 3 000 and 6 000r/min.

Driving a right hand drive version of the S4 with a manual transmission again highlighted the unhappy pedal positioning and packaging issues in the footwell, thanks to the B8 range’s differential being positioned ahead of the clutch.

The trade-off for this uncomfortable state of affairs is properly weighted steering feel at the helm close to the limit. If you commit your mind to it, old-school throttle-tickling heel-and-toe downshifts are achievable with some agility on the driver’s behalf too… Shift quality is not quite in the BMW manual transmission league, though.

Beyond the fantastic pace, the quattro handling has genuinely benefited from the new rear differential dynamics. With those superposition gears actuated, it just turns in with a touch more swiftness, especially through faster sweeps, tucking in more faithfully to the line in your mind’s eye.

In the wet, or on substandard surfaces, the traction security powering out of corners is hugely reassuring – again proving the benevolent omnipotence of S4’s all-wheel drive safety net in real world conditions.

Cabin design still class-leading. Sports seats very comfy, yet R9 100 extra.


LED illumination treatment not quite the vogue statement it once was, yet S4 styling trinkets flesh out the A4 surfacing superbly.


Still a class leading blend of stylish architecture and quality, textured, surfaces. S4’s sports seats some of the best around, enabling secure seating for both wiry and wide passengers. Lack of a proper footrest and oddly shaped footwell are debit points.


Executive sedan sound deadening masks much of the drama, yet the new blower V6 engine is unwittingly quick in S4 trim. Trick rear diff extracts a sharpened dynamic edge from the quattro drive system


Although most comparisons will inevitably pit S4 against BMW’s 335i, it’s hardly an fair comparison. The S4 is a newer (and more expensive) car, and as such for the most part superior – as one would expect from its "S" lineage.

Fast, fluid and with a cocooning cabin environment, the S4 is an outstanding small executive performance sedan.

Sure, the styling hardly markets the drivetrain and engine’s performance potential, but, isn’t that exactly the way a proper Q-car should be?


Graceful Q-car styling
Involving quattro drivetrain
Effortlessly powerful TFSI engine
Brilliant cabin


We miss the previous one's V8 acoustic signature
Options list could clear your 13th cheque cushion
A proper left footrest would be nice


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