2017 Audi S4 Review
Isaac Bober’s first drive 2017 Audi S4 Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The performance-oriented member of the A4 family gets an angry engine and loads of standard kit… and it’s a hoot to drive.
2017 Audi S4
Pricing From $99,900+ORC Warranty three-years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 15,000km, or 12 months Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 Power 260kW at 5400-6400rpm Torque 500Nm at 1370-4500rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Drive quattro all-wheel drive Dimensions 4745mm (L); 1842mm (W); 1404mm (H) Weight – Kerb 1630kg Weight – Gross 2200kg Towing 1900kg braked Spare space saver Fuel Tank 58 litres Thirst 7.7-7.8L/100km (combined)
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WHILE USUALLY OVERSHADOWED by itsRS siblings, Audi’s S models have always been considered special. Pick any model line where there’s an S and you can easily argue it’s the thinking person’s performance car… it doesn’t shout about its ability like an RS. And that theme continues, thankfully, with the new Audi S4 which is available in both Sedan and Avant (Audi-speak for wagon).
What is it?
The Audi S4 was expected to arrive here at the end of last year, but I can tell you right now, the wait has been worth it. This car is the latest in a long and illustrious line of A4-derived performance cars with the S moniker first used on the Audi Sport quattro S1 which won the World Rally Championship in 1985.The first S4 arrived in 1997, another in 2003, 2005, 2009 and now.
Both the S4 Sedan and Avant sit at the top of the A4 tree with prices starting at $99,900+ORC for the Sedan and $102,900+ORC for the Avant.
There are only two cost-optional packages for the S4 and these are the Teknik Package at $5600 which includes Matrix LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, Bang & Olufsen sound system, and heads-up display. The S Performance Package costs $5900 and includes S sport seats with diamond pattern stitching, pneumatic lumbar support with massage function and red brake callipers. You can also buy a quattro sport differential for $2950 and metallic paint costs $1846.
What’s the interior like?
Audi has long been held up as a benchmark in interior design and the inside of the S4 doesn’t disappoint. Instead of the in-yo-face garnish of some other car makers, Audi’s S4 offers a restrained hand with an eye for detail.
The materials are amongst the best you’ll find on any car, including Bentleys, and dashboard layout incredibly practical and a cinch to feel at home with in just a few minutes. But it’s the virtual cockpit display that is the stand-out in this car and every other Audi it’s fitted to.
The 12.3-inch high-resolution display offers a range of views (three), from traditional-looking analogue-esque speedo and tachometer dials, to a special S screen that places the tacho with digital speed display in the middle of the screen and pushes other information out to the edges. There’s a View button on the steering wheel that you press to scroll through the various displays.
There’s an 8.3-inch infotainment screen in the centre of the dash, which looks like it probably should retract into the dash when the car is switched off but it doesn’t. Unlike previous generation Audi MMI units, this one is touch sensitive as well as being able to be controlled via a rotary dial down next to the gear shifter. There are shortcut and favourites buttons next to the dial too.
The MMI unit in the S4 offers online connectivity meaning the car can be used as an internet hotspot (if you subscribe to the service and pay extra). It also offers Apple Car Play and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, but so good is the native infotainment system you probably wouldn’t bother.
Our test car was fitted with the S Performance Package and so had the sport seats with massage function (which I did try) and the neat pneumatic lateral support (which I did try). The seat’s side bolsters inflate to give you a gentle hug that helps to keep you firmly in place when cornering. And despite these being well bolstered sports seats, getting in and out isn’t difficult at all. Quite often, in sport seat toting performance sedans, you find yourself having to lift up and over the side bolstering in the seat to avoid anything, ahem, uncomfortable…
Our drive went from Bathurst in the Central West of NSW to Canberra via some epic country back roads. So, if any drive was going to show up deficiencies in the seat’s ability to be both supportive and comfortable in twists and turns and across long distances then this would have been it. But the S4 passed with flying colours and my legs and back felt as fresh in the afternoon as they had done that morning.
I didn’t get a chance to travel in the back of the S4, but I did climb in and have a poke around. The two outboard seats are the most comfortable for adults, although the middle seat is both broad and well-shaped so that you could travel there in a pinch. There’s no foot room ahead of you, in the middle, as the centre console robs space in the back, but the foot-wells on either side are big enough to allow room to share.
There are air vents for the back seat a USB and 12V outlet for charging devices. Back in the front there are two USB outlets in the centre console as well as a 12V outlet, so, those with multiple smart devices are well taken care of. You can also opt for a ‘phone box’ that offers inductive charging.
Over in the boot, and the S4 Sedan offers 480 litres of storage space, the opening is nice and wide and there’s only a low lip to make loading and unloading easy. The rear seats don’t fold down and there’s no through loading. The S4 Avant is the more practical of the two, as you would imagine. It offers 505 litres of space with the back seats in place, which grows to 1510 litres with the back seats folded down. Those back seats are 60:40 split, but you can cost-option a 40:20:40 split with levers in the boot to make dropping the seats easy. Like other A4 models, the S4 Avant offers a powered tailgate and you need only kick under the rear bumper to get the boot to either open or close.
What’s it like on the road?
The 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 that nestles under the shapely bonnet has been re-worked from the ground up (and is 14kg lighter, now weighing 172kg) with an extra 15kW and 60Nm of torque liberated. It now makes 260kW and 500Nm of torque from 1370-4500rpm (and that 500Nm is constant between those rev bands) and drinks a combined 7.7-7.8L/100km (depending on the variant), down 5% on the previous model.
The refreshed 3.0L turbocharged V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission only, and it’ll get to the legal limit in a swift 4.7-4.9 seconds, depending on the variant. Not that long ago those numbers would have been considered pure fancy for a sports saloon/wagon (remember, this isn’t an RS4).
But, in the real-world the 0-100km/h time is largely irrelevant because, well, who stops dead on the freeway and then nails the throttle to impress passengers? Nope, it’s the in-gear acceleration that is both more important and more impressive where this Audi S4 is concerned. Indeed, the in-gear acceleration defines the personality of this car.
See, the S4’s engine is grunty enough and the gearbox clever enough that it’ll schlepp about town on the merest whiff of throttle. But, give the thing some room and squeeze the throttle and one second you’ll be here and the next you’ll be over there… Unlike something like an M3, there’s nothing aggressive or raw about the way the S4 accelerates, it simply accumulates speed in great big handfuls with seemingly no let up. Well, none that you’ll ever get close to discovering if you stick to the speed limit. Suffice it to say that overtaking on the highway or on even the steepest of up hills won’t ever be an issue for this thing.
Beyond the acceleration it’s the noise of the S4 that’ll have you slowing right down just to squeeze the throttle again and hear it roar. Select Sport mode and the noise gets even louder but not in a boy racer I’ve-drilled-a-hole-in-my-exhaust-way… imagine the sound of a lion growling. From inside the boot.
The S4’s eight-speed automatic transmission proves that you really don’t need any more than eight gears for smooth, rapid-fire shifts. And while I’m not normally a fan of paddles in anything this side of a supercar, they make for a lot of fun in the S4, although so good is the transmission that they’re not totally necessary… They respond instantly and are mounted in just the right spot for quick-fire taps. The transmission is clever and so will provide engine braking on hills, or you can choose to shift gear manually and use the paddles to achieve the same.
The way Audis steered used to be Achilles heel with the wheel feeling like it was connected to the wheels via cotton wool. Those days are long gone and the S4 offers steering that’s well-weighted, precise, consistent throughout its action and with just enough feel that you’re connected to the car’s doings. The brakes are excellent too with plenty of feel and progression in the pedal. There’s a cost-optional ‘dynamic steering’ which offers speed sensitive response, but it wasn’t available for testing.
The S4 we get in Australia comes standard with adaptive dampers offering three modes, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic, and my pick is either Auto or Dynamic. Auto allows the S4 to be comfortable when you need it to be and, when it feels you’re pressing on in corners, then it firms up, adopting a Dynamic feel. But all you need to know is that even on 19-inch alloys, the S4 never feels crashy and our test loop took in some pretty broken surfaces on our way from Oberon to Canberra. Hit a bump or vicious pothole mid-corner and… nothing happens, there’s no jump, no judder through the body or kick through the steering. Yep, Audi has managed to level-peg Jaguar for compliance and ride quality.
Our test car had the cost-optional ‘sport differential’ which shuffles torque from side to side on the rear axle only to help turn the car into corners. Away from a race track, I didn’t have the chance to push the S4 hard enough in corners to pick-up on the action of the sport differential, and that’s because the S4 has grip to spare.
The all-wheel drive system is rear-biased, as it should be, with 40:60 split front to rear, with up to 85% able to be sent to either the front or rear if needed. You’ll never feel it shuffling drive around, but there’s no doubting its effectiveness… this is a neutral-handling beast that’s able to flatter the driver and quietly take corners at speeds you wouldn’t have expected of a car with such a mild-mannered exterior.
What about safety features?
The Audi S4 in either Sedan or Avant trim continues with the A4’s five-star ANCAP rating from testing in 2016. Beyond this it gets an active bonnet for pedestrian protection, eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and exit warning. Exit warning is clever as it will warn the driver if a car, pedestrian or cyclist is approaching when you’re about to open the door, flashing indicator lights in the door trim.
The S4 also gets Audi pre-sense rear which will flash the taillights if you hit the brakes emergency-hard, stability and traction controls, hold assist which will hold the car on a hill “indefinitely” when you step off the brake pedal and only release as you touch the throttle. There’s a tyre pressure monitor and the front seatbelts are height adjustable. Collision Assist is also standard and activates if the car has to be driven around an obstacle. Basically, the system uses its cameras and radar and determines a steering path, it then jolts the steering to warn the driver, and then helps the driver steer by shuffling torque around to help focus the turn. I didn’t get to try this at the launch, so I’m taking Audi’s word for it.
There are also 360-degree camera coverage as standard, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, active lane assist which will gently guide you back into the lane if you begin to wander, and turn assist which will brake the car if you are stopped, activate the indicator, and try and turn out in front of oncoming traffic.
Why would you buy one?
For two reasons. One, because you want an A4 and have looked at the options the S4 comes standard with and realised that if you added the same options to an A4 you’d end up paying the same but without the performance. Two, because you want one of the best-equipped, and I mean in terms of safety and technology, performance cars on the market. And, three, neither BMW or Mercedes-Benz make an all-wheel drive Sedan or wagon with the weapons-grade firepower of the S4, or four, there’s no RS4 Avant yet and so the S4 is as close as you can get… or, five, all the above.