Drive Life

2017 Audi S4 – Car Review – First Class Express

2017 Audi S4 – Car Review – First Class Express

I’m a big fan of Audi, I’ve owned four of them, including an A4. So a week in the latest S4 was a very welcome proposition. Since it landed in New Zealand, the B9 platform S4 has been selling well, mainly in Avant form, with lots of Avant buyers going for the panoramic glass roof (a $4000 option).

The Range

The S4 range has two models – Sedan and Avant (Audi for wagon). Spec and power-wise they’re pretty much identical, with a 3.0 litre 30 valve V6 turbo, producing 260kW and 500Nm, connected to an 8 speed ZF automatic transmission – surprisingly not a DSG. This means a 0-100 time of 4.7s (4.9 in the Avant) and a top speed electronically limited to 250kph.

There are adaptive dampers, ABS, EBD, electronic diff lock, traction and stability control. And of course, the Quattro all-wheel drive system which can send power up to 85% rear or 70% front as needed. There’s a multitude of driver assistance functions – Lane Assist, Park Assist, pre-sense, side assist, Collision avoidance assist, cross traffic assist, adaptive cruise, high beam assist, 360 degree camera system, turn assist. It’s very well-specced as standard, though if you want to personalise your car there’s over $30k of optional extras you can add on including heated rear seats, different trims, dynamic steering, sports rear diff…

Colours available are mostly muted shades – Black, white, grey, a dark green and dark blue, and the rather nice, bright, Tango Red. There’s also a pearl red and pearl grey, or solid white or black.

First Impressions

Our test car was the Sedan, in Mythos Black with the standard chrome accents. It’s subtly different to the standard A4, with more aggressive bumpers, 19” alloys, quad exhausts, and little V6T wing badges, but the overall look is similar, which is definitely a good thing in my opinion. It looks smart but understated. I’m in two minds about the chrome highlights on the grille and around the windows. They do look good, but I went to the online configurator and ticked the box for the “Exclusive Titanium Black Styling Package” ($1500) and “Audi exclusive exterior mirror housings in gloss black” ($300) and in my opinion it looks much better. I’m starting to see how those options can add up!

The Inside

Inside, there’s rather a lot to take in. The Nappa leather sports seats look wonderful with their contrasting cross-stitch pattern and deep side bolsters. They’re comfortable too, and very configurable. Electrically adjustable in the usual directions, plus the side bolsters can move in and out to hug you tighter and lumbar support is adjustable up and down. The seats have a pull-out section to adjust length for taller people. Then the pièce de résistance – they have nine different massage settings for your lower back, on both driver and front passenger seats.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel is well-shaped and clad in leather. There are buttons and click-scroll wheels for thumb control of various functions, and at first there seem to be a lot but soon I was able to find the function I wanted with ease.

The main instrument display is fully digital, and looks the same as the one in the VW Tiguan and Audi TT. It’s very sharp and clear with excellent contrast in all light conditions, and of course highly configurable. You can have a large central rev counter with digital speed display and  information at either side, such as fuel usage, satnav map, media info etc. Or, pushing a button splits the main dial into a separate small rev counter and speedo in the corners and a full display for whatever you choose. Having the full colour satnav map there in front of you looks amazing, though I found it a little distracting sometimes as it rotated. Map rotation can be turned off of course.

Added to this is a central widescreen display which has a bit of a tacked-on look at the top of the dash. I guess it’s the only way to have it high enough for easy viewing without building it into an over-sized dash. This screen is controlled with a jog-wheel on the centre console, which also has a touch function which you can use to program the satnav by drawing letters with your finger in the top. Very clever and even my six year-old quickly worked out how to program a destination.

It’s also the display for the 360 degree camera system. This is one of the clearest camera views I’ve seen on a car, and is switchable between front, rear, corner or top-down views. Combined with all-round parking sensors, it makes parking simple. Not that you have to park yourself of course as the Audi can do that for you, driving both into and out of a space. This function is quick and easy to use. Press the park button, indicate in the direction of the space, drive past it so the car sees it and highlights it on the display, then follow the instructions. The car does the steering and tells you what gears to select, relying on you to operate the pedals when directed.

The interior has a very solid, quality feel, with its sturdy soft-touch plastics, brushed aluminium highlights, leather and suede finishes, and subtle ambient lighting. At night there are muted white lights everywhere – vent controls, switches, cubbies a thin line through the door speakers, plus light-up door kick plates with the S logo, and puddle lights.

The back is just as comfortable as the front, with its own climate control zone (making three zones), and plenty of head and leg room. There’s a generous armrest (with cup holders of course), behind which is the all-important ski hatch.

There’s a good-sized 480 litre boot, and the rear seats drop down with a 40/20/40 split. In the boot are several useful features – cubbies in the sides with little nets, pull-down bag hooks, a power socket, a cargo net, and loops at each side to tie things down if needed. The boot also opens with a kick of your foot under the bumper, if you have the key on you. You have to close it yourself though, and this takes more effort than expected – you almost have to slam it shut to get it to catch, or it bounces open again.

The Drive

In traffic, the automatic systems are great. There’s radar cruise, which works beautifully. Activated by a stalk at about 7 o’clock on the steering wheel, it’s in a slightly awkward position, but it’s easy to use once you’re used to it. The set speed appears on the heads-up display and the main dash. Following distance can be controlled too. There’s also Traffic Jam Assist, which will steer the car for you up to 65kph as long as the road markings are well-defined and it can see them properly. Again it works really well and takes the stress out of stop/start driving.

There are alert lights on the inside of the wing mirrors, which light up to warn you if someone’s in your blind spot, and they flash if you’re indicating in that direction. This isn’t uncommon, but something I haven’t seen before is that they also tell you if a car’s approaching when you’re parked and opening the door.

At higher speeds there’s Steering Assist which does a similar thing, but it doesn’t drive for you, it’s just to make sure you’re paying attention and keeping in lane. I found it a bit intrusive at times, when it wanted me to take a different line on a corner, so after a while I turned it off.

On the main highways, the S4 feels very refined. There’s minimal tyre noise from the road, and I never noticed any wind noise. In fact the loudest thing inside the car is usually the air conditioning fans. This is good, because when you put your foot down, you can hear that V6 growl more clearly. And if you open a window you can hear the turbo whistling, and a slight psshh as you lift off the throttle.

Our test car had the $3,250 optional Bang and Olufsen stereo, which comprises a 750+ watt 16-channel amplifier driving 19 speakers. It supports Dolby 5.1 3D sound, and it’s excellent. At half volume it was louder than I’d ever want it, and it’s crystal-clear at all volumes. It really was a pleasure to listen to. There’s Bluetooth input, a couple of USBs in the centre console, and an inductive charger if your phone supports it.

I’m a fan of heads-up displays and the Audi’s HUD is a good one. It’s easily adjusted for viewing height with a knob on the dash, and it displays various information such as speed, cruise settings, satnav directions, and steering assist status, in colour. The only issue I had was that in the low Autumn light, sometimes I got a reflection on the windscreen from part of the HUD apparatus.

Our test car had the upgraded LED MATRIX headlights ($2000) and they were really good, providing lots of clean, pure-white light. There’s also adaptive high-beam, which is really cool. It moves the high beam around oncoming traffic so you don’t have to keep dipping your lights. I used it over Rimutaka Hill Road (SH2) and it worked perfectly.

Once you’re off the highway it’s time to switch off some of the driver aids, change the drive mode from Comfort to Dynamic, and have a bit of fun. Dynamic mode firms up the adaptive dampers, raises the idle a bit so you can hear those quad pipes and firms up the steering. It also changes the way the 8-speed transmission shifts, and adds a blip of the throttle on downshifts. Pulling down the shifter a second time moves from Drive to Sport mode. On twisty roads I found there was a fractional delay on downshifts as I accelerated out of a corner. Putting the transmission in S mode sorted this out. There are paddles on the back of the wheel if you want to shift manually, or if you prefer, the shifter can be pushed to the left and used as an up/down shift. I generally found that the transmission had it right, and didn’t use the paddles all that much, except when I was preparing to overtake.

Performance is impressive – launch the S4 from a standstill and there’s no drama, just acceleration. With the Quattro system sorting out any grip issues you can just mash the throttle, and suddenly you’re at the speed limit. Similarly with in-gear acceleration, there’s no apparent turbo lag, just lots of torque and lots of go. Corners are dealt with in similar style – Audi’s brochure says “don’t slow down” and they’re right, you don’t seem to need to, the S4 just goes around them at whatever speed you like, again with no drama.

Fuel usage was reasonable, though obviously if you drive it on-boost all the time it drinks fuel much faster. I didn’t get to the quoted figure of 7.4l/100km but over 400km on various roads, with some overtakes and spirited driving I averaged 8.9l/100km. I think that’s pretty good for a 3.0l V6 turbo.

The Competition

Picking direct competition is tricky. I’ve gone for cars as similar as possible in the same price bracket.

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h Price Highest to Lowest
Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.9l 6 cylinder  twin turbo 375kW/600Nm 8.2 3.9s $134,990
Tesla Model S 75 Electric N/A N/A 5.8s $119,300
Mercedes Benz AMG C45 Sedan 3.0l 6 cylinder twin turbo 270kW/520Nm 8.2 4.7s $116,400
Audi S4 3.0l 6 cylinder  turbo 260kW/500Nm 7.4 4.7s $116,400
BMW 330d Wagon 3.0l 6 cylinder turbodiesel 190kW/560Nm 5.5 5.4s $109,000
Lexus IS350 3.5l 6 cylinder 233kW/378Nm 9.7 5.9s $107,900

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Refined, quiet, comfortable
  • Spacious
  • Great performance
  • Very good (optional upgrade) stereo
  • Lots of tech
  • Driver involvement
  • Positioning of cruise control stalk
  • Those options can really add up

What we think

This is a car that will eat up a long journey with ease, and leave you refreshed at the end. There’s lots of performance available but it’s delivered with refinement. This is not a sports car, it’s a GT, it will get you there fast, in a gentlemanly way. Some might complain that there’s not enough driver involvement – the S4 kind of takes on the road and efficiently deals with it for you. But I like it. I like the solidity, the quality, the efficiency, I found it a satisfying car to drive, and that acceleration was addictive.

 

Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5

Vehicle Type Medium Sports Sedan
Starting Price $116,400 + on-road costs
Tested Price $122,750 + on-road costs

Red Calipers $1000

Bang and Olufsen Sound System $3,250

MATRIX LED Headlights $2,000

Engine 2995cc 30v V6 TFSI with twin-scroll turbo
Transmission 8 speed automatic
0 – 100 kph 4.7 seconds
Kerb Weight 1705 kg
Length x Width x Height 4745 x 1842 x 1404mm
Cargo Capacity 480 Litres
Fuel Tank 58 litres
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined – 7.4 L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  8.9 L / 100km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
Warranty Audi Cover Assistance – 3 year Cost Free Motoring, unlimited kilometres, covers all non-service expenses including roadside assist.

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