So, this is it. Until the new RS4 attempts to revive the glories of its 2006 predecessor next year, the refettled S4 is as fast and furious as the current A4 gets. Or, if you prefer, it’s precisely as fast and furious as the outgoing model. Audi’s supercharged 3-litre TFSI V6, developing the same 328bhp and 3241b ft of torque, hasn’t gone anywhere. And we can safely file the O.lsec reduction in the 0-62mph time to S.Osec under ‘irrelevant’. Hardcore? By M3 and C63 AMG standards, you get the impression Audi would regard the suggestion as an insult.
Improved efficiency? Now you’re talking. The latest S4 might not go any harder than before but it will go for longer before you have to pull in for petrol. With the introduction of start/stop, brake energy recuperation, electro-mechanical steering and an extra Efficiency setting for the Audi Drive Select system to supplement the existing Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes, combined consumption leaps from a so- so 29.1 mpg to an almost saintly 34.9mpg. ^r-The quattro four-wheel-drive system is unchanged and, disappointingly, the sport differential — which actively distributes the power between the rear wheels as required to enhance stability on the limit – remains an option. Tweaks to the S4′s mostly aluminium suspension, with its five-link arrangement at the front and trapezoidal link at the rear, are confined to fine-tuning the dampers and rear control-arm mounts for a more comfortable ride.
Audi doesn’t like the term ‘facelift’, but its mid-sized saloon and estate must have been subjected to more subtle nips and tucks over the years than the guest list at a Hollywood beach party. The latest ones tackle the usual areas of bumpers, bonnet, lights and grille. The result is a slightly more shapely bonnet and nose but with sharply defined details. The headlights and air inlets, in particular, are more angular than before and the lights boast better-looking LED internal structures; the clusters at the rear are prettier, too. Inside, Audi hasn’t exactly gone wild, either. There are a few minor trim tweaks, some new colour combinations, a range of subtly different steering-wheel designs and a simplified MMI interface.
Trickle-down tech from larger Audis making its way onto the options list includes a high-spec mobile phone interface. This offers online services such as a Google-powered Points of Interest search and navigation using Google Earth images. It also creates a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) hotspot within the A4, enabling occupants to connect phones and computers to the internet wirelessly. Also new are an updated adaptive cruise control system, an active lane departure warning system and a ‘break recommendation’ function. The latter monitors steering movements and use of the pedals and gearlever to detect irregular or overly sudden driver inputs. It then alerts him or her to the possible need to take a break by audible and visual cues in the cabin.
Settle behind the wheel, momentarily wonder why the good-looking sports seats don’t hold your torso in a tighter embrace, admire the fine architecture and finish of the cabin, then press the button to fire up the somewhat muted engine and head off in search of entertainment.
The S4′s personality is hard to pin down. Clearly it has to leave room for the RS4 to act the hooligan, but while, if prodded, that supercharged V6 can fire you down the road with M3-challenging thrust, the overall effect is curiously calming. Of course, for some, this will be the beauty of the S4: its sophisticated maturity, its wide remit, its finely honed Audiness. It can play the sleepy cruiser every bit as deftly as the steroidal supersaloon.
But its default demeanour seems to be set comfortably on the wake-me- up-before-you-go-go side of things. It simply isn’t the kind of car that procures an itch you have to scratch at the earliest opportunity. It doesn’t give you a nudge in the ribs every time an interestingly twisted stretch of blacktop heaves into view. And given the slightly disconcerting lightness and almost over- direct responses of the electric steering at modest speeds, the inclination to let it all go is left simmering on a low heat.
But cometh the moment, cometh the vorsprung etc – and a whole heap of jaw- loosening speed, both between the bends and around them. Objectively, the S4 is very quick, very grippy, very secure and unerringly on side. The early dartiness of the helm dissolves into a meaty precision above about 40mph that at least boosts confidence, if not anything worthwhile in the way of feel. And the harder you punt the S4 into a bend, the better it seems to like it, especially with the Drive Select control in its Dynamic position, which noticeably helps tip the nose towards the apex and even allows a degree or two of power oversteer if you’re really brutal with the throttle on the exit.
But effective as this pace-without- consequence approach is, it’s achieved with a kind of icy detachment that’s more impressive than it is involving. Crushingly accomplished, efficient and reassuring, yes. Agile, light on its feet and biddably adjustable, no.
In a way, the antics of the brawny V6 and standard-fit seven-speed double- clutch transmission are more engaging. It’s a great engine with a deliciously broad powerband that delivers oodles of linear and, with the almost imperceptible interruptions of the S-tronic ‘box, seamless urge, each lightning-quick, red- line upshift accompanied by that cute exhaust ‘thraarp’ you always get with the VW Group’s performance powertrains. Paddle-activated downshifts are pitch-perfect and the brakes are pretty mighty, too.
For anyone concerned about their blood pressure, this is undoubtedly the car to choose if you want to get from A to B in a serious hurry. For those who like the feel of adrenalin in the morning, an icy-cold shower might be a better bet. Having said all of that, I can’t help thinking the S4 is a bit of a bargain. The saloon costs L38,665, the Avant L39,865. Given its performance stats, four-wheel drive and pretty much unbeatable build and finish, that has to be tempting in a world where BMW’s admittedly more powerful M3 starts at L54,690 and Mercedes’ C63 AMG a still more eye-watering L56,545. The forthcoming RS4, with around 450bhp, will have to go some to eclipse its little brother. And that’s quite a prospect.