COMING SOON: Sneaky little look inside the new Audi S4
AUDI engineers have a neat name for the kind of engine in the new S4. They call it "hot side inside", because the car's 3.0-litre V6 expels its searing exhaust gases into a turbocharger on top of the engine, between the cylinder banks.
The phrase, as it happens, also fits the car as a whole.
When the sporty S4 sedan and Avant wagon reach Australia around October, they'll become the new A4 line-up's top models (at least until the arrival of the super-fast RS4 that's in the works). Audi Australia aims to price the new S4 like the old one. That means a little under $110,00 for the sedan, the body style preferred by about 85 per cent of current S4 customers, and a few thousand more for the wagon version, the Avant.
There's lots to like and much to admire about Audi's new generation A4 but its exterior style lacks a certain something; lines that make it easy to tell from the model it replaces, mainly. Still, this latest version of Audi's medium-size mainstay is the best the company has ever built. Its interior is big and beautiful, it features class-leading tech almost everywhere you look and it's smooth, quiet and confident on the road.
The S4 is faster and fiercer, though this isn't obvious. Sedan and Avant use the same sheet metal as the A4, but have lower suspension and bigger wheels wearing wider tyres. There are some subtle adornments, but the S4 isn't a car that makes visual boasts about how fast it is.
Different story inside; there are sports front seats, brushed aluminium pedals, and S4 badging. Audi Australia is still working on the S4's standard equipment list and final price. It's possible Audi's brilliant Virtual Cockpit instrument display screen, an option in Europe, will be standard here.
The S4's performance makes a big impression. This is a quick car. The new engine delivers more power (15kW) and more torque (60Nm) than the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the previous S4. The standard eight-speed auto has one more ratio than the double-clutch auto of the previous S4 and Audi engineers trimmed a noticeable amount of weight from the new A4 family, which also benefits the S4.
All this adds up to better acceleration. Audi claims a 0-100km/h time for the S4 sedan of 4.7 seconds. The Avant, which is a little heavier, also slips below the 5.0-second barrier. The standard quattro setup helps, getting the car moving without wheel slip.
Audi's trademark all-wheel drive also contributes to making the S4 a fast and fun drive. On the 19-inch wheels and tyres that will be standard fitment in Australia (Europe gets smaller ones), the car's grip is exceptional. So is the way it rails round corners, even when accelerating, and its stability under brakes.
Only cars heavily equipped with options were available for test driving at the international launch of the S4 in the countryside around Frankfurt.
Carsguide tried both versions of the new S4. The extra-cost equipment was mostly impressive but it might be best to avoid the Dynamic Steering option if you like steering to feel, well, natural.
The cabins are quiet, the interior is superb but the S4 isn't the smoothest-riding sporty car around. Firm control is expected, even welcome, when selecting Dynamic mode in the standard Drive Select tech and the S4 delivers it. The Comfort and Auto modes don't soften things enough.
An even greater weakness is the drivetrain. The new V6 may deliver measurable improvements in power, torque and fuel economy but it doesn't sound as good as the outgoing supercharged engine.
Throttle response can be jerky in Dynamic and the auto sometimes thumps when shifting in this mode. Switching to Auto remedies this but makes the engine and transmission feel much less sporty.
Such criticisms may deter demanding drivers. But those who like their speed stealthy will be attracted to the sneaky S4 and its "hot side inside" turbo V6.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE $110,000 (est)
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo, 260kW/500Nm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; AWD
DIMENSIONS 4745mm (L), 1842mm (W), 1404mm (H), 2825mm (WB)
0-100KM/H 4.7 secs
NOT JUST HOT BUT RARE
THE S4's turbo 3.0-litre isn't the first "hot side inside" V6. Ferrari's early 1980s Formula One engine was a 1.5-litre V6 with its exhausts pointed to the inside of its vee, like the Audi. Such a layout is rare in turbo V6s - Audi drivetrain development engineer Johannes Ohland can't cite another one in current production - but it's increasingly popular for turbo V8s, as in recent high-performance examples from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.