Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Audi S4

Frankfurt – We here at have a soft spot for the current-generation supercharged Audi S4 sedan. It emerged victorious in a sports sedan comparison a couple years back, winning us over with its pace, unflappable dynamics and stellar build quality. Add quattro all-wheel-drive all-weather capability into the mix, and you’ve got a formidable offering.

This is how Audi does fast.

Audi recently launched an all-new A4 sedan, so as sure as the day is long, a performance-oriented S4 variant is on the way. We’ll see the new Audi S4 sedan in January 2017.

The rural roads Audi has picked out for this press launch are showcasing the S4 in a fine light. This bright red sedan is doing everything we’ve come to expect from Ingolstadt’s high-tech hotties – it’s devouring the challenging blacktop without so much as breaking a sweat. Acceleration is blistering, the steering accurate yet a tad aloof, grip is tenacious and cornering attitude resolutely neutral.  Understeer and oversteer? Not really in the vocabulary. This is how Audi does fast.

I was in Germany not a couple of weeks ago driving the new S3. Identical experience in a smaller package. To quote Star Trek’s pointy-eared Spock, “Fascinating.”

So what’s new with this latest-gen S4? Quite a bit. The previous 333 hp, 325 lb-ft supercharged 3.0L V6 makes way for a newly developed turbocharged 3.0L V6 that keeps its turbo in the “V”. Output jumps to 354 hp and 369 lb-ft, the latter on board from a low 1,370 rpm. This engine is 14 kg lighter and brags reduced internal friction and cylinder heads with integrated exhaust manifolds.

This is the first application of the new turbo V6, and we will see it replace the old supercharged version across the Audi lineup as time goes on.

Naturally, fuel efficiency is up and emissions are down. What we liked so much about the old supercharged unit was its immediate throttle response and linear power delivery. No worries – this turbo unit sticks to the plot with nary a hint of turbo-lag and a sweeping, hiccup-free charge to the redline. It also makes a satisfying snarl and the requisite whooofs on upshifts.

The old car had a seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic transmission (and available six-speed manual) whereas this 2018 edition gets only an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic. What might seem like a step backwards in the go-fast department doesn’t play out that way on the road. This is, after all, the excellent ZF unit that we find in everything from cross-town BMW to Maserati to Jaguar, being wonderfully smooth, quick-witted and keen on paddle-shift commands.

The lower five gears have shorter, sporty ratios while the upper three are for efficient cruising. There is a fuel-saving freewheeling function that decouples the engine from the transmission when the driver lifts off between 55 and 160 km/h.

Audi numbers have the 2018 S4 blasting from rest to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds. And 4.9 seconds for the lovely S4 Avant wagon I drove in the afternoon. Oh yeah, that puppy is not coming to North America. Keep those cards and letters coming, all you armchair wagon buyers.

Hardly pedestrian: 2017 Audi A4 First Drive

The S4’s quattro all-wheel drive with self-locking centre differential gets a 60 percent rear bias with the capacity to send up to 85 percent of torque to the back of 70 percent up front back. Helping out the handling is standard brake-based torque vectoring. These test cars were fitted with the available Sport Differential that doles out the torque from side to side at the rear, helping push the car through the bends. Recommended for spirited driving.

Also recommended is Audi’s magnetic adaptive damping which is now on the S4’s menu. This excellent system broadens the car’s skill set, giving it more compliance when cruising and more bite when you’re feeling frisky.

No complaints from the brakes either. They felt strong and linear all day.

If you’re looking for a sport sedan that screams its abilities, the 2018 S4 ain’t it, playing the demure card to great effect. I was lucky to grab a red one, as the grey testers here all but disappeared from view when you stared at them long enough. That said, compared with the regular A4, the S4 sits 23 mm lower, gets distinctive bumpers, side sills, rear diffuser, spoiler, aluminum-look mirror caps and quad tail pipes. Full LED headlights are standard, as are 18-inch wheels. Pictured here are optional 19-inch wheels.

The interior of these testers were all business, fitted with optional quilted S sport seat (integrated head restraints, Nappa leather, massage and adjustable side bolsters), Audi’s impressive Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch configurable digital screen in the driver’s binnacle) and trimmed with carbon fibre. In the S4, the Virtual Cockpit has its own S-mode featuring a large central tachometer. Audi’s latest generation MMI infotainment system, here with standard navigation and 8.3-inch monitor, gets a more smartphone-like menu system.

My only interior gripe would be the slightly cheap feeling plastic shift paddles – only because the rest of the cabin is so Audi-perfect.

All is forgiven, however, when your fingers are tickling said paddles – the turbo V6 blats its farts on upshifts and the sedan lasers ahead on a techy mission to cover as much ground as possible with minimal drama. Standard Drive Select has five settings – Efficient, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and programmable Individual. They alter throttle response, steering weight, tranny mapping, suspension firmness and stability control. We found Auto worked just fine, reading the road and your intentions to a tee. Even in the firmest Dynamic setting, the suspension was never harsh or unduly crashy.

The new S4 sedan comes in at 1,630 kilograms – 75 kg less than the previous model.

Indeed, this latest Audi S4 is an incredibly well-sorted, immensely capable sedan that takes what was great about the outgoing car and expands upon it. Sure, the manual transmission is gone (same with the R8), and the styling is hardly daring, but this thing runs like the wind and is equally at home blasting along on the left lane of the Autobahn as cruising to the opera or chewing up your favourite back-road.

Pricing will be announced closer to it launch. The current S4 starts at $55,200.