2010 Audi S4 Quick Test Drive
By James Wong
Manufacturers usually make every one of their new models have more of everything – power, technology, safety features and, unfortunately, more weight and size as well.
Audi has bucked the trend with their new (B8 platform) S4. So while the (B7) S4 featured a 4.2 V8, the B8 S4 now has sitting in its engine bay a supercharged 3.0 V6 pushing out nearly identical power and torque figures of the engine it replaces. It however, consumes far less fuel, and if equipped with the optional 7-speed S-tronic transmission, is able to achieve 9.4L/100km thanks to the 7th overdrive gear ratio. Don’t for one second think that Audi is scrimping on the power, though – the V6 is able to produce at least 90% of the maximum torque available from 2,200rpm to 5,900rpm, so while on paper it may seem like a less powerful car, in reality the new S4 feels far more lively.
Audi is no stranger to turbocharging. So it may seem rather strange that Audi has employed supercharging to force induce the new S4. The fact is this – Audi had two prototypes of the V6 engine while developing the car, one turbocharged and one supercharged – and after extensive testing found that the supercharger had more benefits for the V6, with more compact packaging as well as a more linear torque delivery. So Audi went ahead with the supercharger idea, which is brilliant. What isn’t is that Audi also retained the ‘T’ tag to identify the supercharger, which means it no longer exclusively denotes turbocharging. Personally, I thought Audi could have marketed it differently to cause less confusion to consumers, already bogged down by the myriad of jargon ranging from TFSI to MMI.
The test car that I had the privilege to try was well-optioned, ranging from a Bang & Olufsen sound system, an updated MMI, a dual-tone interior and 7-speed S-tronic. It however did not come with the Sport Differential. We set off for the test drive, with me as the passenger for the first half.
As I’ve noticed with other Audi cars I have tried of late, refinement seemed to be high on Audi’s priority list when developing the car. The car rode very comfortably with the suspension set on Automatic mode, and while potting around town the car felt very insulated and well-damped. The car barely hinted of its potential underneath, and one would be forgiven if he/she mistakes the car for a normal A4. I took over the wheel for the next leg of the test drive.
I went to the same route as the first half, but keen to know what the car was capable of, I thumbed the Dynamic mode on the cockpit and adjusted my seat so I will get the perfect seating position. I really wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience as the car was so docile before. Turning the car out into the main road, what was immediately obvious was the fantastically weighted steering that gives the driver lots of feedback. I was very pleased with this, as I was cautiously expecting that Audi dialed the feedback some notches down for the S4 due to the upcoming RS4. The car also felt very compact, so driving fast with the car in traffic is a cinch, as is negotiating a tight space in a carpark. Visibility was also commendable with the huge side mirrors housed in aluminium. Stopping at a traffic light, I was also very impressed by the grabby brakes that are, thankfully, easy to modulate yet powerful. Pedal feel was excellent, sharp and precise without feeling tense. This was also the first time I tried an Audi with the accelerator mounted to the ceiling instead of on the floor of the car; it does not make much of a difference as they were as well-placed as before, despite the potential of misplacing the pedal position here. Audi has certainly done its homework here.
The V6 didn’t sound particularly sonorous, but what it sacrificed in sound it made up for in power delivery. The low end was so good that minimal lag was detected; the engine pulled from as low as 1,500rpm and revved cleanly up to its redline. The power delivery is linear, with no nasty huge globs of torque anywhere in the rev band. It pulls strong and thanks to the gearbox, seamlessly too. The gearbox however made some sounds while downshifting as the car coasted to the lights, which I’ve grown accustomed to in dual-clutch gearboxes. As long as it works, I always say.
Having heard about the wonders of the Sports Differential, I was a bit disappointed that the test car did not come with it and so did not expect anything much different from the quattro all wheel drive system. What was a given is that the car still had the immense amount of grip that you’ll be thankful for with all 440Nm of torque. What I did not really feel however was the rear-biased torque split, which was a bit disappointing as the car felt like a fast AWD vehicle, and nothing much more than that. Fortunately, the power more than made up for it as the car was unbelievably fast with the S-tronic gearbox sniping through the gears effortlessly. You wouldn’t believe or know how fast you are going until you peer down to the speedometer. Downshifts are wonderfully timed too, in Dynamic mode, though there is a perceptible lag between shifting down by the paddle shifters and the actual shift taking place. While the lag is minimal, it would do Audi good to make it even more responsive. But having driven the car only for a mere 20 minutes or so, I am already convinced that there is little that the car cannot do.
That’s the thing about S cars. They are immensely capable, being all-weather sports cars that are, no question, devastatingly quick. They are also good luxury cars, offering the driver the choice of a cosetting ride or a harsh one, paired with an aggressive shifting pattern or a relaxed one, all under the driver’s discretion. But it doesn’t engage the senses like say, the RS4 would. Chills would run down my spine whenever a RS4 passed by with its gurgling V8, and my heart beats fiercely when I sit in one. But in the S4, speed is all but relative as only the speedometer could tell me how fast I was going. It insulates the driver so much from the elements that instead of being engaging, we’re in effect just piloting a very efficient machine. So while the S4 is multi-talented, and would probably make good sales by its usability alone, I think I’d like a bit more emotion in my cars. Perhaps with some careful modification done to the S4 (thankfully there are dozens of tuners there for the VAG empire), it could be a far more exciting machine that it deserves to be.
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