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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - S4 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Delicious engine note, instant engine response, excellent driveability, smooth and highly adaptive auto, unshakable all-wheel drive grip, unrivalled road-holding, ergonomics, interior quality
Room for improvement
No more manual option, S4 Avant no longer available, goatee-beard grille expensive to repair, weight dulls outright performance, lacks M3's driving involvement

Audi logo22 Nov 2005

IN early 2004 we described the then-new Audi B6 S4 as "...a thundering yet thoughtful cross-country tourer that eliminates many of the everyday compromises of its BMW (M3) arch-rival".

Almost two years on nothing much has changed really - not where it matters, anyway.

The styling update is a matter of taste. Thousands obviously like it because A4 sales are up substantially this year.

Others believe the purity of the previous B6 edition has disappeared with the goatee-bearded B7.

Now there’s less choice too. No more manual – the preferable gearbox in this grand touring sedan – or station wagon. This is hardly progress, although by the end of 2006 the altogether hotter RS4 will offer both.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

The same level of strong performance is there for the taking. A determined thrust forward is what you get when you mash the pedal to the metal.

The thing is, you’re more likely to be impressed by the noise of the V8.

No matter whether you’re out to lose your driver’s license or tootling along in peak-hour traffic, there’s a reverberating growl ahead, beneath and behind you.

It’s not felt physically, just heard, and it really is one of the loveliest V8 sounds you’re ever likely to hear in a car at this price level.

By comparison the acceleration is eager but not electrifying the overtaking abilities swift and very controllable but not neck-snapping, and the overall V8 response rapid but not ripping.

Blame it on the weight (1700kg-plus) and automatic gearbox (ZF’s brilliantly smooth and driver-adaptive six-speed unit) the six-speed manual is sorely missed here. Audi says that most buyers ignored it, so this is why it no longer exists for us.

If you’re really keen, and can convince 10 other new S4 buyers to do the same, Audi says it may consider importing the manual gearbox version.

Yet one of the main culprits for all the S4’s heft – the quattro all-wheel drive system – is also one of the reasons why it remains such as special car.

It’s a gripping story you’ve heard many times before in the quarter century. With quattro, no matter what the weather or road conditions are, Audi’s roadholding and stability make for exceptionally safe and sure progress.

Just for the record, on a dry racetrack, approaching all sorts of curves at about 120km/h with the stability control left on, the S4’s tail could be made to gently slide out with progressive throttle inputs.

Here the S4 never felt anything less than outstandingly safe or in control. But it isn’t a super-exciting or mega-involving drive that the you-know-what from Bavaria is.

The Audi will flatter the novice driver take you faster and surer over a wider variety of roads and weather conditions in probably more comfort and style than any current rival and you could live with it always without knowing how talented it really is.

Some say the interior is looking a little stale now. But few cabins are as inviting or intelligently executed as the B6 and B7 A4s’. In the S4 you’re merely sitting on better seats among more toys for you to enjoy.

So the latest S4 is still the same gripping yarn as before, slightly watered down perhaps now that the manual is missing - but still strong on character and style. Except now it has a different front and back cover.

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