2018 Audi S4: The Docile Beast
FRANKFURT, Germany – We love beautiful cars, powerful engines and luxury, but we can’t stand riding in a sports car that has a rock-hard suspension and that’s neither comfortable nor practical. Audi is suggesting we check out their new compact sport sedan, the 2018 S4.
You read right, we drove a 2018. Actually, the new Audi S4 will be on sale in Europe this summer, and as usual, the German manufacturer will wait until the beginning of 2017 before throwing some on a boat and head for America. At that time, they will be earmarked as 2018s.
- Also: 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: Understated Power
- Also: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V: A Track-Ready Cadillac? You Bet!
Its rivals include the Cadillac ATS-V, the BMW 340i, the Jaguar XF S, the Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG Sport, the Volvo S60 Polestar and the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. Quite a serious crowd here.
However, the new S4 is an excellent example of a fast, well-finished and good-looking car that isn’t overdone. Like the current S4, but obviously better. And we got the opportunity to discover its talents on the magnificent country roads surrounding Frankfurt.
So long supercharger, hello turbocharger
Rarely do we see an automaker introduce the new generation of a car with a less-powerful powertrain, especially a German luxury manufacturer. Yet Audi did just that with its last S4 and S5 models, swapping their lusty, naturally aspirated V8 for a 333-hp, supercharged V6. They wanted to reduce fuel consumption, but also CO2 emissions, an important detail for the European market.
This time around, they increased the horsepower count and reduced fuel consumption even more, thanks to a new powertrain. It’s the same basic 3.0L V6 than in the current S4, but seriously overhauled with, according to Audi, some 800 modifications. The supercharger was thrown into the recycling bin and replaced with a turbocharger, and while they had the engine cracked open, engineers installed new cylinder heads, an integrated intake manifold as well as a new combustion process.
The result is 354 metric horsepower as well as 369 lb.-ft. of torque that expresses itself from 1370 rpm. By the way, it’s the same number of horses that what the old 4.2L V8 produced in the S5 before being replaced with the blown V6, so they caught up. The new 3.0 TSFI V6 unleashes full power right off the line, funnelled through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. We lament the passing of the manual gearbox in the 2017 Audi S4.
Our right foot planted to the floorboard, the drive mode system set to Dynamic, the turbo V6 shouts a rich and aggressive tone through the four chromed exhaust tips, burping during each upshift. We still miss the V8’s soundtrack, but we’ll have to get over it at some point. On the other hand, the new engine in the S4 can be docile too, at moments when we don’t necessarily want to attract attention. Audi claims the 0-100 km/h is accomplished in 4.7 seconds, and a combined fuel economy rating of 7.3 L/100 km on the European cycle. We’re expecting a mixed city/highway rating of about 9.5 L/100 km in Canada.
The new quattro system, introduced in the latest-generation A4 now sold in Canada in sedan and A4 allroad variants, works a little differently in the S4. Here, it sends 60% of engine torque to the rear wheels and 40% to the front ones for a sportier driving experience. However, when the system detects wheelspin, it can redistribute up to 85% of available power either front or back.
In addition, a sport differential is optional in the European-spec S4, which can split power between the rear wheels in case one of them loses grip when as we’re tossing the car in a curve. For now, Audi hasn’t decided if this device will equip the S4 in Canada, either standard or as an option.
Still, the S4 holds the road as it should. The steering is very well calibrated, according to the selected drive mode, and when we feel like treating ourselves to some twisty roads away from the city, the car sticks to the pavement thanks to its new platform, which seems extremely well balanced.
Compared to the A4, the S4’s ride height is lowered by 23 mm to reduce body roll, and variable-adjustment dampers are optional, and included on our test car. However, we’ll wait until we drive the S4 on our winter-mangled Canadian roads before we judge its ride comfort. In Germany, all the roads are smooth.
A custom-tailored cockpit
The S4’s sheetmetal is muscular and sophisticated, without being too flashy like some of its rivals. It gets a couple of paint choices that aren’t available on the plebeian A4, such as Misano Red and Navarro Blue. However, it will be hard to distinguish the S4 from an A4 dressed up with the S line package. That’s good or bad, according to our tastes which obviously vary from one person to another.
Like in every Audi product, we except nothing less than a cockpit that boast impeccable fit and finish, and the S4 doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The dashboard and door panels are enhanced with aluminum and Alcantara trim, the quality of the plastics are obviously irreproachable, and the switchgear feels bank-vault solid. The seats are sculpted to be supportive during sporty driving, and they’re dressed up with a tasteful diamond-shaped pattern on its leather upholstery.
And as is the case with the brand’s other new products, the S4 will get the Audi virtual cockpit instrumentation and its configurable 12.3-inch screen. The display installed on the top of the centre stack is also quite big, and the MMI system is easy to operate with the multifunction dial and surrounding array of buttons. Unfortunately, these controls are located in front of the shift lever, and we must stretch out to reach them. At least Audi finally understood that there’s no better way to set cabin temperature than with rotary dials.
Finally, the S4’s trunk is big for a compact car with a volume of 480 litres. For even more cargo space, there’s also the S4 Avant wagon, but we sadly won’t get it in Canada. Only automotive journalists go nuts for wagons, while the rest of the population prefers SUVs. We won’t give up trying to convince you that wagons are cool.
Okay, so how much does this marvel of a little sport sedan cost? We have no idea. Audi Canada will take the time to negotiate the MSRP with its headquarters, right up until the S4 appears in their dealerships—er, Audi Terminals. For now, we can only guess a starting price of $58,000, or a little higher than what the current S4 costs. It should also be competitive with its natural enemies, which all possess excellent dynamic qualities, nicely finished cockpits and powerful engines. However, as a whole, the S4 will be tough to beat.
|Test drive report|
|Test model||2018 Audi A4|
|Trim level||S4 Sedan|
|Price as tested||N/A|
|Warranty (basic)||4 years/80,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||4 years/80,000 km|
|Fuel economy (city/highway/observed)||N/A|
|Competitive models||Acura TLX, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XF, Kia Cadenza, Lexus IS, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60|
|Fuel economy||Excellent on paper, although during our test, we consumed over 10 L/100 km|
|Comfort||Ride comfort seems good, at least on German roads|
|Performance||Impressive acceleration, thanks to the generous amount of low-rpm torque|
|Infotainment||Controls are a little difficult to reach, but the Audi virtual cockpit is swell|
|Driving||The S4 is dynamic, but doesn’t sacrifice comfort under normal driving|
|Overall||A sporty and fast sedan that has excellent manners too|