10 Jan 2013

Audi S4 diary - Speedmonkey Fleet

Another 2 weeks and another 1,000 miles into life with the Audi S4 and I've started to learn more about the character and nature of the beast.

I recently posted an article entitled "What car would you want to own for the rest of your life" which asked people to state what car they would want to own if it was gifted to them and they had to use it, and no other car, forever.

Out of 63 respondents 7 chose an Audi Avant with Quattro - either an RS6 or RS4.  The rest of the list was a scatter of all sorts of dream cars, but those who chose the Audi had thought about the question.  It's fast, commodious and can get you across a muddy field or out of a snowbound driveway.

I bought the car because it fulfils all my requirements - and, due to it's thirst, prices of used S4s are low. It really is thirsty.  The official combined fuel consumption figure is 20.9mpg, and that's pretty much spot on.  The average is always around 20mpg.

Since the problems I last reported (dead battery and sudden loss of power steering) nothing else has gone wrong, other than I've managed to kerb one of the alloys due to a tight turn and a high kerb at the local supermarket.

From a practical and comfort perspective the S4 has it all.  I had to buy lots of wood from the DIY store recently and the car swallowed up several 2.4 metre long timbers as well as a large pack of floorboards.  The rear seats fold absolutely flat which means you can use it as a van to transport large and bulky objects, if so desired.  And this in a car with 340bhp that does 0-60mph in 5 seconds.

The interior remains a fabulous place to be and enjoy the passage of time, despite the fact I haven't cleaned it in a month.  I recently tested a new Mercedes C 250 CDI and after the test realised the interior of the 8 year old Audi is better than in the Mercedes.  OK the Audi is specced higher but for a Mercedes C class interior to feel more cold and clinical was something of a revelation.

The one irritation is the positioning of the cigar lighter (by my left elbow), from which the satnav is charged.  A temporary solution has been to buy a long thin cable for the satnav which is tucked into the bulkhead and then comes out to the dash and into the satnav.  Slightly inelegant but it'll do.

The one absolute revelation over the past two weeks has been in the driving of the thing.  As previously reported the power steering has pretty much stopped working.  It's down to a busted variable power steering relay which costs £130 to replace.  I haven't bothered and have put up with heavy steering at speed, although it is featherlight up to 15mph.

This, in turn, has led to a more physical driving experience which, in turn, has led me to enter into THE ZONE on several occasions.  If you haven't experienced THE ZONE then let me explain.

Normal day to day driving involves using up to half of your brainpower on what's going on in the car and on the road ahead.  The other half (or about one tenth when on the motorway) is spent arguing with  the radio, trying to remember what your wife wants for her birthday, or wondering about whether we actually exist or live in a synthetic, Matrix-style bubble.

But when you enter THE ZONE 100% of your brainpower is focussed on the road ahead.  Your body operates the controls fluently and without recourse to thought, whilst your mind focusses on apex, line of sight, cornering, throttle control and grip.  Tiny things such as a pothole, a tractor in the field ahead, a patch of damp leaves on the road, a brief loss of grip, a change in road surface - are seen and felt and processed by the brain in a millisecond and your body positions the car accordingly.  Braking, throttle, steering are mere functions of a process that involves a million transaction per second.

THE ZONE is a good place to be and it provides the most rewarding driving experience known to man.  I haven't experienced THE ZONE in a long time, yet it happens in the S4 at least once a day - even if only for a brief period.  The reason for this is the physicality required to drive it.  The steering is heavy and the power is plenty.

Audis generally get a bad rap when it comes to steering feel.  It's true that at low speeds the S4's steering is not the best.  It's not vague but it can feel wooden.  However, crank it up and it all makes sense.  The steering is perfection at speed.  It doesn't understeer.  It doesn't oversteer.  It just steers.  The fact it has to lug 2000kg around is inconsequential in the equation.

The traction control light occasionally flashes, even in third gear, but the day I properly lose grip in the S4 is the day I have to go find a farmer to use his tractor to tow us out of a hedge.  It clings to the road like glue.

I can live with the small inconveniences of the machine because it over-delivers on the experience in other areas.  I'm beginning to bond with it like no other car I've owned.

Oh, one final thing.  The interior does tend to steam up.  That's either to do with the air conditioning malfunctioning or the vast amount of rainwater that the dogs and I have deposited into the car in the sodden weeks before New Years eve - when it suddenly stopped raining.