11 Apr 2013

Fleet - How does the Audi S4 Avant stack up as a sports car?

I've owned the Audi S4 Avant for nearly four months now.  In that time I've covered a few thousand miles (at an average 23mpg) and spent £2,000 on a new clutch and dual mass flywheel.  And I've written some words about it, but none really on how the S4 stacks up as a sports car.

The S4 weighs 1700kg in Avant (estate) form.  It's powered by a 4.2 litre V8 which produces 340bhp and 302lb ft of torque.  Mine has a 6-speed, manual gearbox with quite a short throw but longish first and second gears.  It'll do 0-62mph in 5 seconds.  Partially this is due to the long second gear which means it'll do 62mph in 2nd, right on the 7,000rpm limit.

It will do 0-124mph in about 20 seconds.  The S4 might be big, practical and spacious but it is a very, very fast car.  But that's no good if it won't go round a corner, or stop properly, is it?

The V8 has more than enough power.  It sounds fantastic.  Like a giant turbine at low revs, like a NASCAR at high revs.  It's slightly off balance and gently throbs when held at a constant speed on the motorway.  The noise is constant - never intrusive but always there.  Even with the superb BOSE stereo at high volume you can hear its thrum in the background.

The interior is typically Audi.  Supportive, leather Recaro seats - electrically adjustable any which way and with good lumbar support.  The trim, the plastics are OK in the way that plastic will always be plastic but some is slightly better than others, and these are superior than those found in a lot of new, premium cars.  What distinguishes it as a sporty car is the use of aluminium in the cockpit - around the gear lever and a strip across the entire width of the dash.  Classy and superior to fake wood, and any kind of plastic.

The driving position is good.  The steering wheel is adjustable any which way, the gearstick located quite far back so you can pull the seat back, stretch your legs and tickle the pedals with your toes - just as it should be in a sports car.

The ride is adequate.  Not vastly smooth, but not harsh and jarring.  Slightly smaller wheels (it's fitted with 18" wheels) and higher profile tyres would improve matters.

However, this is forgotten when you increase the pace.  The S4 turns from cruiser into, yes, a full on sports car.  The power is fed to the road via a permanent four wheel drive system which has a Torsen centre differential and the grip levels are epic.

Any rear wheel drive Mercedes AMG or Jaguar S loses the plot when you apply all its power at once.  An Audi with quattro simply takes the vast power, distributes it equally between the wheels and flings the car forwards with no hint of wheelspin.

That's why it's truly fast in all conditions.

Through the gears it has almost no equal in terms of applying lots of power in normal road conditions, rather than on track.  But on track it would perform well around corners too.  On our hideously potholed UK roads the S4 will happily fling its weight between the hedgerows with vim and abundance of spirit.

The steering wheel feels alive, connected directly to the road into, when halfway round, and coming out of a corner.  The stiff suspension and wide tyres make sense when power is applied mid-corner to get that catapult out of the corner that only four wheel drive can deliver.

Understeer can be briefly, faintly felt when a bump is found in a corner.  The wheel loses grip, the traction control light flickers briefly and then grip is regained and all is right with the world - in a split second.  In fact on a particularly bumpy road the traction control light can flicker even in third gear as the heavy chassis bounces about and the wheels are pulled upwards and power briefly overcomes traction.

Cadence braking can be applied to keep the nose tight into corners, and then as soon as the brake is finally released the right foot moves to the throttle for a burst of power on the way out.

The Audi S4 Avant is a hugely powerful, spacious, practical car with a bit of a drink problem - but it's also a sports car.  Sure, it's no Porsche Cayman but it handles as well as a grand tourer such as a Jaguar XK-R or a Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG.  They're all weighty, powerful cars.  The Audi carries some of it's weight higher up but delivers the power to the road so much better.

In short my Audi S4 Avant, of 2004 vintage stacks up very well as a sports car.  And it's got boot space for our 3 dogs - although you wouldn't want to fling it around the hedges much with the dogs on board.