Audi S4 Saloon (2009 – ) review
Read the Audi S4 Saloon (2009 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drivesThe Auto Trader expert verdict: 4.0 The Audi S4 performance saloon is the real deal. It’s rapid, brilliant fun to drive and looks more special than the BMW 335i.
- Brutal acceleration at all speeds
- Four-wheel drive means assured handling
- Beautifully-made interior
- High performance equals high running costs
- Not much rear legroom
- Doesn’t have the handling purity of some rivals
At a glance
The Audi S4 is the range-topping A4 saloon on sale. Chromed wing mirrors, quad tailpipes and ‘V6T’ badges on the sides indicate that this is a serious performance machine, but it otherwise looks much like all the other A4 saloons on the road. While some will see that as tastefully discreet, others may want more visual drama from a car with such pace. We’re in the former camp – this is a very handsome car.
Like the exterior, there are few differences between an S4’s cabin and a lowlier A4’s – especially S line models. The S4 badge on the steering wheel is a giveaway, though, as are the unique, S4-embossed sports seats. They are comfy, too. The cabin is beautifully put together from materials that are lovely to look at and touch. The switches are damped to perfection and the driving position is adjustable in so many ways that all shapes will get comfortable behind the wheel. Audi’s MMI dial, controlling the sat-nav and entertainment screen, quickly becomes intuitive.
The S4’s 480 litre boot is about the same size as that of a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series. It’s easily big enough to satisfy the domestic demands of weekly shopping trips, gym bags and buggies – golf and child. However, those looking for real practicality might want to consider the Audi S4 Avant, which offers the same performance but with estate car practicality. The S4 does suffer from poor rear leg space compared to some rivals. Most adults will find their knees pressed uncomfortably against the front seats, though headroom is acceptable.
Ride and handling
The four-wheel drive S4 lacks the handling purity of rear-wheel drive rivals like the BMW 3 Series, but it uses clever electronics to make it seriously sharp. It has a feeling of being planted to the road whether it’s wet or dry, and turns into corners quickly. It really is a hugely fun car to drive fast. Audi’s Drive Select option allows the chassis to be altered between sporty and more comfortable settings. It’s possible to tell the difference, although like other A4s the ride comfort of the S4 could be better in general. It thumps and jiggles over potholes.
While the Audi S4 isn’t the fastest saloon on sale, few will feel underwhelmed by its power. Despite its 328bhp output being almost 100bhp less than the BMW M3’s, it’s only marginally slower to get to 62mph from standstill, at 5.1 seconds (for the manual version). The 3-litre supercharged V6 engine has loads of pulling power (324lb/ft) so it feels strong in any gear and from very low revs. It’s great to push hard though, and sounds impressive as it reaches its rev limiter. The S4 feels every bit as quick on the road as its performance stats suggest.
This is not a car to buy with running costs in mind, although given the performance, 28.2mpg is impressive. In fact, that improves to 30.1mpg when the S4 is specified with the S tronic twin-clutch automatic gearbox. This sits between the BMW 335i’s 33.6mpg and the M3’s 22.8mpg. That said, CO2 emissions of 234g/km (for the manual) put the car into VED band L – the second highest. The BMW 335i emits 196g/km which places it in car tax band J while the M3’s 290g/km places it in tax band M.
Audi enjoys a good reputation for reliability and the A4, from which the S4 derives, is a big-seller. Historically, the big Japanese brands have come with the more bullet-proof reputation, as evidenced by the Reliability Index, though that has taken something of a knock with recent safety recalls.
The A4 on which the S4 is based received a five-star Euro NCAP rating for adult occupant protection. The S4 comes with six airbags as standard, as well as anti-lock brakes and ESP. Its Quattro four-wheel-drive system gives it an extra layer of grip and assurance – especially in wet weather and slippery conditions.
Because the S4 is a flagship model it does come well equipped as standard. However, it’s still possible to spend a small fortune on the options list. Part-leather seats, alloy wheels, climate control and parking sensors come with the price, but full leather, metallic paint, and sat-nav are options that you’ll probably want – and pay handsomely for.
Audi has pitched the S4 cleverly. It’s priced on par with the BMW 335i, but with both looks and performance closer to the much more expensive BMW M3. The S badge certainly makes it feel more special than a run-of-the-mill compact executive saloon. Image aside it’s just a very complete car. It’s hugely quick and fun to drive, yet practical, comfy and relatively affordable to fuel.