Sunday, 16 August 2009


BMW may not know this but it may have been out-BMWed by Audi for the second time now. First the RS 4 arrived and blew the M3 away a few years ago. Now Audi has launched the new-generation S4 which takes the 335i by the scruff of the neck and threatens to make a meal of it, right there and then. Of course the S4’s main mission in life has been to upset the incumbent and from what I experienced last week…

Firstly let’s talk about Audi for a moment. In 2009 the company celebrates 100 years of existence, which many may not know about. Contrary to popular belief Audi is actually older than BMW, and almost as old as Mercedes-Benz/ Daimler. This is important because by 2015 it would have surpassed BMW as the biggest maker of premium cars in the world, having trampled on Mercedes-Benz 3 years before. The latter sentence is only true if you believe Audi executives and their plans for the future.

Figures point to the fact that it may actually happen this way; recently the company came close to overtaking Mercedes-Benz for second spot and globally it grew faster than both its competitors, both of who showed sharp declines in sales.

IN4RIDE reported back in January on the A4’s sales supremacy over the 3 Series in their home market of Germany. That has not happened here in South Africa and does not look like it will happen anytime soon. Nevertheless the A4 is growing in sales and the S4 is an important part of that growth because it is, alongside the S5, a halo model to which customers can look up for inspiration.

I was certainly inspired when taking it around the 2.9km Roy Hesketh track in Pietermaritzburg. Having taken the 6-speed manual S4 from Durban Airport all the way up to PMB through curvy but populated roads, the time had arrived for it to show its mettle on a real racetrack and the historic Roy Hesketh proved a fertile ground for that.

We were let loose in 7-speed S Tronic (twin-clutch) models which was probably a good idea seeing as though most of us had never driven this track before and would possibly not know the correct braking points and gears to slice the track with. Did we slice or what! The S4 makes one feel like they are a professional racing driver; it all just comes so easy. The right foot is forever planted to the floor while the steering wheel is hardly overworked. Grip is stunning, with the quattro AWD system proving exciting doses of it where needed and letting the driver do his thing where desired. A new electronic centre Sports differential strengthens its cause even further, giving extra directional stability and minimising any under and oversteer. Those 18-inch wheels and tyres did not for a moment squeal out of displeasure but instead gave immense pleasure. Unfortunately the Audi hoodoo of smoking brakes hit us on this occasion, just as it had when the previous S4 was launched at the old Wesbank Raceway in 2003 and when the RS 4 was launched at the Aldo Scribante race track in May 2006.

When it comes to accelerating, the new 3.0-litre supercharged (Roots type) V6 with a full compliment of 245kW between 5500rpm and 7000rpm and maximum torque of 440Nm between 2900rpm and 5300rpm takes absolutely no prisoners. Some 396Nm is already available from 2200rpm. Audi says the manual will cover 0 – 100km/h in 5.1 seconds while the S Tronic will do the same in 5.3 seconds. Interesting considering some other Volkswagen Group performance products (like the Porsche Boxster S) report faster acceleration times from their semi-automatic transmissions rather than the manuals. Either way it feels like a car on a mission and has no plans to stop until the brakes are applied. Top speed is 250km/h. Even in overtaking the kickdown is fierce and immediate, undoubtedly the benefit of zero lag.

Speaking of which, initially the S4 was meant to have twin turbo power but it was soon discovered that the force-feeders could not be accommodated in the engine bay (something they ought to have realised at design stage). So the supercharger came into play. Not a bad compromise at all actually. Although the previous-generation 4.2-litre V8 provided better aural satisfaction, the V6 is not too far off itself. Fuel consumption should be marginally better than that old V8; the claim is a combined figure of 9.7 litres per 100km for the manual and 9.4 litres per 100km for the S Tronic. Average C02 emissions are 225 and 219g/km respectively.

My worry, as is almost always the case with Audis, was in the gearbox department where manuals seem not to be given the same special attention that double clutch cogs are. The gearlever itself is that old school round head but the changes are guided and accurate.

As for the looks the S4 is not very differentiated from S-Line A4s unless you know what to look for. That includes a single frame front grille, aluminium sill trims emblazoned with the S4 logo, a deeper rear bumper with an integrated diffuser (that does not look much like a diffuser) and twin oval chromed exhaust tailpipes on either side. LED lights are fitted both at the front and the rear.

The interior features everything that one would expect of a car that almost touches the R600 000 mark (I told you so!). According to Audi, the cars are already specced so well that a comparative rival with the same specs would cost more than the S4. Seats are sporty leather, trimmed with alcantara, there’s the MMI system that operates al the infotainment systems and vehicle settings, cruise control, sport pedals, an optional Bang & Olufsen sound system and others.

Buyers will be able to choose from a list of 11 exterior colours that include Deep Sea Blue, Phantom Black, Garnet Red and Ibis White.

Audi has presented the mid-upper segment with a new high performance everyday sports car. Bring on the competition!

Audi S4 Pricing

S4 6-speed manual (R580 500)

S4 7-speed double-clutch automatic (R597 500)