2016 Audi S4

We've been to Germany to drive an early version of the new Audi S4 Saloon. It'll be the fastest A4 you can buy when it arrives later this year, but is it as good to drive as its BMW and Mercedes...

2016 Audi S4 review

The new Audi S4 Saloon will be the quickest car in the current Audi A4 range until the new Audi RS4 arrives in around 18 months. We say 'will be', because you can’t order an S4 until this summer, and deliveries won't start until the autumn.

Audi’s S range is for those who want something discrete but with a healthy smattering of pace, and this S4 certainly fits the bill. The looks are enhanced, yet remain understated with slightly more aggressively styled bumpers, four exhaust tailpipes and a matt-chrome or optional black finish to the front grille and door mirror casings.

A new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine provides the pace. It has 21bhp more than the old S4, but it’s more efficient as well. This puts the new S4 bang-on terms with key rivals such as the BMW 340i Saloon and the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Saloon for performance, fuel economy and CO2 emissions.

Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system comes as standard, as does lowered sports suspension and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Equipment and pricing haven’t been confirmed, but expect luxuries including a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights, plus Napa-leather and Alcantara-trimmed seats to come as standard, with a small increase over the previous car’s £40,085 list price. There will also be and estate version, called the S4 Avant.

What’s the 2016 Audi S4 Saloon like to drive?

Whether you’re accelerating from standstill or on the move, the engine pulls strongly from 1500rpm through to maximum revs. However, it’s the breadth of oomph in the mid-range that makes the S4 rapid without ever feeling strained. It also sounds quite throaty when you rev it hard, although both the BMW and Mercedes have arguably more characterful six-cylinder exhaust notes.

2016 Audi S4 review

Even when keeping up with traffic on the German Autobahn, wind and road noise remain low, but there are refinement issues elsewhere. Hit 2000rpm and the engine sounds boomy and the steering wheel buzzes lightly in you hands. There’s also a slight jolt through the body each time you put your foot on and off the accelerator. However, the car we’re testing is a prototype on which such issues aren’t unusual, and Audi’s engineers assured us there’d be no such problems by the time production starts.

No problems to report concerning the smoothness of the automatic gearbox, though. It slips with ease from gear to gear, and for ultimate control super-snappy manual shifts can executed using the paddles behind the steering wheel.

The steering is precise and accurate. You can select one of two settings to alter its weight: Comfort or Dynamic. We preferred the Comfort setting because it keeps the steering light enough for town use, but still offers plenty of feedback to give you confidence on faster, snaking B-roads.

Our car also had optional adaptive dampers that let you adjust the suspension’s stiffness. Again, Comfort mode produces the best compromise for most roads, keeping body lean well checked while delivering a firm, but not jarring ride. The stiffer Dynamic setting offers tighter body control, but with a lot more jostling even over relatively smooth surfaces.

On wet surfaces the four-wheel drive helps get the power down easily. It gives the S4 much greater grip pulling out of junctions than the rear-wheel-drive 340i.

What’s the 2016 Audi S4 Saloon like inside?

You can’t dispute the quality finish of the S4’s interior; like the rest of the A4 range it’s the best in class for perceived quality. That said, there’s not much to differentiate the Audi S4 from the standard models, so if you prefer a bit of pizzazz you might find the C 43’s interior feels more special.

2016 Audi S4 review

Up front there’s room for two six foot tall adults, while the driver gets a superb driving position with plenty of seat and wheel adjustment. Audi’s MMI infotainment system with its clear 7.0in screen and the optional Virtual Cockpit screen, which displays a range of info in front of the driver, are also easy to use, and almost as good as the iDrive system you get in the BMW.

Rear seat head and leg room isn’t quite a match for the 3 Series, but there’s still enough room for a couple of average sized adults, or three at a push. If anything the boot is more usable, though. It’s a good square shape with a consistent one-metre width all the way along, so fitting in wide items like a set of golf clubs shouldn’t present a problem. There’s also a low load lip, and to accommodate longer loads, the rear seatbacks fold flat in a 40/20/40 arrangement.

Should I buy one?

Potentially, yes. To fully endorse the Audi S4 we’d need to see how the pricing and equipment levels stacks up against its rivals, and see how the finished product drives here in the UK. However, if you’re not in a rush to buy it’s well worth waiting for an S4.

Alternatively, a quick but frugal A4 you can buy now is the excellent A4 3.0 TDI 272 Quattro. This model offers nearly as much pace as the Audi S4, along with economy of 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 134g/km.

What Car? says...

Rated 4 out of 5

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BMW 3 Series (340i Saloon)

Mercedes C -Class (AMG C43 4Matic Saloon)

Audi S4 Saloon

Engine size 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 petrol

Price from £TBC

Power 349bhp

Torque 369lb ft

0-62mph 4.7sec

Top speed 155mph (limited)

Fuel economy (official combined) 38.7mpg

CO2/BIK band 166g/km/30%