If you like station wagons, you can thank the Germans for keeping them alive.
No country produces more wagons than Deutschland, with BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Opel still committed to the format. Wagons are so popular there they account for around two-thirds of all Mercedes-Benz C-Class models.
Audi offers its mid-sized wagon body in regular A4, sporty S4, sportier RS4, and vaguely rugged Allroad guises, more variety than BMW and Mercedes-Benz have in Australia. For buyers seeking a larger wagon, Audi also offers the A6 Allroad and the wild RS6, for which its German have no local competition.
In fact, Audi Australia is so dedicated to wagons it doesn’t even bother offering the RS4 and RS6 in sedan form.
The recently-updated Audi S4 Avant mightn’t be as wild as its RS4 sibling but it still offers turbocharged V6 power in a practical wagon body. That leaves it with precisely one direct rival: the Mercedes-AMG C43 wagon.
These are niche models in what’s become a niche body style, and it’s likely the similarly-priced Audi SQ5 will far outsell the S4 Avant in the 2021 sales race.
Nevertheless, the Audi S4 Avant deserves your attention if you want something that’s both practical and fun-to-drive.
The 2021 Audi S4 Avant is priced at $102,000 before on-road costs, or $500 more than the outgoing petrol SQ5 TFSI and $2500 more than an S4 sedan.
It undercuts the C43 by over $10,000, with its fellow German wagon retailing for $114,535 before on-road costs.
Our example had only one option: the $2990 quattro sport differential.
Standard equipment on the S4 includes:
- 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto
- Satellite navigation
- DAB+ digital radio
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Adaptive sport suspension
- Head-up display
- 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit Plus digital instrument cluster
- 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system
- Surround-view camera
- Adaptive cruise with stop/go
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Privacy glass
- Power tailgate
- Keyless entry/start
- Tri-zone climate control
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Heated, power-adjustable front seats with driver’s memory
- Massaging front seats
- Colour-adjustable ambient lighting
- Stainless steel pedals
- Aluminium sill plates with illuminated S logo
Options include a black exterior package and a panoramic sunroof. You can also upgrade the standard LED headlights with static cornering lights to LED matrix headlights with dynamic cornering lights and headlight washers.
There’s also some additional performance hardware available, including a quattro sport differential and dynamic variable-ratio steering.
Our tester was finished in Quantum Grey, a shade very similar to the well-known Nardo Grey.
The Audi S4 hasn’t specifically been tested by ANCAP, but the safety body has recorded an ANCAP rating of five stars for the A4 based on Euro NCAP testing conducted in 2015.
The five-star rating was based on an adult occupant protection score of 89 per cent, child occupant protection score of 87 per cent, vulnerable road user protection score of 75 per cent, and a safety assist score of 75 per cent.
All 2021 Audi S4 models come standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, an active bonnet, and an exit warning system.
While some cars only offer side airbags for front seat occupants, the S4 has side airbags for both rows in addition to curtain airbags. There are also dual front airbags.
The S4 also has swerve assist, which applies a small amount of steering torque to correct your steering angle should you suddenly take evasive action. This works at speeds of between 30km/h and 150km/h.
The autonomous emergency braking system, which Audi refers to as pre sense, will apply the brakes at speeds of up to 250km/h when it detects a vehicle. For pedestrians, it’ll brake at speeds of up to 85km/h.
The S4 has one of Audi’s traditionally conservative interior designs, though our test car had a welcome burst of colour with its Magma Red Nappa leather upholstery.
Material quality is first-rate. The brushed metal trim across the dashboard is the real thing and looks gorgeous, while the suede door inserts are a sporty touch.
We’d like to see the piano black trim on the centre console excised and replaced with more of that lovely metal. Piano black trim has become a crutch for too many automakers and gets covered in dust and smudges almost immediately.
The dimpled leather on the shifter is an unexpected tactile delight. And the plastics used in the interior are soft to the touch, even in places like the lower half of the door trims where you might expect them to be hard.
While some recent Audis like the E-Tron and Q7 have moved to a dual-screen set-up on their centre stacks, the S4 has a single 10.1-inch display. Gone is the rotary controller, axed as part of a 2020 update to the A4 range.
While I personally was a fan of the rotary dial, the S4’s touchscreen is easy to reach and boasts quick response times. The graphics are attractive, too, while there are neat features like real-time weather information.
The single screen in the centre stack also means the temperature is mercifully controlled via buttons and knobs. It’s a bit annoying to see two button blanks in the middle of the dashboard, though.
The redesigned centre console isn’t perfect. The cupholders are too close to the dashboard, which means some cups can block controls. There’s also a titchy covered cubby between the centre stack and the shifter, big enough for perhaps the car key but little else.
The 12.3-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster remains a highlight in the cabin, with the ability to display a map in both regular and satellite views.
When you’re on the highway, the map view also zooms out to display the road network and nearest towns which is a handy touch.
Audi hasn’t completely transitioned over to USB-C outlets like Skoda with its most recent products. However, the company has helpfully included a USB-C outlet in the centre console bin next to the wireless charging pad, while there’s a USB-A outlet at the base of the centre stack.
Have a feel
Everything you touch feels high-quality, and that includes the new touchscreen.
Audi’s cruise control stalk deserves a mention, too, for its intuitiveness. One long push increases or decreases the set speed by 10km/h, while a short push adjusts it by 1km/h.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive and, while they lack ventilation, their three-mode massage function is superb.
Even more impressive is the 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. It’s a sensational sound system that had me taking longer routes and treating the S4 as a mobile karaoke booth.
The S4 Avant feels a little more snug inside than an SQ5, though the difference isn’t huge.
A 180cm-tall passenger can sit behind a 180cm driver and still enjoy plenty of leg and knee room, aided by the scooped-out seatbacks, while headroom is also sufficient. We don’t love the hard, scratchy plastics used on the front seatbacks, however.
There are climate controls for rear-seat occupants plus two USB-A outlets and one 12V outlet. There are also three top-tether and two ISOFIX anchor points for child seats.
The S4 Avant has 495L of cargo capacity, expanding to 1495L when the rear seats are folded down – a C43, in comparison, has 460L and 1480L, respectively. The seats split 40:20:40, while underneath the load bay is a space-saver spare.
We appreciate each exterior door handle has a sensor for the keyless entry, but almost everybody who came for a spin in the S4 criticised the peculiar action of its door handles. They feel almost flimsy, in stark contrast to the rest of the car.
Also, as we’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the S4’s pedal placement could be better.
The S4 is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine, producing 260kW of power from 5400rpm (to a 6400rpm redline) and 500Nm of torque between 1370 and 4500rpm. It’s mated to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic and quattro all-wheel drive.
It’s a significant jump from the turbocharged four-cylinder A4 45 TFSI, which is down 77kW and 130Nm. However, the RS4 is a jump again, with its twin-turbo V6 putting out 61kW and 100Nm more than the S4.
Over our test loop, comprising inner-city, suburban and highway driving, we averaged 10.4L/100km.
That’s more than Audi’s ADR combined cycle claim of 8.8L/100km, though not unreasonable. The long-term memory readout displayed a slightly worse 11.4L/100km.
Sometimes with all-wheel drive cars, it feels like you’re playing a video game on easy mode. All-wheel drive systems typically quell oversteer and tamp down torque steer, resulting in a very polished – perhaps, sometimes too polished – experience.
The S4 is polished, there’s no doubt about it. But its handling is so balanced and its grip so tenacious that it just makes you want to push it harder and harder.
Understeer is non-existent, helped by the optional, torque-vectoring quattro sport differential in our tester.
The automatically-controlled differential distributes drive torque between the rear wheels, sending almost all the torque to the outside wheel when you’re tackling a curve.
You feel confident exploring its limits and there’s so much grunt on tap from the turbo V6.
It’s a ripper of an engine, this V6. Like on the soon-to-be-culled petrol SQ5, which uses the same engine, there’s a slight delay off the line. Then, the turbocharger spools up and there’s a hefty shove as the S4 rockets towards the horizon.
The 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in 4.9 seconds, or 0.2 seconds slower than the S4 sedan.
Grace, pace and space
Sharp handling, a comfortable ride and a powerful turbo V6 make for a delightful drive.
The steering is superbly weighted, further inspiring confidence, and though the ride is naturally quite firm, the adaptive dampers still furnish a comfortable ride in Dynamic mode.
The S4 has a wonderful snarl to it, especially in Dynamic mode where the exhaust snaps, crackles and pops. It’s a sonic delight. Dynamic mode is also more than comfortable around town, rarely holding gears for longer than necessary. Comfort definitely takes some of the edge off the car but the S4 still feels alive.
We appreciate that the current gear is displayed in the instrument cluster, even if you’re not in manual shift mode. Likewise, the S4 remembers which drive mode you were last in when you restart the car – a simple thing, but one that should please enthusiasts. It’s a good thing, because Audi’s parts-bin drive mode selector is fiddly.
In all, this is a car you can enjoy pushing to its limits but which is still eminently comfortable as a daily driver. Only a bit of tyre roar at highway speeds mars refinement.
Disappointingly, a rattle began to emanate from the dashboard when we took the S4 onto coarser-chip surfaces. At one stage, it became extremely loud, sounding like it was coming from just behind the infotainment screen.
Audi’s stop-start system is one of the more assertive systems on the market and you can sometimes feel it activating as you’re easing to a stop.
Nevertheless, it isn’t jerky.
Audi offers only a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which pales against Mercedes’ five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
In terms of servicing costs, Audi offers upfront packages of $1970 for three years and $2950 for five years.
The S4 requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000kms, whichever comes first.
We can’t imagine why you’d buy an Audi SQ5 TFSI over this.
An SQ5 feels bulkier in terms of handling and stiffer in terms of ride. It’s an SUV that rides rather like a sports car with its standard suspension set-up but – for physics’ sake – can’t handle like one.
The return of the turbo-diesel V6 to the SQ5 at least gives it a unique selling point, as does the option of air suspension.
Of course, we’re shouting into the wind. We can’t imagine many SUV buyers will cross-shop an SQ5 with an S4 Avant, and that’s a shame as the S4 is so thoroughly good.
Would an RS4 be more fun? Sure. But you’d be paying an extra $45,000 or so for the privilege.
This is one classy family hauler, with elegant styling inside and out, a pleasing ride/handling balance, and plenty of pace from that turbocharged V6.
Not many people will buy one, even after last year’s update, but kudos to Audi Australia for continuing to offer such a compelling sport wagon.
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