Every time I drive a new car, I play a little game with myself. Would I swap it permanently for my much-loved 2008 5 Series?
Normally, the answer is no. Of course my head gets turned by powerful engines and swoopy styling but once I bring the practicalities of comfort, convenience and running costs into the equation, it’s rare I find myself yearning for something new.
But there’s always one… and that one is the new Audi S4 TDi. Yes, Audi’s A4 performance flagship is a diesel and it’s a cracker.
Power comes from a 3.0 litre V6 but instead of the usual twin turbo arrangement, Audi have chosen to use a single, larger unit. Normally, that would be a recipe for lots of turbo lag and a lack of low down power and to solve this, an electrically driven compressor, or supercharger, squeezes the air at lower engine speeds. It’s an idea that occurred to me years ago. I should have patented it.
The compressor is an impressive piece of kit and I had one of the Audi engineers explain it to me at the launch in the Italian Tyrol.
Power comes from a 48 volt electrical system which also provides energy for the mild hybrid system, said to save around 0.4 l/100km of fuel. In less than a third of a second, the compressor can reach its top speed of 60,000 revs. Even spinning at those speeds, it doesn’t need to be part of the normal lubrication system, depending solely on a sealed for life bearing.
The result is a whopping 700Nm of stump-pulling torque and 347bhp, which reaches the road via an eight speed automatic and ultimately through quattro four wheel drive. This car truly defines effortless power and it’s addictive.
Fast Audis in the past have sometimes lacked the ultimate handling finesse but I had no complaints about this one. It simply goes where you point it and the ride, even with the firmest damping settings selected, is never less than cossetting.
The interior is little changed as this is just a model refresh, albeit a comprehensive one. The major changes are a new, larger touchscreen which does away with the usual control knob between the seats. Instead, you use the touch screen with its redesigned, cleaner menu or the new, natural language voice recognition system.
The exterior too has been refreshed. At the rear, the car is almost indistinguishable from the A6 as the rear lights are now joined in a similar way. At the sides, the shoulder line has now been split into two levels, forming quattro blisters on the two wings. It looks rather good. At the front, new LED headlights allow for a bolder, more agressive face.
The S4 is not the only new variant as the range is joined by a new allroad with four wheel drive as standard, although it’s not a permanent setup like the S4.
Instead, power is normally channeled through the front wheels with the rears being brought into play when needed. It’s done this way in the pursuit of fuel economy.
Like most other models in the range, it comes with a mild hybrid system, based around the normal 12 volt electrical system.
To help deal with the rough stuff, the suspension is raised by 35mm and this results in a higher driving position. A wider track is also part of the allroad changes as is body cladding in an unusual and attractive, shiny black, in place of the usual grey.
A word about transmissions and it’s clear to see that Audi are getting ready to kill of manual gearboxes. Only the base petrol model is available with a six speed manual. Everything else gets either a seven or eight speed auto box. It’s a development I don’t like but it’s clearly where the market is going.
On the other hand, diesel appears to have a bright future in Audis to come as this new A4 introduces a brand-new 2.0 litre diesel with a choice of three power outputs. It’s a smooth and willing unit and I tried the middle option, with an output of 163bhp.
My test car, an Avant, proved to be a very pleasant drive and there was plenty of poke from the engine. In fact it was easy to break traction on the twisting mountain road, as evidenced by the flashing orange warning from the traction contol system.
This engine is going to be one of the more popular options and it makes a good case for itself when matched up to the opposition.
Some interesting options include the ability to communicate with traffic lights to minimise waiting at red lights, the ability to open and operate the car with an Android phone and to create ‘virtual keys’ for family and friends and the ability to add functions to the car after taking delivery, including DAB radio, MMI Navigation Plus and the Audi smartphone interface.
We don’t have final pricing yet as Audi Ireland are still in negotiations with the factory on this matter. Expect the first cars to reach customers around September.
With one in five of all Audis sold worldwide being an A4, it’s a crucial car for Audi. Pricing starts from €40,400 for the TFSI petrol and €41,000 for the 30 TDI.