You might remember just before Christmas I took delivery of a new S4 long-termer. A car which, mere days later, was pranged into by a young driver trying to do a three-point turn outside my house.
So, with around 300 miles on the clock, it was whisked away to Audi’s bodyshop to have the badly dented bumpers pulled and buffed and repaired back to new.
In its place came the S4’s big brother – the RS4 – to stand in until the diesel-powered estate was returned to match fitness. Needless to say, the differences between the two are quite marked, with the RS4 favouring a 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine over the S4’s 3.0-litre turbo diesel.
The ride on the RS4 is exceptionally firm, crashing through the roads near to my home which, at the moment, resemble terrain that the Mars rover would think twice about tackling. It does, however, make up for this with its hugely characterful engine and uber-sharp throttle which, as you’ll find out later, really does contrast that found in the S4.
But the RS4 retains the same usefully practical shape as the S4. Whereas the lower-powered model can be specified as either a saloon or estate, the RS4 is a wagon only – something I really admire Audi for sticking to. It has a long history of making ultra-fast yet incredibly useable estate cars, both with the RS4 and larger RS6, too.
The fuel economy is a bit of a stinger, mind. While at the moment I’m only doing essential journeys with the very odd work-related drive thrown in the middle, even here I saw the RS4’s fuel tank empty quicker than bees on honey. For most of the time, it sat at around 18mpg, though did briefly nudge up to 20.
So it’s fair to say that my wallet breathed a sigh of relief as the bright blue RS4 was replaced for the now-fixed S4. With its diesel engine powering the whole affair, the S4 has a claimed fuel economy just shy of 40mpg which does trump the RS4 resoundingly.
And it doesn’t half fight its corner in the performance stakes, too. Zero to 60mph comes in around 4.7 seconds, which is only a second off the RS4’s pace. You also get more torque in the diesel – a mighty 700Nm over the RS4’s 600 – which, during daily driving, is the thing you notice most. This car simply rockets in the mid-range; apply some throttle while rolling at a moderate speed and the S4 rips. Quattro all-wheel-drive means there’s the opportunity to do that even in the worst weather, too.
Sadly the much-criticised throttle delay that we’ve found on other diesel Audis is present and correct in the S4. Look to move away at a roundabout for instance, and you’ll experience a noticeable pause between the application of the throttle and the delivery of power. It means you’re sometimes left floundering into a roundabout with zero power, only to lurch forward when it eventually comes in. I’ve managed to dial this out a touch by putting the car into its most aggressive throttle setting, but even here the issue remains. You do learn to work around it, but it’s an annoyance in what is an otherwise well-rounded experience.
The ride is still firm – albeit not quite as granite-edged as that in the RS4 – and in hindsight, I would’ve likely plumped for the adaptive suspension, though only Vorsprung-specifications cars come with this fitted. Going for this pumps the price up considerably, but the trade-off is that it’s a far more comfortable experience.
It has now clicked to the heady heights of 500 miles too, which means that I’m still being rather cautious with the throttle as the car works its way through the running-in period. Driving in a more serene fashion does mean I’ve got time to enjoy other aspects of the S4’s cabin, such as the excellent Bang & Olufsen stereo. I barely even listen to the radio – I’d rather use Spotify instead – and having a good audio setup really does make a noticeable difference.
Having Apple CarPlay is another bonus, too. The setup in the S4 is wireless as well, meaning that you don’t need to connect your phone via USB in order to launch CarPlay. It fits well on the screen and works as smoothly as you’d expect.
I really do hope that I’m able to travel slightly further afield in the S4 over the coming months – but we’ll have to see. For the time being, the short trips it is undertaking are being done in sublime fashion, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it feels over longer distances.