Thomas Edison had a lightbulb moment well before the phrase was coined, just as sporty wagons like the Audi S4 Avant have existed well before the performance SUV.
Closer to the ground, not high in the atmosphere, is where suspension can work best – unless there is a need to crawl with extended tentacles over rocky off-road terrain.
There was a previous-generation S4 Avant, and one before that again, yet the limelight these days shines on similarly priced family cars such as Jaguar’s F-Pace, Porsche’s Macan and even Audi’s SQ5, to name but three of a burgeoning breed.
After all these decades we still choose to light our homes in a warm white hue, though, without fancy colours or strobe lighting, and messing with Edison’s original. For $100K, then, is the original-recipe sporty wagon a smart choice over an SUV?
Vehicle Style: Sports wagon
Price: $102,900 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 260kW/500Nm 3.0 V6 turbo petrol | eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.7 l/100km | Tested: 10.0 l/100km
The latest Audi S4 costs $99,900 plus on-road costs in sedan form, or $3000 extra for the Avant bodystyle tested here.
Both bodystyles get a new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine linked to an eight-speed automatic driving all four wheels. A 4.9-second 0-100km/h claim for the Avant is 0.2sec slower than the sedan.
However, where the S4 sedan scores a 480-litre boot, this S4 Avant gets 505L. That big booty leaves it 35kg heavier, at 1675kg; hence the slight performance reduction.
There are a few extra-cost options with the Audi S4 range, but generally equipment is bountiful for the price. This is where ‘sports’ and ‘luxury’ aim to meet in a practical medium-sized package – a blend of performance, indulgence and space.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry and push-button start, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-trimmed electrically adjustable front seats with heating, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, active cruise control, auto LED headlights and wipers, automatic park assistance and electric tailgate
- Infotainment: 8.3-inch centre and 12.3-inch driver colour screens with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and SD card inputs, satellite navigation with 3D maps, one-shot voice control and 10 speakers
- Options Fitted: $5900 S performance package (extended leather and gloss-carbon trim, diamond-stitched Nappa leather seats, electric lumbar and massage front seats, red brake callipers), $5600 Technik package (Matrix LED headlights, Bang and Olufsen audio and head-up display), $390 manual rear-door sunblinds.
- Cargo Volume: 505 litres
Let’s start at the rear of the S4 Avant and place that backside in context with a more popular performance SUV rival.
The Audi beats the cargo volume of a Porsche Macan by just 5L, yet this wagon’s body is 64mm longer overall and that provides surplus rear legroom for rear riders.
Being lower to the ground, heavier items can be lifted more effortlessly into the rear of the S4 Avant, aided by a standard electric tailgate complete with ‘kick’ function that allows an arms-full owner to wave a foot beneath the rear bumper to activate its rise.
So far Audi wagon and Porsche SUV seem similar. Except that the former is far better-equipped than the latter, a massive 190kg lighter than the equivalent Macan S model, while the S4 Avant claims to use 1.3 litres less petrol per 100 kilometres, and yet is 10kW/40Nm more powerful with a four-tenths faster claimed 0-100km/h time.
The ‘daggy’ wagon gives up nothing in versatility for its lightness and efficiency. Up front is where the S4 really humbles others, though.
The standard 12.3-inch colour display ahead of the driver is flawless, both in terms of operation and high-resolution graphics. The ability to show maps – even in a proper Google Earth image – while using the steering wheel scroll wheel to zoom, most helps when you know roughly where you are but want to zip through streets without using nav. It’s one example, but whether it be audio or phone, it’s properly high end.
The centre screen mainly deals with digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functions, and its font and graphics are consistently matched to the driver cluster. All controls press and rotate with slickly damped and expensively furnished precision.
Although the standard equipment list is generous, and the cabin of the S4 Avant feels about as premium as you could expect for a six-figure pricetag, around $10K of options take it up a notch even further.
The 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang and Olufsen audio system is superb, the massage front seats with diamond-stitched Nappa leather are simply indulgent, and the matrix LED headlights that can ‘block out’ only the strand of beam affecting forward or oncoming vehicles is inspired.
Together with the lane-keep assist that keeps the steering wheel centred in a freeway lane, there is little left to desire in a premium family car.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 260kW/500Nm 3.0 V6 turbo petrol
- Transmission: eight-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: multi-link independent front and rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
The S4 Avant includes three-mode adaptive suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels as standard, while the only option fitted to our test car was the quattro sport differential ($2950) that ensures most drive goes to a planted outside rear wheel in bends.
At lower speed around town, the new turbo V6 – replacing the supercharged V6 of identical 3.0-litre capacity – is as smooth and syrupy as the suspension is in Comfort mode. There is a bit of bass on light throttle to signal that this is no four-cylinder A4, but it feeds into the cabin with warm distinction rather than a try-hard roar.
The eight-speed auto is far smoother, too, than the seven-speed dual-clutch units used in lower-spec A4 models and the old-gen S4.
Flicking from Comfort, to Auto, to Dynamic on urban arterial roads, however, reveals that Audi has nailed all three driver select modes. The softest doesn’t mean soggy, with only slight head-toss evident, while the firmest is never overly hard or harsh. Over any roads all three work with subtle difference and consistent accomplishment.
Unless the driver is averse to light steering, Comfort is also the pick for its light, sharp and fluid response. Thankfully the Audi Drive Select system also means the driver can mix-and-match Dynamic throttle, Auto suspension and Comfort steering, for example.
The S4 in full Dynamic mode quickly sheds its Clark Kent suit on a twisty road. though. Superman it may not be, but this is a super-sporty wagon.
Frankly, the optional sport diff is a must for keen drivers. It makes the A4 chassis feel much pointier and sharper than a 2.0 TFSI quattro which, in itself, is a brisk unit.
Plant the accelerator early through a bend and – in concert with an excellent Sport electronic stability control (ESC) setting – drive is clearly sent rearward as the whole vehicle pivots onto its outside-rear wheel for an enjoyable and engaging corner exit.
Not only worthy of dynamic comparison with a Porsche, the S4 Avant combines the driver-oriented virtues of a rear-drive BMW with the comfort of a Mercedes-Benz.
Even its economy was reasonable considering the performance – 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres freeway and 11.5L/100km after a country drive, for 10L/100km overall.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Audi A4 range scored 34.50 out of 38 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2016.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, rear-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, blind-spot assistance with pedestrian/cyclist detection, forward and rear collision warnings with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active lane-keep assistance, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Audi’s three-year/45,000km servicing package includes three dealer checks, one every year or 15,000km, for a total price of $1620 – or a higher-than-average $540 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The F-Pace is roomier than a Macan, but poorer value with flawed suspension. The Porsche is the driver’s SUV, but it’s cramped. Of the wagons a V60 Polestar and C43 Estate are as similarly sized and similarly quick as this S4 Avant, but are more aggressive in their characters, yet ultimately without the dynamic and luxury resolve.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Audi S4 Avant is an absolute knockout in terms of its ability to merge practicality, luxury, performance, ride and handling.
With the exception of the odd option that should be standard, it otherwise makes other performance SUV models feel heavy and overpriced, yet underdone.
Unless a buyer is a real driving enthusiast, though, an A4 2.0 TFSI quattro Avant can be optioned in a similar way to this S4 Avant for much less. Where this model steps up is with that optional sport differential, which brings out the best of this chassis.
Best forget the strobe-lit in-vogue SUV breed, then, and instead be a premium family buyer bright spark – this is yet another case of the Edison-original being best.
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