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Wednesday 20th June 2012


PH BLOG: S EXPRESS

Why S sometimes beats RS when it comes to PH-friendly Audis


So after a week, quite a few miles and hours at the wheel the PH Le Mans Audi S4 is shortly to return to its keepers. And leaves me impressed.

The PH S4 camping it up at Le Mans
The PH S4 camping it up at Le Mans
Hot Audis are a curious breed. And the S4 Avant only vindicates my growing suspicion that the S models are the ones to go for, at least in the current line-up. Iím not, for instance, going to offer any sort of argument against the previous RS4, a truly wonderful combination of noise, poise and subtle menace that the new version apparently muddies with needless complexity and gizmo related faffage.

Pick your way carefully around the S4 spec sheet though and, to some extent, you can get much of the previous RSís appeal, the pick of the gadgets that do work and the ability to pass on the ones that donít. OK, noisy V8 beats supercharged V6 any day of the week. But with the optional Sports Differential (£620 and available on non-S 3.0 TDI A4s too) it can do most unexpected things.

Fast, subtle, balanced and comfy too
Fast, subtle, balanced and comfy too
This transpired on the launch a couple of years back. On dry tarmac it was business-as-usual fast Audi. Nice cabin. Understeers a bit. Copy filed and job done. And then we got to a little kart track where the benefits of the Sports Differential were to be demonstrated. And it rained. And without that passing shower Iíd have written the S4 off as just another fast Audi.

First clue I was wrong was a chat with an engineer who said theyíd benchmarked the Sports Differential against the Mitsubishi Evoís Active Yaw Control and Super All Wheel Control. Really? With that in mind and on a devilishly slippery kart track I decided to see what lurked beyond default Audi understeer. Sure enough on turn-in it wanted to plough on. But with throttle came a most surprising response Ė a gentle transition to the rear axle, a quarter turn of opposite lock and a predictable, graceful slide out of the corner all four wheels scrabbling. Amazed I remember trying it again. And again.

Manual V8 S5 more fun than an RS5?
Manual V8 S5 more fun than an RS5?
That memory stuck with me and though our Le Mans S4 didnít have the Sports Differential it still seemed a nicely balanced package, thankfully free of the worst of the tech overload and with a usable, useful amount of performance and attitude entirely relevant to its role. Cripes, it even rode OK!

Same goes for the TT S, which is much more lively, gutsy and fun than the faster but stodgy and uninspiring RS version, a pattern repeated with the RS5. Especially if you dig out a pre-facelift S5, before the switch to the supercharged V6. Whatís not to likeabout the combination of Audiís lovely, free-revving 4.2 V8, subtle looks and a close-ratio six-speed manual, after all. The gap is narrower with the more back to basics RS3, which is a cool car in its own right. But the S3 is not far off, more attainable, easily tuned and also available as a manual.

Proof that a little bit less can add up to a whole lot more, at least when it comes to fast Audis.

Dan

Author: Dan Trent