PH Blog: S express

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. I’m 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 RS’s appeal, the pick of the gadgets that do work and the ability to pass on the ones that don’t. 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 I’d have written the S4 off as just another fast Audi.

First clue I was wrong was a chat with an engineer who said they’d benchmarked the Sports Differential against the Mitsubishi Evo’s 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 – 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 didn’t 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. What’s not to likeabout the combination of Audi’s 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.


Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Jip 02 Jul 2012

    vjj said:
    Jip said:
    Ah awesome, lot of time for Dan - he's taught me a lot of what I know, decent bloke too. Interesting to see how much more BHP you have from the S3 from just a stage one - having driven every single Audi, for me the S3 is the pick of the range - considering selling my A4 and getting one, definitely got to be a manual though.

    That A6 Bi-turbo will be a monster! Sounds like Dan's looking after you as well with that kind of deal.
    You are right Alex - Big Dan is a top man

    They are a decent lot Crawley Audi

    I can thoroughly recommend the the S3 - I had the wife's done at Revo HQ.

    The only downside is that you HAVE to run on 98 - 95 will make it pink a bit

    As for the Biturbo - look for the youtube video of 'Audi A6 3.0 tdi Avant BiTurbo v BMW M550d'

    You will be blown away

    Edited by vjj on Thursday 21st June 17:59
    Yeah they really are!

    Insane video - technically speaking that just shouldn't happen! We've just got an S3 in as a part ex at BMW and I am seriously tempted.....

    535dBoy who were you dealing with? Agreed Jeremey is a top bloke, no longer at Crawley though, moved on a while back!

  • saints400 23 Jun 2012

    joedesi said:
    saints400 said:
    I like Dan's article. I have a December 09 B8 S4 Avant with S Tronic transmission without the sports diff & I think it is a great car. Fast & practicle. I have the MTM M-Cantronic upgrade, which makes a reasonable difference over the standard car. Drives well, stops well & goes round corners well. All round good motor.
    Also considering the MTM upgrade...would you recommend it? Any problems so far?
    No not yet. I bought the car from an Audi main dealer. It was approved used & one year old. The previous owner had the same upgrade, MTM exhaust & MTM wheels. QST had done this but Audi took it off when it came back to them to sell. I had QST put the upgrade to 430hp back & space the wheels. Runs great & Audi have not made an issue of it.
    QST put the M Cantronic on new Audi's out of Glasgow Audi for customers so you would assume they don't expect any problems long term.

  • YorkshireAndy 22 Jun 2012

    Bash Brannigan said:
    YorkshireAndy said:
    Bash Brannigan said:
    What other cars did you look at when you got the S3 after the RS? A couple of friends have bought s3s lately and they really do seem to have the market to themselves, aside from the already dated looking 135 coupe.
    I know not aimed at me, but when I got my S3 the only alternative seriously considered was a Golf R, which was more expensive for a similar spec for basically the same car.
    Golfs are insanely expensive! I'm really starting to warm to the S3, I love the way that the A4 looks but the 3 series is more fun to drive for me.
    You can spec a Golf R up to nearly £40k. For a Golf!
    BMW wasn't an option for me despite being a good car due to rear wheel drive and snow not being a good mix.

  • Paul Dishman 22 Jun 2012

    joedesi said:

    Mine is also specked with the sports diff and I was shocked at how easily driftable the car is on damp roundabouts. Like others have stated it really is an under rated car which puts out closer to 350bhp standard than what's quoted officially by Audi.
    I've been thinking about getting a S4 Avant to replace my wife's Saab and my Golf Ed 30, but I don't know if I want her drifting it through damp roundabouts. Is there a diff setting that doesn't allow that?

  • vjj 22 Jun 2012

    535dBoy said:
    Can't find the mentioned video

    Crawley Audi lost the plot as far as I was concerned and lost chance to sell me a b8 rs4 because they were too lazy too investigate what was going on with it's existence

    Audi should have brought a TT A6 8 years ago when BMW brought out the 535 which is what took me away from Audi (for me, mrs still had a couple)

    Jeremy at Crawley was a top chap though
    just google 'audi A6 Avant tdi Biturbo v BMW 550d' and the first link is to the youtube video

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