introduction to the PH Fleet
, it has been straight down to business for the S4 Avant. The car arrived with just over 150 miles on the clock, but as it sits in the car park quietly cooling after my regular morning commute to London it is now showing 3,000-odd miles on its wonderfully high resolution Virtual Cockpit. As such, I've certainly not lacked time behind the wheel in which to form some opinions.
Which is what makes it all the more strange that I continue to blow hot and cold. I'm struggling to think of another car that's ever had me sitting so resolutely on the fence.
On the one hand, the S4 is great. It is fast, full of equipment, practical, looks good, is supremely comfortable and the damping is brilliantly judged and usable in all of the available modes. It sounds decent, handles neatly and is extremely surefooted on winter roads, making rapid progress extraordinarily accessible. All of which make it extremely easy to live with.
On the other hand there are a couple of problems that we identified very early on. The steering isn't great and is described best by Editor Trent, who went full Queef with
and describing it as "flaccid, gloopy and inert". Equally, the gearbox is a bit slow off the mark in manual mode and occasionally seems to have a mind of its own. That being said, it is superb when left to its own devices in everyday use.
So on balance, there are a lot more plus points than negative ones. Yet at times I still find myself struggling to decide if I like it or not. No blame can be levelled at this not being "my sort of car" either. Aside from being a self-confessed lover of fast estate cars, I previously ran a Volvo V60 Polestar as a long-termer, which shares a huge number of similarities with the S4. £50K price tag, 350ish horsepower, four-wheel drive, six-cylinder turbocharged engine, slightly slow gearbox, supremely comfortable seats, confidence inspiring handling and enough sporting intent to encourage you to hustle it down your favourite road. But where the S4 leaves me lukewarm, I adored the Volvo and couldn't get enough of it.
Since replaced with a new and more
, 'my' six-cylinder version's thirst was offset by the character of its engine. The S4, meanwhile, benefits from having that brand new EA383 engine that, whilst not as characterful, is at least designed to incorporate the latest technology, auto stop start and switchable drive modes in order to extract the maximum fuel efficiency from it. Or so you'd think. Despite official claims of 37.7mpg for the combined fuel cycle, it doesn't get anywhere close to that. 30mpg is just about achievable on a long motorway journey if you happen to have a tail wind and plot a route that is mainly downhill. In day to day driving, low 20s are more likely.
This has lead to me almost exclusively driving the S4 in the Efficiency drive mode in an attempt to eke out some more range, which is something I've never resorted to before. Sadly this dulls the throttle response to a point where it sometimes feels like the car is stuck in top gear. All of which is no doubt further tainting my impressions. In writing this I've just realised that I need to run an experiment. For the next month I'm going to do my best to completely disregard economy and drive the S4 in a more enjoyable fashion, making use of the more dynamic engine modes. All in the name of science, of course.
Whilst I'm sure my bank balance won't thank me, maybe that'll do the trick and help me to bond with the car a bit more.
Car: 2016 Audi S4 Avant
On fleet since: January 2017
List price new: £44,415 (As tested £49,770 comprising Misano Red paint for £645, Quattro sport with Sport Differential for £1,200, 19-inch diamond cut wheels for £550, Light and Vision pack for £750, Adaptive S Sport suspension with damping control for £900, Audi phonebox with wireless charging for £325 and on the road costs of £985)
Last month at a glance: First impressions? More like thirst impressions...