Cars: 2018 Audi S4 a perfectly good car if you don’t need sex appeal

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 11, 2018.

With a starting price of US$50,900, the Audi S4 is less expensive than competitors such as the US$65,500 BMW M3 and US$66,100 Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63 sedans. Photo by Audi

-A +A

IT’S difficult to say anything negative about the 2018 Audi S4 sedan.

With a 354hp V6 engine and eight-speed, all-wheel drive, the S4 is capable enough to traverse city and country safely. It has many technological and aesthetic conveniences that can be added for little or no charge. And with a starting price of US$50,900 (RM204,109), it’s less expensive than such competitors as the US$65,500 BMW M3 and US$66,100 Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63 sedans.

To that end, the S4 is a good example of what the generic modern luxury sedan should be — comfortable, reliable, safe, non-polarising aesthetically, and more technologically advanced than even the best luxury cars from decades ago. Safety and capability may not be sexy or exciting attributes — in fact, they are downright boring — but in the lifespan of modern automotive history, they are contemporary virtues, especially when you consider their standardisation across all brands and segments occurred only in the past few decades, and several car companies are celebrating 70, 75, and nearly 100 years of existence this year.

So ... should you buy it?

‘S’ is for sporty, sort of

Like what BMW has done with its M Series and Mercedes has done with AMG, the S line is Audi’s jump into the sport market, denoting better and more engaged performance. So if you are considering this car, consider it against M Series and AMG-level vehicles and consider that it’s a sporty upgrade over the US$36,000 Audi A4. (The S5, additionally, is the more dynamic-looking coupe version.) 

All told, the turbocharged, 3.0-litre, V6 engine produces 354hp and 369 pound-feet of torque, which is 164 more horsepower and 133 more pound-feet of torque than the A4 model. That translates into a zero-to-60 sprint time of 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph (or 130mph with all-weather tyres). Those are dutiful numbers but far from striking; the base-level BMW M3 can do 60mph in 3.9 seconds, and the Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG can do it in four seconds flat.

Still, the S4 operates smoothly and quietly under both low gear and when pushed harder on the highway. (Unlike some other sports models, here the engine notes are significantly muffled.) It gets a commendable 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The steering is firm but nondescript (definitely opt for the “dynamic” system that costs US$1,150 extra); the brakes are effective in feel and, with the red calipers, the S sport package (US$2,500) includes, one of the few flares involved in this five-person sedan.

With all that in mind, here’s who should buy this car: those who want a dutiful, capable, daily driver that’s in good taste but not flashy.

Are you a rising star at your firm who wants to be taken seriously but don’t want to look inappropriately flashy? Consider the S4. Are you an executive who can afford nice things, but you don’t want to show off in the employee parking lot? This is good for you, too. Are you the parent of a small child or two who wants something safe but marginally sexier than a Volvo or the standard A4? Sure, go for it.

Interior thoughts

Inside, Audi has carried on its well-done trimmings that feel modern and warm — not overly done but not stark, either. In fact, the interior is probably the most exciting thing about the car.

Welcome mood-enhancers such as auto-dimming lights, LED interior lighting, the three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel, and the panoramic sunroof all come standard. Splurge on the US$3,100 technology package that includes navigation, side and rear crash-avoidance systems, and the Audi virtual cockpit, a 12.3-inch information cluster set behind the steering wheel that shows navigation, audio, infotainment and the phone all in one fully digital place.

The five seats are stuffed delightfully firm; power-operated side bolsters and a massage function both come standard.

Sitting inside affords an area that feels airy and light, uncomplicated and easily stitched together. Nothing feels belaboured or heavy in the S4. And yes, there’s ample head- and legroom, too.

Elsewhere, the 13 cubic feet of trunk space and a healthy girth across the middle — replete with cup holders, storage compartments, and a split-folding rear seat back — enable easy transport of everything from skis and snow gear to groceries and appliances.

Consider the 2018 Audi S4 a well-made, practical, semi-powerful appliance. It won’t win you style points. But maybe that’s the point. No owners need to show off their blender, do they? Even if it is their favourite new toy. — Bloomberg