HIGH PERFORMANCE AND SERIOUSLY SPORTY

Audi S4 (2008-2016)

By Jonathan Crouch

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Models Covered

4DR SALOON, 5DR AVANT (3.0TFSI PETROL)

Introduction

And you thought power was everything. Proof that it isn’t comes with Audi’s post-2008 third generation S4. Though equipped with less power than its predecessor, it proved to be significantly faster. Perhaps more importantly, it was also greener and considerably more fuel efficient. So you can have your pleasure without so much of the guilt.

The History

If you want something powerful, practical, prestigious and capable of embarrassing the odd Ferrari round the Nurburgring, you tend to think of one car: BMW’s M3. It’s a great driving machine, but for most people most of the time, Audi reckon they can sell you one that will suit you much better: it’s called the S4. Before the purists shake their heads and walk away, let us hit you with a few statistics. This 333bhp post-2008 third generation version is virtually as fast as an M3 from its era, yet is much less expensive and about 40% more economical. Plus it’s better equipped and features drive to four wheels rather than two, so in the wet, the BMW driver wouldn’t see which way this S4 went.

True, you have to do without the glorious V8 soundtrack common not only to an M3 from this period but also, in 344bhp 4.2-litre form, to this car’s MK2 model predecessor. That was a great powerplant but even its most committed fan would have to admit that, averaging 20mpg and belching out 322g/km of CO2, it wasn’t really an engine to suit these enlightened times. It was a heavy old lump too, one reason why the second generation V8 S4 wasn’t appreciably quicker than its six cylinder predecessor, a car with 80bhp less. Hence Audi’s need back in 2008 to revert to V6 power for this MK3 model.

With a supercharged 333bhp 3.0 TFSI engine developed for the larger A6, the Ingolstadt brand had just the engine for the job. This car sold until a new generation S4 was launched in late 2016.

What To Look For

Very little goes wrong with typical post-2008 S4 models; that’s one of the reasons why people buy them. Our survey revealed the odd glitch but nothing really serious. One owner had problems shifting into 2nd gear. Another had a Bluetooth ‘phone streaming problem. And yet another reckoned that the brake rotors weren’t up to track use. That was about it for the ownership issues uncovered by our buyer survey.

Otherwise, it’s just the usual issues to look out for; scratched alloys, incomplete service records and so on. In our wider A4 owner survey on models from this era, we came across reports of things like windows creeping open, alloy wheels corroding badly, issues with the central locking mechanism, loose door handle outside trim bits and constantly high levels of humidity in the car after being parked up. Also listen out for a rattle from areas like the driver’s side B pillar, dash vent and glovebox area.

On The Road

The first thing to say is not to worry about the 11bhp drop in power suffered by this supercharged S4 over its predecessor. The 20kg weight saving over the previous version’s old V8 more than compensates, enabling this S4 to deliver a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.1s that’s over half a second faster than before, all but matching BMW’s far pricier V8 M3. More tellingly, thanks to nearly 440Nm of torque, the 50-75mph overtaking increment is dispatched in 4th gear in just 4.4s, which is very fast indeed. But we haven’t got to the best bit yet. Fast Audis were always, well, fast, but they were never as rewarding to drive as they should have been. That’s all in the past now, as the MK2 RS4 and R8 supercar models have proved.

This quick Audi takes a typical ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ approach to driver satisfaction, mainly due to its clever Sport Differential which can vary the amount of torque distributed to each driven wheel. Let us explain. Go into a corner too fast and in most quality cars, there’s an ‘ESP’-type stability programme that uses braking on the inner wheels to ‘pull’ your car back into shape. Here, it’s a bit different. Rather than using braking, the optional ‘Sport Differential’ instead sends additional wheel speed to an outer rear wheel to ‘push’ you around the corner. The effect is a smoother, quicker and less obtrusive way of exiting a bend. Ask the buyer of the car you’re looking at whether this feature was fitted from new.

Overall

Mercedes and BMW say that you’ve to pay a considerable amount for shattering 5 second rest-to-sixty performance. With those two brands, such speed must often also be accompanied by crippling fuel consumption and appalling, tax-heavy emissions. Audi reckon differently and in 2008, wheeled out this MK3 model S4 as perfect proof. Here’s a car that makes perfect sense in such a wet country as ours. With all wheel-drive traction and a whole raft of electronic safety measures, it’s effortlessly secure, offering fewer of the heart-in-mouth moments that often accompany a combination of big power, damp roads and an enthusiastic approach.

Overall, if you’re thinking of buying a potent sports saloon of this kind from this era, say a BMW M3, a Mercedes C63 AMG or a Lexus IS-F, then the S4 is an alternative you must try. If common sense prevails once you have, it’ll be a hard car to ignore.