It might not look that different to an S line-equipped diesel A4 on the outside, but you certainly know you’re in an S4 when the V6 fires with a flourish. Slipping the eight-speed torque converter auto into drive reveals a 'box that’s noticeably smoother than the dual-clutch unit in most other A4s.
Continue to drive conservatively and the motor settles into the background, emitting the faintest of six-pot growls as you cruise down the road. Our test car had adaptive dampers that, even in Comfort mode, still had a firm edge, albeit one that very rarely became crashy. Even then, we’d blame the optional 19in wheels and particularly vicious potholes for this.
More of a concern is steering (the standard setup rather than the optional £950 Dynamic Steering variable ratio rack) that's far too light in comfort mode. Things do improve in auto, but while it tracks straight and feels precise, it's still decidedly numb.
But so far we’ve only played with the more boring drive modes, what if you flick it to Dynamic mode? The first thing you notice is the noise; faint growl turns into howl that builds deliciously as the revs rise. To these ears, it’s one of the best sounding turbo sixes at (relatively) sane money.
It’s fast, too. The ‘box is capable of rapid gearchanges when asked, and the V6 feels muscular, pulling strongly from low rpm yet happy to rev out should the mood take you.
So, what about the handling? There’s certainly no doubting the effectiveness of the Quattro drivetrain, and our test car had the optional sports differential on the rear axle. While the marketing blurb states that it helps agility, this isn’t a car to be steered on the throttle.
Even a flattened accelerator pedal, lots of steering lock, ESP off and a wet road fails to unstick the rear end. You certainly feel the back axle helping the car turn, but neutrality is the name of the game, even with the diff in Dynamic mode.
Try flicking the steering to the same mode, and you get plenty more gloopy weighting without any additional feel. At least the suspension remains fairly compliant if a little too firm for your average broken B-road. Thankfully there is an Individual mode that allows the noisy exhaust, Dynamic diff and sporty shifts for the gearbox without the unnecessary steering weight and suspension stiffening.
As for the inside, well it’s like pretty much every other A4 out there but with a little bit more sporting garnish. The seats are comfortable yet supportive, the driving position is good and the dashboard remains a triumph of functional design.