What was that?

Sheez Louise, those guys over at Ingolstadt are clever. The new Audi S4 isn’t just a car, it’s like a teleport machine.

Ask anyone from Audi’s hometown what the “S” in Audi’s range stands for and they’ll say “sport” or “schport”. And, of course, technically they would be right.
Everything that comes from Ingolstadt is technically right. They even made it into a pay-off line. An Audi wearing an “S” badge tells you it’s a cut above the hoi polloi and second in command only to the oberleutnant bearing the “RS” logo (“really schporty”) on his lapels.

However, there is another word that begins with “S” that describes cars of this ilk far more accurately: “stealth”. And with this latest S4, Audi has probably produced their stealthiest car yet.

Firstly, there’s not much to give away on the outside. Aside from a couple of red and silver badges, a slightly blinged-up grill and polished wing mirrors, you’re not going to tell this apart from one of the more expensive cars in the standard A4 range. Ever heard of the “rear-view mirror” identification test? It’s when a car pulls up behind you, and you’ve got three seconds to look into your rearview mirror and identify the model before its occupant notices you and reckons you’re weird.

I wouldn’t be able to nail the S4 for what it is and you’ve got to assume that I’m probably above average in the car-spotting stakes. Sure, the “S” badge is fairly obvious, but you’d really have to know your rings to tell an S4 from an S3 or S5 by a quick look at its front end. And as flared wheel arches—and any other bulges in the lunchbox department—are strictly the domain of Herr RS, the S4’s silhouette is identical to that of its S-less siblings.

The stealth doesn’t end there either. It is, in fact, a mere indicator of where the really sneaky tech lies—under the hood.

Whereas the previous S4 employed a V8 to do its bidding, this new incarnation has gone the forced induction route with a supercharged 3,0-litre (yup, over at Audi the “T” no longer stands for “turbo”). Following BMW’s lead with their superb Engine Of The Year-winning, six-cylinder twin turbo, like most German automakers, Audi has decided this version off the internal combustion engine is the way forward. Unlike the gruff burble of its V8 predecessor, this S4 now has a high-pitched whine when on song.

With 245kW and 440Nm, it has the chops to play with the 335i twin-turbo Beemer, and while I’d probably have preferred the 6-speed manual option, the seven-speed S-tronic gearbox the test car came with was good enough to handle all that power. It’s only coming to a stop or dawdling around town that the gearbox gets a little uncertain as to what gear it should be in.

That minor issue aside, the S4 has all finely machined metal bits and clever-clogs electronic control units to propel you at eye-wateringly fast speeds, should you be so inclined. And it does all that while you’re strapped snuggly into an ergonomic and well-appointed interior that’s head and shoulders the best in the medium-sized sedan niche.

It should all be perfect.

Verdict
Unfortunately not. Not for me anyway. Look, it’s clearly bladdy fast and has all the handling characteristics that one would expect you’d need to handle all those kilowatts. The suspension set-up has the requisite stiffness, the steering is precise and sufficiently weighty to provide real feedback and, thanks to the quattro system, grip is both prodigious when stuck to the road and progressive enough when you do break adhesion to comfortably catch any slide.

The problem is there’s just not enough drama. And I like drama in a schports car. I like to hear dramatic noises coming from the engine and I like that rush you get when all the car’s dynamics seem to be channelled from your hands, up your arms, and from your butt, right up your spinal column directly into your cerebral cortex. I like that a lot.

With all it’s stealth, the S4 just seems a little too clinical—like there’s too much Technik between me and it. It’s more like a teleport machine than a car. It’s going to get you to where you want to go really quickly, but you’re not really going to know how you got there. Some people—probably many people—like those characteristics in a car. You can be quick without being all that involved in the process.

Not me so much.

Imagine you’re about to eat a fresh slice of strudel. It’s still hot and the cream is beginning to dribble down the side. You pick up your fork, break off a corner and the next thing you know you’re staring at an empty plate, feeling vaguely full and there’s a rather pleasant taste of baked apple and butter pastry on your tongue. Nice, but you can’t help feeling like you missed out on something.

Fast facts
Audi S4 3,0 TFSI
Price: R597 500
Engine: 3-litre turbo, V6, 245Kw, 440Nm
Performance (claimed): 0-100km/h in 5,3s, top speed 250km/h
Fuel consumption (claimed combined cycle): 9,4 litre/100km
Transmission: seven-speed sequential S-tronic auto, quattro all-wheel drive

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