It might seem strange that Audi would update its MY19 S4 Avant so late in 2019. If for no other reason than an MY20 nameplate is being readied for a forthcoming facelift – new look, new infotainment, a new not-for-Oz diesel version – due around the middle of 2020, and a car that we checked out during the global A4 update back in July.
Still, a smattering of upgrades for no added outlay right now aims to entice buyers into the current wagon while Australia waits for next year’s new-looker.
Audi’s been sprinkling added-value fairy dust across various models of late, but the S4 Avant specifically adds no-cost metallic paint, S Sports seats trimmed in nappa leather, pneumatic seat lumbar support and massage functionality, a head-up display, inductive phone charging, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound and dual USB ports in row two.
List pricing remains at $102,900, and our Misano Red test car sits a thousand bucks pricier thanks to a single option: the so-called 'carbon atlas' (carbon-fibre effect) interior trim inserts. Our car fits 19-inch five-arm ‘rotor’ design rims, too, which are a no-cost option.
Sadly, the S4 doesn’t get the Audi Sport 20-inch wheel upgrade – fattening the rubber footprint from 245mm to 265mm – as is now loaded onto the late-2019 S5s, though the coupes don’t gain quite as many of the abovementioned updates.
That’s a shame, because a nicer, wider set of wheels is just about all the S4 Avant wants for. In short, the MY19 tickle essentially puts icing on Audi’s already well-equipped performance wagon cake. And in just the right areas that call for them.
For a good many buyers, the S4 formula is more than just some missing link between your heart wanting an RS4 and your hip-pocket demanding an A4 compromise. It really is a sweet all-round package, from what it’s got to how it drives, and has been so since well before this B9 generation lobbed around three years ago.
“The ultimate Q-car,” we called it back in early 2017. “Fast, high-tech and understated, it’s everything the badge demands and more.”
It’s just that in late 2019, there’s extra ‘more’ for your money.
Given all the updates are best experienced in-cabin, that’s a good place to start.
There were always enough accoutrements to make the S4 feel certifiably sportier and more opulent than run-of-the-mill A4 stock, not just in design but in material richness and diversity.
Par for the course are the suede-like door trim inserts, grey double stitching, alloy highlights, and the neat lighting effect that clearly outlines and highlights all of the cabin, lines and controls in poor light.
The new whiz-bang, diamond-patterned seats lift the executive-sport theme nicely, their focused if slightly relaxed contours not quite ‘race car’ focused and, frankly, all the better for it. Add the flat-bottom wheel and Audi Sport-themed Virtual Cockpit skin, with its central roundel motif, and you get a nice RS effect without heavy-handed execution.
The cabin delivers in details, too, from the bright LED reading lights and rear ‘third-zone’ climate controls to the novel pop-out cupholders in the rear armrest.
This B9-gen wagon is a good size, too: spacious enough as a proper four-adult prospect, and an optional five-seater in a pinch, and deftly packaged as an ideal small-family hauler that’s big on comfort. Luggage space is a decent 505L that converts to 1510L with the rear seats stowed, which is only 25L and 45L ahead, respectively, of the sedan version.
A quick straw poll of the CarAdvice office reveals that most would opt for the wagon version, despite the five-door’s nominal $3000 premium and that, on paper at least, it’s not quite as quick in acceleration stats, with its 4.9sec against the sedan’s 4.7sec for the 0–100km/h sprint.
Any performance deficit the extra metal, glass and rubber bring to the heavier wagon format is purely negligible by the seat of the pants, particularly with the cut-and-thrust of urban driving. That’s because anything touting four-something-second acceleration isn’t hanging about and, with its assertive and seamless eight-speed auto and quattro drive, it’s consistently swift regardless of the prevailing conditions of the surface below.
Some lament the fact that Audi dropped supercharging in favour of turbocharging for this current S4 generation. And, yes, the current 3.0-litre six-banger doesn’t quite have the sonic mojo of old.
But after spending a number of weeks and thousands of kays bombing around Europe in the sedan version a couple of years back, I’m convinced the current format strikes a deft blend of muscular performance with dignified comfort and respectable fuel economy that's both tough to execute and hard to beat for Jekyll-and-Hyde, long-distance grand touring.
And, frankly, the soundtrack is actually pretty compelling under load, and pleasingly short of being ostentatious when it's merely ticking along.
For one thing, the 260kW six-pot offers a heady 500Nm of near-instant (from 1350rpm) on-demand torque that adds an undertow of flexible muscle you simply don’t get in over-boosted fours, as fitted to ‘45’ spec A4s. There’s a really meaty satisfaction to progress and the powertrain doesn’t feel remotely stressed when called to march, with clean response even at part throttle in Comfort or Auto drive modes. Dynamic presents a noticeable lift in urgency, yet it’s ‘round’ and tempered enough to remain somewhat useable around town.
The S4 struggles to get near its 7.8L/100km combined fuel consumption, though it’s no thirstier than the A5 ‘45’ Coupe and its harder-working turbo 2.0-litre four I’d spent the prior week driving and reviewing.
Further, the more relaxed and assertive nature of the S-spec 3.0-litre six and eight-speed auto combination not only feels measurably more dignified and premium than the A-spec gear, but it’s a more fitting character for mid-sized premium-badged German motoring.
For its formidable 1750kg kerb weight, the S4 Avant is quite an agile and engaging machine, centred around the standard-issue, adaptively damped S suspension that’s a noticeable step up from the passive Sport suspension you’ll find in the A-models.
It’s not simply that there are more settings within the Drive Select menus to fiddle with – Engine and Gearbox, Suspension, Steering, Engine Sound and Adaptive Cruise – but perhaps more that the calibration of the available settings is impressively polished and resolved.
Regardless of the settings chosen, the S4 offers improved clarity and connection through the steering and chassis than its A-badged brethren, which tend to lack tangible lustre until you start sticking them into corners with a decent head of steam.
It’s evenly tempered if innately sporty, whatever the pace or driving situation. So, its Dynamic damper setting is firm, if adding just enough edginess to its responses without becoming unruly in character or punishing in ride quality.
Swap to Comfort, and the ride is actually more pliant and forgiving than the A4’s passive (lowered Sport) suspension tune without relinquishing that sense of connection. There’s an optional electronically controlled ‘quattro sport differential’ to augment dynamics, but really, the S4 Avant package doesn’t want for it and its additional $2950 outlay.
If you think I personally hold the S4 in much higher regard than A4 stock, you’d be absolutely correct. The sportier wagon takes all of the shortcomings of its more-affordable stablemate and essentially fixes them. As it should: you’re in the thick end of an extra 30-large to step up to the S over the A4 45 TFSI quattro wagon.
But if there’s one conspicuous criticism about the S4 Avant, it’s that it looks far too much like its measurably more affordable stablemate, even though its inconspicuous aesthetics are key to its Q-car charm for many buyers.
For what it’s worth, its well-polished, all-rounder manner is probably easier to live with, day in and day out, than the vastly pricier and measurably more heroic RS4 Avant warhorse. Sure, most S4 owners would upgrade to the red-misted RS without batting an eyelid, if only the $50K stretch were of no consequence.
In short, the S4 Avant is an extremely likeable jack-of-all-trades wagon at a pricepoint that seems reasonable given that the only truly direct competitor, the Mercedes-AMG C43 Estate, wants for 10 grand more.
And the prospect is a bit more enticing now that Audi has gotten a handle on affordable capped-price servicing ($1920 for three years, $2930 for five years, on a prepaid basis) despite the slim surety of just three years of warranty coverage.
It remains to be seen whether the smattering of new features – seemingly cherry-picked from existing Technik and Performance cost-optional packs – will carry over in the MY20 facelift. If they don’t, it makes this revised MY19 version all the more enticing, given that the next update is essentially the same machine under the skin and, controversially, the touchscreen-only infotainment format looks like a step backwards.
That said, if I had to spend another month and another couple of thousand kays bombing across Europe again, I’d happily pick either version of the S4 Avant. Or perhaps even the Euro diesel version, just to see…