Clever car, this S4. And the more you delve into its various systems, the more mind-boggling it gets. Take ‘Drive Select’, the £2000 must-have option, which provides the means to alter everything from throttle response to damping, from steering sensitivity to gearbox upshift points. Now, some days you really can’t be arsed. Trouble is, with everything in the default ‘auto’ mode, it feels a bit leaden, a touch inert. Fine if you’re happy to cruise, but dull-witted when you suddenly need it to snap to attention for a brisk overtake or slice through a roundabout or two.
So the first thing you do is knock the gearstick across into the +/- plane and use the paddles to shift manually up and down the S Tronic’s seven ratios. Then switch from ‘auto’ to ‘dynamic’ (ignore the ‘comfort’ setting, which simply makes it feel puddingy). The ride gets slightly more fidgety, but body control is just that little bit tighter, turn-in usefully keener, while throttle response is sharpened and the dual-clutch gearbox becomes more eager to shift down. There’s another level called ‘individual’, where you can individually tailor throttle, steering, gearbox, diff and dampers yourself, but you’ll probably want to set everything to dynamic anyway, so there’s not a lot of point.
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And if you want to really feel what the chassis can do, switch off the ASR traction control and, by holding the button in longer, disable the ESP stability program too. At which point the electronic differential, which directs torque across the rear axle to the outside wheel, can really come into its own, giving you the option of sliding the back end under power.
Set up thus, the S4 disguises its weight well and is no small fun, even if it ultimately lacks the seductively fluid feeling of a BMW 335i. But it does smack a little of technological overkill, with the associated risk of there being potentially more to go wrong. Take the steering. The servotronic PAS has variable ratio, variable assistance and, with Dynamic Steering, the facility to sharpen its response. To do all of this it uses an electric motor. Now, ever since it arrived it’s made a slightly odd noise as you move off, rather like a spring being tightened, followed by a faint metallic ping. The handbook suggests this is a characteristic and nothing to worry about. However, in the last few weeks it’s been joined by another noise. It’s particularly noticeable when you’re applying lots of lock at manoeuvring speeds, and it’s a scratchy, whirring sound, not unlike the sound a bearing makes when it’s knackered. The steering now feels a bit gritty, too, which suggests to me there’s a problem with the electric motor. I’ll certainly ask the dealer to take a look when the S4 goes in for its next service, which another of its onboard computers tells me is due in 2100 miles’ time. Illogical, but it’s left me strangely nostalgic for a good old-fashioned hydraulic servo…
|Date acquired||July 2009|
|Mileage this month||3027|
|MPG this month||23.1|