Road Test: Bags of muscle in an elegant frame: Audi's 100-series S4 luxury estate combines serious load-carrying capacity with the performance of a supercar, says Roger Bell

SUPERCAR or family holdall? Audi's 100 S4 estate contrives to be both. Its wind-cheating body is shared with lesser front-drive 100 estates that start at pounds 19,170. But the underpinnings - mighty turbocharged engine, six-speed manual gearbox and sophisticated four- wheel drive - are from Audi's steroid unit. So is the price tag, just on the wrong side of pounds 34,000.

Combining the practicality of a humdrum Volvo with the dynamic qualities of a Porsche, the S4 estate has few peers as a luxury goods express. There are no skull-cracking protrusions on the high-lift tailgate, which opens on to a large (44 x 42in) carpeted deck that can be extended to about 6ft in length by folding the split back seats.

Chromed tie-down eyes, a pull- out blind to hide luggage, a cubby- housed first-aid kit and a 'secret' under-floor locker are part of the package. An additional row of rear- facing kids' seats is extra.

Up front, the opulence of the S4 (also available as a saloon) is exquisitely executed, but not exactly welcoming. Even so, Audi uses polished timber embellishment to better effect than BMW or Mercedes - rivals in the uppercrust estate market - and the elegant cowled dashboard is notable for its classy black-on-grey instruments.

Although comfort is a strong suit - the front seats cosset more than the firm suspension - it is as a performance car that the S4 excels. Like all turbos, it pulls meekly when ambling. As the revs soar, it accelerates effortlessly. The only estate that can match it in this respect is its lighter, S2 sibling, based on the 80 series and powered by the same engine. Driven with restraint, the S4's engine is very smooth and quiet; only when extended through the gears does its strident double- edged snarl start to intrude.

Four-wheel drive and generous tyres deploy the S4's formidable power with impunity. No family five-seater comes with greater active safety - that is, the ability to avert trouble through dynamic prowess. It is virtually impossible to spin the wheels under power, or lock them when braking (an anti- skid system is standard), so the risk of losing control is minimal.

If the S4 estate disappoints, it is not in what it does, but the way that it does it. Audi has failed to recapture the tactile magic of the original Audi Quattro - one of the great landmark cars of the Eighties - in any of its high-performance progeny. What's more, you have to pay extra for things such as air conditioning, an adjustable steering wheel, even decent security. A fine car, then, if not quite a great one.

COMPARISONS

BMW 53Oi Touring, pounds 31,600. First-class comfort rather than the ultimate in space efficiency. Smooth and refined 3.0-litre V8 engine gives strong rather than exciting performance.

Citroen XM 3.0 V6 estate, pounds 27,185. European estate cars don't come roomier than this. Very comfortable, well-equipped car powered by effortless V6 engine.

Mercedes-Benz 320TE, pounds 34,800. Pricey, more practical than Audi S4, less interesting to drive. Fine new 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine. Solid and beautifully made but marred by some irritating controls.

Volvo 960 estate, pounds 27,995. Big barge of an estate that's well made, and quite lively. Comfort and safety strong suits.

SPECIFICATIONS

Audi 100 S4 estate, pounds 34,094. Engine: 2226cc, five cylinders, two camshafts, 20 valves, 230bhp at 5900rpm. Transmission: six-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 140mph, 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds, fuel consumption 20-25mpg unleaded.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

    Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil