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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
gaming
Latest stories from i100
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

    Argyll Scott International: Business Analyst - MGA - London Market - Insurance Broker

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Argyll Scott International: A Business A...

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: Network / Systems Administrator (LAN, WAN, Windows)

    £38000 - £42000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Netw...

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

    £200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible