AUDI'S S4 sedan and wagon don't rely on visual effects to make an impression. They are very much stealth fighters, seducing buyers with performance rather than looks.
Key to that appeal is a turbocharged V6, an eight-speed auto (regular A4s have a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission), beefier brakes, lowered adaptive suspension and a rear-biased all-wheel-drive setup.
It may be hard to spot but it's impossible not to notice once you're underway. What will really attract attention is the claimed $19,000 worth of extra value in the new model.
Prices are down by more than $6000 compared to the outgoing model and Audi says it has also added $12,000 of equipment to the S4. The sedan starts at $99,900 plus on-roads; the wagon is $3000 more.
What do you get?
The standout feature is a suite of driver assistance systems unrivalled this side of the company's SQ7 SUV. The exhaustive list runs from adaptive cruise control that can ease the car to a stop and accelerate to cruising speed to rear cross-traffic alert and sensors to prevent drivers "dooring" passing cyclists or crossing into the path of oncoming traffic.
Beyond that the S4 uses Audi's yet-to-be-beaten "virtual cockpit" digital driver's display, which can be reconfigured to suit the driver's taste. There are also adaptive LED headlamps, an 8.3-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, sat nav, digital radio and ambient interior lighting.
Audi product planner Peter Strudwicke says the S4 is a car for unpretentious prestige performance fans.
"The philosophy behind our S models is to have a car a bit more sporty than our regular models without shouting about it," he says.
A rear sports differential costs $2950 and there are a pair of option packs for those willing to spend more.
The Technik bundle adds matrix LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, a head-up display and a Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system for $5600. The $5900 S Performance pack wraps the dash in fake leather, adds carbon inlays, puts red paint on the brake callipers and includes nappa leather sports front seats with a massage function.
Committed drivers may find occasion to use the dynamic setting for the S4's adaptive dampers; most will find the auto setting has more than enough scope to handle city cruising and corner carving.
It is that degree of compliance that will differentiate the S4 from the yet-to-arrive RS4. The former is a mid-sized prestige vehicle with a performance bent; the latter is an all-out sports car which can handle civic duties.
The S4's automatic transmission shifts seamlessly in normal mode, though there can be a momentary lag before downshifting if the car is at 80kmh and the driver prods for an instant surge to 100kmh.
Pull the gear selector towards you to engage sport and there's far less delay but a noticeable nudge up and down the gears. Engage the paddle shifters and the changes are fun, fast and accompanied by a subdued by steadily more strenuous snarl as the tachometer heads for the 6500rpm redline.
There's a hint of body roll through the turns but the sheer power of the engine and the grip from the 19-inch Hankook tyres make this a quick car on back roads. Audi claims a 4.7-second sprint to 100kmh and that level of acceleration is evident at just about any speed.
Ease into town and the S4 elicits barely more attention than a conventional A4 does - unless, that is, you have left the transmission in sport, in which case the Audi will hold second gear and high revs in most situations.
The Audi S4 isn't a real sports car insofar as it does not stimulate all the senses - especially the eyes and ears.
The car simply does the business in a professional and practised manner and rival halo cars can easily be embarrassed when the bitumen turns bendy.
Model: Audi S4.
Details: All-wheel drive five-seat sedan or wagon.
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 generating 260kW/500Nm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance 0-100kmh: 4.7 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $99,900-$102,900