Rolls-Royce Ghost VS Audi S4
- Unbelievable ride comfort
- Flawless quality
- Understated design
- Numb steering
- Vast turning circle
- Understated looks
- Goes like stink
- Overly heavy steering in Dynamic mode
- Tyre roar on some surfaces
- Can feel a bit computer-driven
Rolls-Royce says its out-going Ghost is the most successful model in the company’s 116-year history.
No bad, when you consider the first ‘Goodwood’ Ghost has ‘only’ been around since 2009. And although the factory isn’t quoting specific numbers, that all-time best-seller claim means it’s surpassed the more than 30,000 Silver Shadows produced from 1965 all the way through to 1980.
Unlike the brand’s Phantom flagship, the Ghost is designed for owners who want to drive, as well as be driven. The aim is a less conspicuous, more engaging experience, and according to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, development of this new generation Ghost involved a lot of listening.
He says a team of “Luxury Intelligence Specialists” connected with Ghost owners around the globe to gain a clearer understanding of their likes and dislikes. And the result is this car.
While its predecessor’s engineering DNA included more than a few strands of BMW 7 Series (BMW owns Rolls-Royce), this all-new car stands alone on an all-RR alloy platform also underpinning the Cullinan SUV and Phantom flagship.
The factory claims the only parts carried over from the prior model are the ’Spirit of Ecstasy’ ornament on the nose, and the umbrellas slipped into the doors (the holders for them are heated, by the way).
We were offered the opportunity to slip behind the wheel for a day, and the experience was a revelation.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new Audi S4 sedan and Avant, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch between Bathurst and Canberra.
Sometimes year a year flashes by and it's almost a shock to realise that Audi's B9 A4 has been with us here in Australia for almost that long. Performance buffs have had to wait for the first quick version of the A4 while the Allroad was rolled out, but here we finally have the first Audi Sport variant in the line-up - the S4.
As with the standard A4, there's a stack of new stuff and a stout standard specification list along with technical packages. There's one big piece of news, too - it's the first S4 to land with a price tag under $100,000.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
You might see it as an obscene indulgence or a piece of engineering excellence, but there’s no denying the new Rolls-Royce Ghost is exceptional. Incredibly refined and capable, it’s arguably the most impressive ‘entry-level’ car in the world.
It's not an exuberant machine and you can tell there's still a ton of room for the inevitable RS4 mean machine to go after the BMW M3/M4 and AMG C63. That means, however, that the S4 is a proper sleeper. Hardly anyone will notice what it is until they're eating your fumes while you whisk yourself away in (mostly) quiet and comfort.
The new S4 is lighter, slightly faster and more technologically advanced than its predecessor, while bringing the A4's charms to the go-faster part of the executive sedan segment. This one will rattle a few cages.
Audi S4 Sedan and Avant Specifications
List price: $99,900 (Sedan) / $102,900 (Avant)
Fuel Consumption: 7.7L/100km (Sedan) / 7.9L/100km (Avant)
CO2: 175g/km (Sedan) / 178g/km (Avant)
Fuel Tank: 58L
ANCAP: 5 stars
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Engine size: 2995cc
Fuel Type: PULP
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Spare: space saver
Turning Circle: 11.6m
Length: 4745mm (Sedan) / 4745mm (Avant)
Width: 1842mm (Sedan) / 1842mm (Avant)
Height: 1404mm (Sedan) / 1411mm (Avant)
Rolls-Royce adopted what it calls a ‘post-opulent’ philosophy in development of the new Ghost’s design. Specifically, restraint, “rejecting superficial expressions of wealth.”
That’s because, as a rule, Ghost customers aren’t Phantom customers. They don’t want to make that big a statement, and prefer to drive the car as much as they might be chauffeured in it.
This Ghost is longer (+89mm) and wider (+30mm) than the outgoing model, yet it’s a superbly balanced shape, with minimalism the guiding design principle.
That said, the iconic ‘Pantheon Grille’ is bigger, and now downlit by 20 LEDs under the top of the radiator, with its individual slats polished even more carefully to subtly reflect the light.
The car’s broad surfaces are tightly wrapped and deceptively simple. For example, the rear guards, C-pillars and roof are fabricated as one panel, which makes sense of the absence of shutlines around the rear of the car (except for the boot outline, of course).
Rolls-Royce refers to the Ghost’s cabin as an ‘interior suite’ consisting of no less than 338 individual panels. But despite that number, the feeling inside is simple and serene.
In fact, Rolls says its acoustic engineers are experts in serenity. Sounds like Darryl Kerrigan needs a Ghost for the family road trip to Bonnie Doon.
A few details stand out. The open pore wood trim is a welcome, tactile change from highly finished veneers that often do their best to look like plastic.
The proper metal chromed trim elements around the cabin confidently say quality and solidity, and the steering wheel, as well as the buttons around the multimedia controllers are subtle throwbacks.
The wheel has a circular central pad, with ancillary buttons around its lower perimeter, which echoes the style of the 1920s and ‘30s. You half expect an ignition advance/retard lever to sprout from its centre.
And the buttons around the media controllers use a combination of shape, colour and typeface to conjure up thoughts of the same era. They could be made of Bakelite.
For those that way inclined, the signature ‘Starlight Headliner’, using untold LEDS to create a glittering night sky in the roof, now incorporates a shooting star effect. You can even option up the constellation of your choice.
Audi tells us that S4 owners don't like to shout about their purchase, which is just as well, because the S4 looks like a very mildly gussied up A4. That means the same sharp looks as the A4 but lower, 23mm to be exact. The standard 19s make it look lower still but all the standard A4 cues are there. This has been covered at length already, but just to be sure, every inch of the car is new, it just looks a lot like the old one.
Get up closer, though, and you'll see the serrated shape of the headlight, the clamshell bonnet and shutlines tighter than Scott Morrison on Budget night when it comes to funding hospitals. Audi says the body kit is aggressive but I think it's safe to say that the drug of choice at Audi's styling bureau is chamomile tea - it's fairly restrained, with just a few details (including a slightly daggy V6T badge on the front guards) to mark it out.
Inside is standard A4, too, with plenty of leather (both real and man-made), with some extra zing in the form of carbon and aluminium bits.
It's as roomy and comfortable as the standard car and looks just as good. It's a fine interior, the best in its class.
The new Rolls-Royce Ghost is over 5.5m long, more than 2.1m wide, and close to 1.6m tall. And within that substantial footprint sits a 3295mm wheelbase, so no surprise utility and practicality are exceptional.
First, there’s getting in. The ‘coach’ or ‘clamshell’ doors will be familiar to current Ghost owners, but their “effortless” operation is new, a gentle pull on the door handle bringing welcome electronic assistance.
Once inside the rear of the car, as on the previous model, the press of a C-pillar-mounted button will close the door.
But up front, easing onto the generous driver’s seat is a breeze thanks to the Ghost’s sheer scale and a large door aperture.
There’s plenty of space for people and things in a thoroughly considered layout. A large glove box, big centre storage box (containing every connectivity option known to humankind) a lined slot for your phone and twin cupholders under a sliding timber cover. The door pockets are generous, with a sculpted section for bottles.
Then the rear. Obviously designed for two, the back seat will seat three. The sumptuous full-leather seats are multi-way electronically-adjustable, and NBA players (almost certainly prospective owners) will be happy with the leg, head and shoulder room provided.
Need even more room in the back? Step this way to the ‘Extended’ long-wheelbase version of the Ghost, measuring 5716mm long (+170mm), with a 3465mm wheelbase (+170mm), and stepping up in price to $740,000 (+$112,000). That’s $659 per additional millimetre, but who’s counting?
But back to the rear of the standard wheelbase car. Fold the large centre armrest down and twin cupholders pop out the front. Then, a wood-trimmed lid on the top flips forward to reveal a rotary multimedia controller.
Behind that, a beautifully trimmed storage box offers generous space and 12V power, and behind door number three (a pull-down leather panel in the back of the armrest aperture) is a small fridge. What else?
The rear of the front centre console houses individual climate-control outlets as well as USB and HDMI sockets.
Touch a discreet chrome button and small desks (RR calls them picnic tables) fold down from the front seat backs, faced in the same open pore wood as the dash, console, steering wheel, and door trims, and finished off with flawless chrome.
The entire interior benefits from a ‘Micro-Environment Purification System’ (MEPS), and rather than bore you with the details, let’s just say it’s exceptionally efficient.
Boot volume is a solid 500 litres, with an electrically-assisted lid and plush carpet lining. Of course, the air suspension system can lower the car to make loading heavy or awkward objects that little bit easier.
The S4 has four bottle holders, cupholders front and rear for a total of four and various slots and spots for phones and keys in the front while the rear is a little less accommodating of bits and pieces.
The sedan's boot is the same as the rest of the A4s (and mid-size Germans) at 480 litres while the Avant bumps that up to a 505 litre minimum and a 1510 litre maximum when you drop the seatbacks.
Price and features
Good value is open to broad interpretation in this rarefied part of the new car market. On the surface, value could relate to standard equipment; the features that make life with a car safer, more comfortable, and efficient.
It might also have you lining up the competitors, to determine how much sheet metal, rubber and glass you’re getting for your money. Maybe a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, or Bentley Flying Spur?
But peel away those layers and you’re getting closer to the heart of the Rolls-Royce value equation.
A Rolls-Royce is a statement of wealth, confirmation of status, and indicator of success. And that will be enough for some. But it also delivers value to those who appreciate the last few percentage points of creativity and effort that deliver exceptional results.
Sounds like a bit of a gush. But once you dip into the background of this car’s development and experience it first-hand, it’s hard not to.
We could produce a separate story on the Ghost’s standard features, but here’s the highlights reel. Included are: LED and laser headlights, 21-inch twin-spoke (part-polished) alloy wheels, electrically-adjustable, ventilated and massaging seats (front and rear), an 18-speaker audio system, electrically-assisted ‘Effortless Doors’, a head-up display, full leather trim (it’s everywhere), multiple digital screens, active cruise control, adaptive air suspension, and there’s lots more.
But let’s pick a few of those out for closer inspection. The audio system is designed and produced in house, featuring a 1300W amp and 18-channels (one for each RR built speaker).
In fact, there’s a team dedicated to audio performance, and it’s made the entire car an acoustic instrument, calibrating resonance through its structure to optimise clarity. Not the work of five minutes, requiring complex collaboration with the design and engineering teams, not to mention the bean counters.
And yes, there’s leather everywhere, but it’s of the highest quality, analysed to (literally) a granular level to ensure it makes the cut for use in this car. Even the stitching is set to a particular (longer than typical) length to minimise visual noise.
How about RR personnel travelling the globe to measure rain drops to make sure the roof rain channels perform as well as they can (true story). Or the 850 LED ‘stars’ in the dash fascia, backed by a 2.0mm thick ‘light guide’ with 90,000 laser-etched dots to disperse light evenly, yet add a twinkle.
You get the idea. And as much as they say, ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’, the cost-of-entry for a 2021 Ghost, before any options or on-road costs, is $628,000.
Depending on your perspective, a stupendous sum that will by 42.7 entry-level Kia Picantos, a car every bit as capable of transporting you from A to B as the Ghost. Or alternately, brilliant value, in that it buys the ultimate attention to detail applied to this car’s design, development and execution. You be the judge, but for what it’s worth, I’m in the latter camp.
The S4 is available in two versions - sedan and Avant wagon. The sedan opens the bidding at $99,900 and the Avant closes it at $102,900. Both come with identical specifications and are available with much the same options. For a bit of pricing perspective, the first S4 was an Audi 100-based five-cylinder turbo that landed with a price tag of $132,000. In 1993.
The S4 has arrived with 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers, around-view camera, reversing camera, up-spec sat nav, adaptive cruise control, auto parking, auto headlights and wipers, high beam assist, keyless entry and start, electric tailgate (Avant only), heated folding electric mirrors, LED headlights, dynamic scrolling rear indicators, electric heated sports front seats, leather and Alcantara trim, three-zone climate control and interior LED lighting.
A ten speaker stereo is powered by Audi's MMI rotary dial system and the same 8.3-inch screen as the rest of the A4 range, which also means you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as two USB ports in the centre console to go with the Bluetooth. There's also a DAB+ digital radio.
Audi's Virtual Cockpit is standard and has an additional S mode which switches the dial view for a big tacho and a huge digital speed readout.
Being an Audi, you can get a collection of options in packs. The S Performance Package ($5900) adds an excellent pair of massaging S sport front seats with diamond stitching and Nappa leather, red brake calipers, more (synthetic) leather and carbon inlays in the interior.
The Technik Package adds the excellent matrix LED headlights, the 19-speaker B&O 3D sound system and a heads-up display.
Other options include variable ratio Dynamic Steering ($2210), quattro sport differential ($2950), premium paint (ahem, $1846), panoramic sunroof (Avant only, $2990), sunroof ($2470, sedan only), heated rear seats ($750) and the rear seat entertainment system ($2600-$4680 for one or two screens respectively, but you can't have it with the S Performance pack)
Engine & trans
The new Ghost is powered by an all-alloy, direct-injection, 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12 (also used in the Cullinan SUV) producing 420kW (563hp) at 5000rpm, and 850Nm at 1600rpm.
The ‘six-and-three-quarter-litre’ V12 has a distant link to BMW’s ‘N74’ engine, but Rolls-Royce is at pains to point out this unit stands on its own two feet, and that every piece of it bears a RR part number.
It runs a Ghost-specific engine map, and permanently drives all four wheels through a GPS-guided eight-speed automatic transmission.
That’s right, the GPS link will pre-select the most appropriate gear for upcoming bends and terrain with the aim of producing “a sense of one endless gear.” More on that later.
Audi says the turbocharged V6 is brand new from the ground up. Developing 260kW (15kW up) and a nice round 500Nm (up 60Nm), the new engine is 14kg lighter than the supercharged unit it replaces, and more efficient.
Efficiency gains come from clever things like a "hot side inside" turbo placement (inside the V, meaning shorter exhaust paths to better turbo pressure), lift-off coasting and start-stop.
Power reaches the road via an Audi Sport tweaked quattro system which can send 85 percent of power in either direction and is rear-biased with a standard 60/40 rear/front torque split. The seemingly ubiquitous and always excellent eight-speed ZF transmission handles the job of getting the power from the engine to the road.
The standard self-locking centre diff can be flung and replaced with a trick quattro sport unit ($2950) with electro-mechanical control of the rear axle's torque split.
The sedan will rocket to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, the slightly heavier Avant two tenths behind it.
Rolls is currently quoting European Regulation (NEDC) fuel consumption numbers for the new Ghost, which for the combined (urban/extra-urban) cycle is 15.0L/100km, the big V12 emitting 343g/km of CO2 in the process.
On the launch drive, covering around 100km of urban pottering, B-road cornering, and freeway cruising, we saw a dash-indicated figure of 18.4L/100km.
Premium 95 RON unleaded fuel is recommended, but if circumstances (presumably in the back-of-beyond) demand it, standard 91 unleaded is usable.
Whichever you choose, you’ll need no less than 82 litres of it to fill the tank, at our average fuel use, enough for a theoretical range of 445km.
Audi claims 7.7L/100km from the sedan and 7.8L/100km for the Avant. On a stinking hot day in central NSW and the ACT and with the accelerator spending a lot of time carpet-bound, the S4 still returned around 12L/100km. More time being driven less enthusiastically should see a marked improvement.
So, if this Rolls is designed to be driven, what’s it like behind the wheel? Well for a start, it’s plush. As in, the front seats are big and comfortable, but surprisingly supportive and endlessly adjustable.
The digital instrument cluster tips its hat to classic RR dials, and despite thick pillars (especially the bulky B-pillars) vision all around is good.
And if you’re thinking 2553kg is a lot of Ghost to get moving, you’re right. But there’s nothing like applying 420kW/850Nm of twin-turbo V12 muscle to the task.
Peak torque is available from just 1600rpm (600rpm above idle) and Rolls-Royce claims 0-100km/h in 4.8sec. Plant the right foot and this car will calmly have you at throw-away-the-key speeds in the blink of an eye, the eight-speed auto shifting imperceptibly all the way. And even at full throttle, engine noise is relatively subtle.
But aside from that prodigious thrust, the next eye-opener is unbelievable ride quality. Rolls calls it ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, and it’s no exaggeration.
The bumpy road surface disappearing under the front wheels just doesn’t compute with the unruffled, perfectly smooth progress you’re experiencing. It is unbelievable.
I’ve only had that sensation once before, behind the wheel of a Bentley Mulsanne, but this was possibly even more surreal.
Rolls-Royce’s ‘Planar’ suspension system refers to, “a geometric plane which is completely flat and level”, and it works.
The set-up is double wishbones at the front (incorporating a unique to RR upper wishbone damper) and a five-link arrangement at the rear. But it’s the air suspension and active damping that create the magic Rolls calls “flight on land.”
A ‘Flagbearer’ stereo camera system in the windscreen reads the road ahead to proactively adjust the suspension up to 100km/h. It’s name recalls the early days of ‘motoring’ where a person waving a red flag walked in front of cars to warn unwary pedestrians. This slightly more sophisticated approach is just as arresting.
This time around the Ghost is all-wheel drive (rather than RWD) and it puts its power down brilliantly well. We dared to push it fairly aggressively on a twisting B-road section and all four fat Pirelli P Zero tyres (255/40 x 21) kept things on track without so much as a squeal.
A 50/50 weight distribution and the stiffness of the car’s aluminium space-frame architecture help keep it balanced, planted and under control. But on the flip side, steering feel is almost completely MIA. Numb and overly light, it’s the missing link in the Ghost’s otherwise impressive dynamic performance.
Drop into a freeway cruise and you become aware of the impossibly low noise level. But it’s not as quiet as it could be. Rolls says it’s able to achieve near silence, but adds that becomes disorienting, so it introduced an ambient “whisper”... “a single, subtle note.”
To achieve this level of calm the bulkhead and floor have been double-skinned, interior components are tuned to a specific resonance frequency, and there’s 100kg worth of acoustic damping materials within nearly half the architecture of the car, in the doors, roof, double-glazed windows, even inside the tyres.
The four-wheel steering system helps with agility on the highway (where the front and rear axles steer in unison), but comes into its own at parking speeds (where they counter-steer), because even with numerous cameras and sensors, parking this 5.5m long, 2.5-tonne machine is quite an undertaking. Turning circle is still 13.0m, though, so beware. If all else fails, the car will park itself, anyway.
Beefy ventilated disc brakes front and rear wash off speed progressively and without a hint of drama.
Other highlights? The multimedia system is the only thing openly borrowed from BMW, but that’s not a problem because the interface is great. And that 1300W, 18-speaker 18-channel audio system absolutely cranks!
The S4 is terrific fun. It's that simple. The new engine is an absolute belter, with all 500Nm of torque available at just 1370rpm. Lag is almost indistinguishable as the turbo spools up and rockets you along to 100kmh in under five seconds, that huge half-ton of torque sweeping you down the road.
With dynamic mode switched on, the car muscles up with firmer suspension and a slightly growlier exhaust. The steering really weights up, too, which takes a little getting used to after the lighter, friendlier setting in Comfort mode - thankfully you can set up an individual mode to dial the assistance back in while everything else is set up for go-fast.
The key to the fun is the rear-biased quattro system - while it's never going to match the purity of BMW's rear-wheel drive 340i, what you lose in steering feel and ultimate adjustability, you gain in off-the-line and mid-corner grip its German rivals could only dream of.
Going fast in an S4 is easy, leaving you to concentrate a little more on your line and gear selection, listening to the distant bark of the engine and the occasional turbo whistle. All of this is purely down to driving taste, of course but the point is, the S4 offers something a little different to the other two.
For most of the time the S4 defies its 1700kg-plus weight but there is the occasional hesitancy when changing direction through a challenging set of bends, as though the front tyres (245s all around, if you're interested) want to scrub and the quattro system makes a quick adjustment to stop it happening. You don't feel that's what's happening, of course - Audi Sport is better than that - but it's part and parcel of all-wheel drive. It takes a lot to find understeer and for most people, that just won't ever happen.
Further confidence comes from the terrific brakes - 350mm up front and 330mm at the rear, the big forward rotors are gripped by six-pot fixed calipers. Performance is epic and in hard, fast driving they stood up to a fair amount of punishment without fading.
The ride is excellent in all modes, which is quite an achievement given the fat rubber and big wheels, although big bumps at speed make a huge metallic thunk without actually upsetting progress. The eight-speed ZF is brilliant as always and unless you're really motoring, you don't even need its sport mode, which brings impressively fast and positive shifts.
The best thing is, if you don't look in the rear vision mirror, you can't really tell if you're driving sedan or Avant. That might be because it's quite absorbing on a launch drive, but I couldn't split the driving experience between the two.
The only black marks I could easily identify on the S4 is tyre noise on some surfaces and perhaps the steering could be a little more lively like its competitors.
Rolls-Royce doesn’t submit its cars for independent safety assessment, so no ANCAP rating for the new Ghost, unless, of course, the local testing authority chooses to purchase one. Enough said...
The previous Ghost was limited by its ageing 7 Series platform when it came to the latest active safety tech, But this version, sitting on a bespoke RR chassis, brings the entry-point Roller up to speed.
Included are AEB, incorporating ‘Vision Assist’ (day and night wildlife and pedestrian detection), active cruise control (with semi-autonomous driving mode), cross-traffic warning, lane-departure and lane-change warning, as well as an ‘Alertness Assistant.’
There’s also a four-camera system with panoramic and helicopter view, as well as a self-park function, and a hi-res head-up display
If all that’s not enough to avoid an impact, passive safety includes eight airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain, and front knee).
There are also top tethers and ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear seat positions for safely securing child restraints for kids fortunate enough to be travelling in this kind of style.
The S4 also retains the exit warning feature that tells you if you're about to door an approaching bicyclist or another car. What Audi calls "pre-sense rear" is a system to warn drivers behind you they're approaching too fast and are quite likely to hit you. Turn assist is also available, stopping you (at low speeds) from turning across approaching traffic.
The A4 scored five ANCAP safety stars, the highest available.
Rolls-Royce covers its Australian range with a four year/unlimited km warranty, but that's just the tip of the ownership iceberg.
The mysterious ‘Whispers’ owners portal, a “world beyond”, is claimed to offer the opportunity, “to gain access to the inaccessible, to discover rare finds, to connect with like-minds.”
Plug your car’s VIN into the app and you’ll be on the receiving end of curated content, event invitations, news and offers, as well as access to your own ‘Rolls-Royce garage’, plus a 24/7 concierge. All complimentary.
What’s more, service is recommended every 12 months/15,000km, and it’s free-of-charge for the duration of the warranty.
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on the S4 with service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km whichever comes first. Roadside assist is part of the package, lasting for the first three years of the car's life.
You can pre-purchase three years/45,000km of servicing for $1620 under Audi's Genuine Care Service Plan. Full details are available on Audi's website, but it basically covers a scheduled oil changes and inspections and not a lot else.