Audi RS4 Quattro Saloon - The Verdict

The quattro is back, better than ever. But what's this - a manual gearbox? Yes, and it makes driving this supercar a total pleasure, says David Wilkins

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Price: £49,980
Engine: 4.2 litre, direct injection petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, 20.9mpg
CO2: 324g/km
Worth considering: BMW M3, BMW M5, Mercedes C55 AMG

This Audi hasn't been on the market for long, but its reputation already goes before it. I lost count of the number of times I was asked the question: "Gosh! Is that the new RS4?" You just can't buy word-of-mouth buzz like that; the product has to be very good, and in this case, it is.

That said, my first minutes with the RS4 offered up an unexpected "back to the Eighties" experience. For a start, our test car was red - the colour of choice for sporty cars such as the Golf GTI before silver and grey metallics started to dominate - while inside, the "quattro" badge on the dashboard served as a reminder that the four-wheel-drive RS4 is the latest representative of one of the motor industry's most distinguished bloodlines, albeit one that made its name in the Eighties.

But the most obvious throwback is the presence of a manual transmission complete with clutch pedal. These days, most cars with serious sporting pretensions have some sort of fancy complicated gearbox. Sometimes it's an automatic that can be used a bit like a manual. Sometimes it's a clever mechanical gearbox that can be used like an automatic. Usually, it involves operating fiddly paddles or buttons if you want to change gear yourself. Clutch pedals do not figure.

Audi itself produces the DSG transmission, the only one of these trick gearboxes that everyone likes, so it is perhaps all the more unusual that the company has chosen to go manual in this case.

Whatever the reasons for the choice, it is a good one; the RS4 is a supercar that's as easy to drive as a Nissan Micra. The engine has a typical V8 throb, but it isn't rumbly or lazy, like the American variety. This one really zings, as the claimed 0-62mph acceleration figure of 4.8 seconds shows. And the RS4 adds excitement and agility to the safety and stability that generations of quattro drivers have been able to take for granted.

Now, you may have noticed that your Independent Motoring section has taken on a green tinge lately, and the RS4 got me thinking about whether driving cars like this represents the best use of the planet's finite energy resources.

I admit that the RS4 doesn't score well in terms of mpg, but look at it another way; when it comes to delivering ppg and epg - that's pleasure per gallon and excitement per gallon - this thrilling Audi (vivid red paint job notwithstanding) must be about the greenest thing on the road. Only joking, but I think there may be a point worth making in there somewhere.

Gordon Roy, 36, prison officer, Whitburn, West Lothian, Scotland
USUAL CAR: VOLKSWAGEN GOLF

When I laid eyes on the RS4, a smile appeared on my face. It stayed there for three hours, until I had to hand the keys back. This car is stunning. Not only does it look fantastic; the feel and drive are simply superb. The acceleration is something I've never experienced before; just a bit of pressure by the right foot and this car took off, and it clings to the road as if welded to it. Everywhere I went, the car was turning admiring heads. The Audi RS4 ticks all the boxes that I would want in a car. All this and it has four seats as well. What more could you ask for? If I had £50,000 I'd be at my local Audi dealership tomorrow.

John Roberts, 41, Julie, 9, Sarah, 7, solicitor, Hamilton, Scotland
USUAL CARS: BMW X5 3.0 DIESEL, MINI COOPER

It's a powerful, extreme car; not what I would take the family in for a visit to Ikea. I'm not sure the exact market it's aimed at, but if you're looking for a car that delivers on performance, this is it. The driving position is comfortable and instruments well laid out; all the knobs and dials are where you'd expect them to be. The centre arm-rest, however, did hamper the handbrake operation a little. It's not for the shy, with enormous low-profile tyres, red etchings on the rims and what can only be described as a radioactive red paint finish. It could be my favoured weekend vehicle, but I'd have to take a mild sedative.

Keith Davidson, 43, freelance writer and editor, Leith, Edinburgh
USUAL CAR: NONE (HIRES AS NEEDED)

This bulky machine with a four-square, sporty look was surely built to career along autobahns at 100mph-plus. Sadly, the interior doesn't score as highly for aesthetics although the interface on the in-car systems is decent enough. Its main asset, however, is the engine. Come out of a corner, accelerate, and there's a potentially scary "whooosh". The power could easily outstrip an average driver's ability to stay in control; with the RS4 you really need to up your speed of thought and anticipation. If you can, then it's fun and functional all the way. As far as a pointless waste of 50 grand goes, this is quite a good one.

THE VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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