The Verdict: Audi S4
Is it a sports car? Is it a saloon? Audi can't decide
A C Grayling
A. C. Grayling is an English philosopher and founder of independent undergraduate college, New College of the Humanities. He is the author of several books including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Meaning of Things (2001) and The Good Book (2011).
Saturday 09 August 2003
Engine: 4.2 litre, V8, 344bhp;
Performance: 155mph, 0-60 in 5.8 secs, 21 mpg;
Worth considering: BMW M3, Mercedes C32, Volvo V70R, used Porsche 911.
Here is a car to polarise opinion: Ms Platt says she thinks the new Audi S4 saloon is too quick for British roads, and Mr Butcher wants more horsepower. I have to say, I am probably with Ms Platt on this one, but Audi fan Mr Butcher at least has the rumoured RS4 to look forward to.
Ironically, the RS4 is among the S4's biggest problems because it is likely to be faster, meatier-looking and generally less compromised than the S4. That tries to be a sensible family saloon and a hotrod, and does not succeed at either.
My theory is that, in trying so hard to best the iconic BMW M3 (from stuffing a V8 under the bonnet to trump the BMW's straight six, to childishly giving it one horsepower more than the Beemer), Audi lost sight of what makes a great sports car.
They forgot to give it sharp, communicative steering and a slick gear-change, instead lumbering it with servotronic power assistance, which makes the steering go disconcertingly heavy in corners. And they forgot to make it look cool, which takes more than plastic running boards, smart alloys and a cheesy grill.
That iffy gear-change is rendered infinitely more cumbersome by a fierce clutch, which made smooth progress from standstill almost impossible. And while there is undeniably immense power at hand, an M3 still feels, and is quicker everywhere other than on wet surfaces, where the S4's four-wheel drive becomes less of a dynamic hindrance and more of an advantage.
The M3 is £4,000 more expensive and less practical than the S4 (which also comes as an estate that is better-looking and likely to depreciate less than the saloon).
That will be enough to persuade the 10,000 people a year Audi expect to buy S4s, but was not enough for Ms Platt and me.
Jeremy Butcher, 40, eye surgeon from Tarporley, Cheshire
Usual car: Audi S2
"I am an Audi fan, but this isn't for me; it's too anodyne, too anaesthetised. I'd want more of a connection with everything, especially the engine noise. The only time you can get a thrill from this is by opening the window and listening to the V8. The acceleration is not fast enough. I want 400bhp. And there's the lack of feel in the steering you get with Audis. It is a quality car, but when you sit in it you don't go, 'Whoa'. For this money you should get something really impressive inside. Company car/family men might go for it because it has four doors. But I wouldn't sell my children to medical experimentation for this car."
Gurnam Digwa, 31, civil servant from Chorlton, Manchester
Usual car: BMW 325i
"I have driven the RS6 and I wasn't expecting this to be a patch on that, but it is a fantastic drive. The handling is great, and it is so responsive; the power is there in every gear, even in sixth. It is the kind of car that makes you want to take the A-road every time, but the punch and power gives you real confidence on motorways. But I wouldn't go for this if I had the money, because I I've not got the sports-car thing out of my system. I'd want something more sporty-looking. This is for the older man with a family who needs the four doors. There are a lot of women with kids who would want something as fast as this, too."
Anne Platts, 47, part-time student, from Congleton, Cheshire
Usual car: Renault Grand Espace V6
"It was over-powered for me. I like something with a smoother engine, and the pedals were high too. You have to wonder how often you are going to get the chance to use all that power. I do like the look of it but inside it is nothing special. For the money, I would expect something more. My 15-year-old son would say there wasn't enough legroom in the back, and I didn't like the way you could feel every bump. The quality is comparable with my husband's Mercedes S-Class, although I don't like the wood. It looks plasticky. This is more likely to be a man's car. I'd much prefer an A4 cabriolet."
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