Audi S4 Saloon: £36,150
Acceleration: 0-62mph 5.6sec
Maximum speed: 155mph
Average fuel consumption: 21.2mpg
Insurance group: 20
With nearly 350bhp at my disposal, the temptation was not to spare the horses. But I had to. I was driving the new new Audi S4 over the Berkshire Downs, about to test its 4.2-litre, V8 engine to the full; it was early in the morning and there was no one about. I took the first hill at a reasonable clip, but I wasn't the only one impressed by the Audi's power - several beautiful, sleek racehorses in a nearby stud galloped across their pristine paddock in alarm. There was nothing for it but to rein in the car and instead enjoy the views on the roads outside Newbury.
I had keenly anticipated my first drive in the new S4. After all, the Audi stable consists almost exclusively of thoroughbreds: the TT (a favourite of mine); the stunning A4 Cabriolet; the revamped, popular A3; the speedy RS6 and the new A8 for executives. If there is a nag in there, it's the appalling A2.
What's so special about the S4? Well, you only have to look at the car, particularly the compact saloon version, to be impressed by the fact that the German manufacturer managed to get such a big engine in it. The S4 looks innocent, as though it were meant for nothing more than a leisurely weekend spin down a few country roads. But the V8 engine is there, somewhere; you feel it when you put your foot down and the countryside whizzes by, and you hear it as well - the engine has a pleasing growl when accelerating.
Impressively, the new V8 engine is the same weight as the V6 engine in the old S4. So the revamped S4 is agile and composed, particularly on long journeys. But for those who might worry what such a big engine does to the stability and traction of what is certainly not a big car, it may come as a comfort to know that four-wheel drive is standard.
Unusually for an Audi V8 engine, the manufacturer has combined it with a short shift six-speed manual gearbox, although the six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission will be available towards the end of the year. Inside the cabin, the S4 is fitted out to Audi's usual standards, with neat equipment and red back-light on the dials. Four adults can travel comfortably despite the compact nature of the car, and there is a decent-sized boot, too. But while your passengers may be surprised by the S4's performance, they may, unfortunately, find the ride too firm for comfort.
The maximum speed of the S4 is electronically limited to 155mph. That is twice as fast as any driver needs (or is allowed) to go. Neither will many S4 drivers have to get from standstill to 62mph in less than six seconds. The S4 is here for the well-mannered speed junkie, and he or she will pay handsomely for those secret thrills: £36,150 for the saloon or £37,380 for the Avant, the estate version. But, as Audi knows, discretion is the better part of velocity.
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