Audi S4

It might not be worth as much in Scrabble, but S is to Audi what M is to BMW: a single letter that marks a car out as something particularly special.

Owning an S4 isn't cheap - it's expensive to buy and maintain. But if you can afford to have one, you will find that few other vehicles can provide such a satisfying combination of performance, build quality and design.

It might not be worth as much in Scrabble, but S is to Audi what M is to BMW: a single letter that marks a car out as something particularly special.

The latest S4 certainly fits that image. At £37,600, it's not cheap, and with cost options such as 18-inch alloys, leather and Alcantara trim and a premium sound system added, the price of our test car rose to £42,450. But you also get a performance model that can give BMW's M3 more than a run for its money.

Powered by a tuneful 4.2-litre V8 engine, the S4 is strong and incredibly smooth. It's also amazingly refined when cruising - meaning this is a performance car you can use every day without having to compromise. A sporty, hard ride is the only thing that makes the newcomer less comfortable than a standard A4.

When pushed, however, the S4 doesn't have quite the same degree of driver involvement as an M3. The steering is lighter, and the Tiptronic gearbox fitted to our test model was nowhere near as quick to respond as BMW's similar SMG set-up. Grip is impressive, though,and the Audi can sprint from 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds.

It's mighty fast, yet somehow more sober and restrained than its key class competitor. And if you want a car that has all the characteristics of a barnstorming supersaloon, but hides its talents under a bushel, then S could suit you down to a T...

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