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Audi S4 S Tronic

Subtle looks belie firebreathing pace of latest S express

Few firms can rival Audi when it comes to building fast four-wheel-drive saloon cars. So it’s no surprise to learn that Vauxhall’s engineers used the German brand’s rapid S4 as a benchmark when developing the Insignia VXR.

Launched earlier this year, the high-performance Audi debuted the company’s new supercharged 328bhp 3.0-litre V6 engine, which is more fuel efficient and cleaner than the V8 unit it replaces. Mated to the famous quattro all-wheel-drive transmission, it gives the S4 sports car-rivalling pace and agility.

Not that you’d know that from the outside. If anything, the Audi’s styling is even more understated than the Insignia’s – the S4 could be mistaken for an ordinary A4. However, take a closer look and you’ll spot the LED headlamps, quad exhaust pipes, subtle side skirts and the silver finish on its door mirrors. The overall effect is restrained rather than racy.

Inside, the Audi’s sporting credentials are equally low key. There’s a contoured three-spoke steering wheel, a pair of heavily bolstered front seats and a smattering of S4 logos. The rest of the cabin is carried over from the standard car, which means it is beautifully built from top-quality materials.

Up front, drivers will have no problem getting comfortable, thanks to a wide range of seat and steering column adjustments, while occupants in the rear are treated to more headroom than in the Vauxhall.

Open the bootlid, and you’ll find a useful 480 litres of carrying capacity – although that’s 20 litres down on the VXR.

At the test track, the Audi has the upper hand, courtesy of its supercharged engine.

It produces 90 per cent of its maximum torque from only 2,200rpm. Combine this with the superb traction from its quattro drivetrain, and the Audi is seriously fast off the line. It sprinted from 0-60mph in only five seconds, but it’s the car’s in-gear punch that really impresses – the S4 delivers blistering overtaking pace.

Direct steering, rapid gearshifts from the seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic transmission, and strong all-weather grip ensure the S4 inspires real confidence.

Our car’s agility was further enhanced by Audi’s optional Drive Select system, which offers Comfort, Normal and Sport settings for the steering and dampers. It was also fitted with a hi-tech Sports rear differential, which helps to eliminate understeer.

Although effective, this extra kit adds £1,750 to the Audi’s already hefty £35,680 price tag. Fit a few more options, such as sat-nav, full leather trim and metallic paint, and the price will rise to nearly £50,000.

The S4 boasts ferocious pace, a capable chassis and a desirable image, but does it do enough to justify its price premium?

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WHY: Vauxhall used the S4 as its benchmark for the VXR. But is the Audi still top dog?

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