Audi's dream-mobile

IS it me or have Audi toned down their design approach? They used to love a bit of flared wheel arch where possible, stance and statement arriving hand in hand. Has the recession blunted their flair?<br /><br />I&rsquo;ve recently spent a week with another of thier cars, the awesome S3, which for me offers one of the best drives in the entire Audi line-up. Honestly, if you&rsquo;re thinking about a hot hatch, this is it. It doesn&rsquo;t look that menacing, though.<br /><br />Apart from lower sills there isn&rsquo;t anything that shouts that it is about to whip your backside. Unless that is, you choose to have it in tangerine, like the one I had.<br /><br />Let&rsquo;s face it, part of the reason we buy sportscars is for the way they look and make us feel. But with their low-key styling, maybe Audi are doing us all a favour, perhaps they&rsquo;re trying to lessen the shout so we avoid attracting uniformed members of the opposition.<br /><br />Anyway, here we have the S4, a car which used to have a V8 engine up front but that has since been replaced by a supercharged V6 producing 333bhp. It achieves this by shaving a little pitch off the baritone, more&rsquo;s the pity. It still sounds good &ndash; just not as gravelly. What&rsquo;s really good, though, is the time behind the wheel.<br /><br />I know the word &ldquo;dynamic&rdquo; is used a lot with cars but this really is agile and surefooted, it drifts like a dream. Not that you may be asking that of your next saloon car of course. But the whole experience is much sharper than the outgoing model, it&rsquo;s better when steering into corners, and much more pointy and squirty and agile when you find those open roads.<br /><br />This is partly thanks to Audi&rsquo;s Quattro four-wheel drive technology which transfers torque between the rear wheels, constantly keeping understeer in check while allowing some good fun that wasn&rsquo;t possible in the last guise.<br /><br />If you choose to have the Drive Select package as I had, you can switch between three different driving modes, Comfort, Automatic and Dynamic. The latter is the most sporty and responsive of them.<br /><br />But, here&rsquo;s the surprise. Just when you think you must have gone through a tank of fuel from (in my case) trips to the airport and London and some local shenanigans, you&rsquo;ve still got almost half a tank of petrol left. Not bad for a supercharged V6.<br /><br />Audi&rsquo;s double-clutch semi-automatic gearbox is smooth and fast &ndash; there&rsquo;s also little swapping of cogs in either fully automatic mode or when using the paddles on the steering wheel.<br /><br />Fit and finish is right up there, too. Audi provides such polished interiors and tactile surroundings, it makes being in such a car very cosseting and enjoyable. There&rsquo;s little difference in head and legroom between this and the equivalent BMW, and there&rsquo;s a generous boot too.<br /><br />What&rsquo;s not to like? Nothing really. It&rsquo;s fast, fun, comfortable and frugal for the performance it provides. It&rsquo;s also low-key. Unless you get in orange, anyway.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS:</strong> AUDI S4<br /><strong>0-60MPH:</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 5.1 secs<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 155 mph<br /><strong>MPG COMBINED:</strong> 29.1<br /><strong>CO2 g/KM:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong>225<br /><strong>OTR PRICE:</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &pound;34,260<br /><br />THE VERDICT<br />DESIGN&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; ****<br />PERFORMANCE&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; *****<br />PRACTICALITY&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; ****<br />VALUE FOR MONEY &nbsp; ****