Audi has moved the benchmark for a powerful upper medium sports saloon. The new RS4 boasts 420PS that's unmatched within its segment. In fact there are very few cars in any segment that can compete.
Audi's on a bit of a roll at the moment, breaking into the top 10 fleet brands last year thanks to a 45.3% increase in sales as company car drivers flock toward prestige brands. And while the RS4 won't do much for the German brand in terms of volume, it's been added to the demonstration fleet for a tour of blue chip companies to provide a bit of glamour for the rest of the very appealing A4 line-up. The three versions - saloon, Avant (estate) and convertible are three of the 10 new models due from Audi this year.
If you've got a £50,000-shaped hole in your driveway, but need one car to fulfil a number of roles, then the RS4 should be at the top of your shortlist. All the practicality of the standard A4 is carried over, which means a decent boot and plenty of interior room for four adults. But the sensible stuff is pretty much where the likeness with tamer A4s ends.
The styling is beefed up, especially at the rear with a pair of exhaust pipes that look like they could swallow a rugby ball. The interior is beautifully crafted, with great sports seats with side bolsters that inflate at a touch of the steering wheel-mounted Sport button that also sharpens throttle response.
On the road, the biggest surprise is the ride quality. Though this is a hard-core sporting machine, the ride isn't as uncompromising as you'd expect, especially given that a good ride on the UK's bump-addled roads has been somewhat difficult for Audi to perfect in recent efforts, particularly the new A6.
The engine provides all the punch you'd expect from a 4.2-litre V8, and is also flexible enough to just cruise through town, while the steering's also pleasantly heavy.
The costs predictably are the RS4's biggest bugbear. Spending £50,000 on an upper medium saloon can take some justifying, as the 71.1p per mile figure illustrates, but if you're looking for an immensely capable sports car but need practicality for family transportation, the RS4 is without peer this side of the bigger, £63,000, BMW M5.