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Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s S4 Cabriolet
  has got the lot: 344bhp
  and a body to flirt with.
  But, despite its quattro
  all-wheel drive and
  searingly-quick V8,
  is it a road-burning
  Roadster or a genteel
  Grand Tourer?
  Or can it be both?

IF YOU'RE A FAN of seriously quick convertibles, the Audi S4 Cabriolet promises to be as close to motoring paradise as you're likely to get. The reasons are obvious. First, it's got a great body — the A4 Cabriolet range offers one of the most attractive convertibles around, and not just in its class. Second, it's got the kind of power that Chairman Mao said only came out of the barrel of a gun. Well, the S4's naturally-aspirated V8 also produces a lot of power. That's 344bhp, to be exact.

You need more? Okay, here we go. Audi's quattro permanent four-wheel drive system endows it with unflappable traction, whatever
the weather may have in store. If that's not enough, the S4 has a superbly-engineered and fully-automatic fabric hood.

And with eight cylinders and 4.2-litres under its prominently contoured bonnet, the S4 can really motor. Zero to 62mph is despatched in
just 6.2 seconds, and for the record, with the manual 'box it takes 5.9. From any seat inside the car it feels faster — no doubt down to the linear way it just keeps accelerating, with each shove-in-the-back gear upshift marked by an aggressive snarl, until well into three-figures. Top speed is electronically capped to cruise at 155mph.

And finally, there's the cabin. This is an Audi, so it's no exaggeration
to say you definitely won't be disappointed if you're expecting a first-class cockpit. Settle into the extremely comfortable and supportive, electrically-adjustable leather driver's seat and you'll find luxury and style in equally generous proportions. Beautifully clear dials with large white graphics are deeply-recessed to minimise the glare of the sun, and are nicely complemented by brushed satin aluminium highlights.

The wide centre console houses all major switchgear, the display
for the SatNav/Infotainment (Driver's information and entertainment systems) and the A/C controls. All the switches are well placed, precise and feel good to use. Ample storage space and cubbies are sited around the cockpit, along with a very handy 'secret' drawer
under each front seat.

Like all Audis, the S4's cabin showcases excellent ergonomics and is constructed from first class materials. As you'd expect, the Audi S4 boasts a desirable specification and comes with a long list of standard equipment that includes digital dual-zone climate control, a top-notch 9-speaker, 180-Watt sound system with a front-loading 6-CD auto-changer, cosseting 10-way electric front sports seats with extending thigh supports, 6-setting seat heating and powered 4-way lumbar adjustment, fine Nappa leather upholstery, four electric windows (fronts are one-shot up/down), remote central locking that also —
a practical touch — locks the glovebox, powerful Xenon headlights, simple-to-use SatNav and Driver's Information system, carbon-fibre fascia and door inlays, leather-trimmed (there's perforated leather on the key grip areas) three-spoke Sports multi-function steering wheel with Tiptronic gear-change paddles. The Tiptronic transmission is a £1,400 option but the quattro permanent 4WD and powered acoustic soft-top are standard features.

Above all, the S4 is a convertible. So a first rate hood is nothing less than essential. In fact, the S4's electro-hydraulic soft-top is an indis-pensable part of its overall appeal. The hood is superbly constructed and with its triple-layer fabric, heated and scratch-resistant glass rear window and beautifully-fitted lining, it ensures there are no comprom-ises in choosing the convertible over the saloon. A single push on the one-touch roof button automatically drops all four side windows for you before whisking the soft-top away out of sight.

Raised, it's stretched drum-tight and, even at very naughty German autobahn speeds, is low on wind noise. To watch it in action is to appreciate the meticulous engineering. Raised-to-open (the top neatly and automatically folding into the well behind the rear seats beneath
a rigid, flush-fitting cover) takes just 21 seconds. Not only is it all done in the best possible taste, you don't have to stop the car because the roof can be operated at up to 20mph!

While the clever (and heavier) folding metal hard-tops tend to turn their stacking routine into public entertainment, after a while you just long for a good 'old-fashioned' soft-top that folds tidily way with the minimum of show and fuss so you can get on with the important business of… posing! So while there may be faster one-shot powered hoods, the S4's is the most elegant.

The S4 Cabriolet is, in addition, a very safe convertible. As safe, in fact, as the S4 saloon. Like all Audi Cabriolet models, the S4 features
a sophisticated roll-over protection system that, should the car begin to roll, within milliseconds it automatically triggers a pair of roll-over bars fitted behind the rear seats. These, combined with the specially reinforced windscreen frame, form a protective survival space for all occupants.

Four airbags are standard (the side airbags in the front seats are designed to protect the head and the thorax) and the S4 also comes with an array of electronic active safety equipment — including the latest electronic stabilisation program and hydraulic brake assist, which automatically increases brake power in 'panic-braking' situations. There's also a brake disc wiping system that keeps the discs dry in the wet for faster, more efficient braking in bad weather.

Even more important than the S4's Cabriolet status is the fact that it
is a genuine four-seater cabriolet. And you don't see many of those around, do you? Access to and from the two rear seats is easy, top up or top down and two real-world adults can travel comfortably in the back.

With the top stowed and all four side windows raised, it's snug enough to travel at the legal limit while you enjoy an uninterrupted view of blue sky or the stars accompanied by the melodious, woofly V8 soundtrack from the quartet of oval chrome tailpipes. Alternatively, you can listen to some non-mechanical sounds on the audio system, which also plays MP3s. The optional fold-away wind deflector — worth every penny of the £230 that Audi charges for it — makes top-down motoring close to perfection for two travelling up front.

The overall impression, in whichever mode you're travelling, is that Audi has focused very successfully on balancing refinement alongside power — refinement that starts with excellent bodyshell rigidity. A lot of extra-high-strength metal has gone into ensuring the Cabrio's topless body is as strong as possible and that scuttle-shake is all but a ghost in the machine.

The refinement extends to the acoustic hood, too. Audi's engineers have done a masterful job with it, keeping noise to a level barely louder than that of the S4 saloon. The hood also provides excellent thermal insulation for cosy winter motoring. When in place, the inner lining presents a completely smooth arch of smart high-quality material.
More good news is that the air conditioning and heater can each easily keep pace with the S4's high levels of performance.

Grace, the S4 Cabriolet has in spades. Take a leisurely walk around
the car and you'll appreciate the uncluttered and understated styling. There's just a hint of rakishness about the aluminium-framed screen, echoed by the polished aluminium door mirrors. Top down, the hood's rigid flush-fitting lid ensures a clean rear deck with nothing to detract from the Cabriolet's flowing lines. Bold-looking, silver-grey 18-inch
7-spoke cast aluminium wheels shod with 235/40 Michelin Pilot Sport tyres fill the S4's shapely wheelarches to complete the sporting look.

The pace? All that you need, the S4 has got. Our test car was fitted with the optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with Dynamic Shift and Sport programs. Left to manage its own shifting pattern, changes are ultra-smooth and — more good news — the Tiptronic software helps prevent unwanted upshifts when cornering. Fingertip shifting is a doddle. Whatever figure is showing on the rev-counter, the S4's muscular, free-spinning and turbine-smooth 40-valve V8 feels totally alert — a bit like a Baskerville hound straining at the leash!

With a whopping 344bhp and 302lb ft of torque at 3,500rpm, the S4 Cabriolet will, if you wish, move you from A to B in a very short space of time — the mix of explosive accelerative power and phenomenal four-wheel drive traction is eternally tempting. All is accomplished with a reassuring absence of drama. It also makes short shrift of overtaking most other vehicles on the road and — thanks to an ultra-sharp throttle response — its overtaking ability is especially welcome on long motorway trips, where lightly flexing your right ankle is all that is called for to effortlessly whisk past slower traffic.

However, its firm but supple ride and genuine comfort means there is as much satisfaction to be had in driving at five-tenths with the top down as there is in pumping adrenalin at nine-tenths. Following com-prehensive revisions to the sports suspension, spring rates, shock absorbers and steering, the S4 Cabriolet is now even easier to drive quickly.

It feels light and responsive and there's tremendous grip: sure-footed 'chuckability' with good body control. Corners are taken flatly although getting the best out of the S4's ultimately understeering, quattro-enhanced chassis calls for a 'slow-in, fast-out' approach to tight corners and the sharpest bends.

The brakes deserve a special mention, delivering truly impressive stopping power whenever required, along with first-rate pedal 'feel' that allows easy modulation for smooth driving. The Servotronic speed-dependent power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is well-weighted and quick.

Despite it not being quite the out-and-out, back-road bad-boy road-ster you might have been expecting given its 344bhp, there's a very likeable, well-rounded conviction to this unruffled — and undeniably very rapid — convertible Audi. There's also that always-with-you feeling of sure-footedness that you get when power is sent to all four driven wheels.

And it looks as lovely topless as it does with its roof up as a two-door coupé — but that doesn't mean the S4 Cabriolet lacks masculinity. Think of Audi's S4 Cabriolet as a refined and indecently quick all-weather Grand Tourer for four people, with room in the capacious
boot for their luggage, too. The only problem is, I don't own one. Now that's criminal.

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Audi S4 Cabriolet 4.2 V8 quattro
| £42,400
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 22.2mpg | Power: 344bhp | Torque: 302lb ft

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